Why is Egyptian Arabic so difficult? Because of filler expressions!

Okay, this is only half the truth. (And it is actually true for all spoken languages.)

Sometimes when I need to do something else for a little while, I watch Egyptian television, Egyptian discussions, movies, or even TV series (مُسَلْسَلات). However, instead of getting some creative distraction, my brain usually gets overloaded because I encounter dozens of expressions that I unwillingly pay attention to resulting in getting lost in translation.

For this reason I started to collect expressions in Egyptian Arabic. These little words don’t really change the meaning of the sentence if you simply disregard them – which is what I would recommend for beginners. Linguists call these words and expressions an expletivefillers. For German speakers: “Füllwörter”. There is no point in translating these expressions literally, especially if your background is Classical or Modern Standard Arabic. In most cases a filler has a syntactic role only but contributes nothing to meaning. They can also simply “fill” space or time, e.g. in English: so, also, then, hmm, ähm, okay, …

 

Let’s look at an example in English:

Arabic is, I mean, like, totally easy to learn, you know?

 

Now delete I mean + like + totally + you know from the example above and you will get a sentence that still makes perfectly sense: Arabic is easy to learn.

Please note that although they don’t really transport an important information, they do have a function for native speakers. But it takes a long time to get a feeling for these words, to know how and in which situations you could use them.

 

The following three words are often parts of fillers:

  1. “ya3ni” (يَعْنِي), literally: he/it means
  2. “bass” (بَسّ), literally:  just, only, but

  3. “ba2a” (بَقْى), literally: to become; or as an adverb: already. It can also convey the meaning of: “…why don’t you…”

 

Let’s dig deeper…

If you hear the following expressions, try to disregard them. The literal translation won’t help you. Usually they don’t convey any additional information. For this reason I do not give a translation. If you progress you will get a feeling when and how to use them.

 

1. Fillers with “ya3ni” (يَعْنِي)

ya3ni Tab3an

يَعْنِي طَبْعًا

ya3ni barDo

يَعْنِي بَرْضُه

wallaahi, kamaan da ya3ni

وَاللّهِ… كَمان دَه يَعْنِي

wakamaan da ba2a ya3ni

وَكَمان ده بَقْى يَعْني

wana ya3ni-l7a2ii2a

وَأَنا يَعْني الحَقِيقة

 

2. Fillers with “bass” (بَسّ)

bassi kamaan

بَسِّ كَمان

la2! bassi biy2ullak

لا! بَسِّ بِيْقُول لَك

bassi Tab3an

بَسِّ طَبْعًا

 

But watch out: The word بَسّ  is not always just a filler.

bass! (it can mean: enough!)

بَسّ!

bass! (it can also mean: don’t! in the meaning of: stop that!)

بَسّ!

wabass! (meaning: just)

وَبَسّ!

2ultilak bass… (meaning: I was just saying…)

قُلْت لَك بَسّ

 

3. Fillers with “ba2a” (بَقْى)

waba3deen ba2a

وَبَعْدِين بَقى

la da yib2a kamaan

لا ده يِبْقَى كَمان

 

Watch out:

bassi ba2a! (meaning: enough! stop!)

بَسِّ بّقى!

ghour ba2a! (meaning: go to hell!)

غُور بَقى

 

4. Other filler expressions:

da, ma huwwa

دَه… ما هُو

mainta 3aarif Tab3an

ما انِنْتَ عارِف طَبْعًا

wa dah, 3ala fikra…

وَدَه… عَلَى فِكْرة

Sa7i7 el-kalaam da

صَحِيح الكَلام دَه

Tabb ma dilwa2ti

طَبّ ما دِلْوَقْتِي

dilwa2ti Tab3an

دِلْوَقْتِي طَبْعًا

wallaahi! kamaan da ya3ni

وَللَّهِ! كَمان ده يَعْنِي

 

If you know more (also from other Arabic dialects), please feel free to let me know and I will add them.

 

2 thoughts on “Why is Egyptian Arabic so difficult? Because of filler expressions!

  1. egyptian arabic is NOT I repeat NOT arabic – it’s an absolutely rubbish ugly language whereas Arabic is butiful. Remember the Quran is written in the language of the people. Those people did not speak as egyptians do – logically therefore it’s impossible to call egyptian language arabic. you might as well say maltese is maltese arabic.

    1. That’s why it’s called ammiyah. Also it’s taken from Arabic but over time the words get changed to make it easier to say them. In my limited experience Arabs do not speak Fus’ha Arabic

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