Language in Kuwait

Peculiarities and dialects in Kuwait

Language in Kuwait

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language of the State of Kuwait. A language that is written right to left may seem like “mission impossible” to westerners. However, being able to converse at least a little when you arrive in Kuwait is a good idea.

Arabic language in Kuwait

Westerners usually mistakenly call every language that is spoken by almost 200 million people in more than 22 Arabic countries “Arabic”. Let’s shed some light on the matter. Arabic varies from country to country and is now a series of mutually incomprehensible dialects. When Arabs from different regions talk to each other, they use a mix of Egyptian Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and a bit of their own dialects.

The Classic Arabic (CA) is the language of the Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam, of Arab poetry and literature. It is the archaic form that was spoken from the VII to IX centuries and has remained unchanged for centuries. The MSA is the same as CA except it is adapted to modern needs, enriched with new expressions (like film) and pitched to the casual speech. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations and the literary standard across the Middle East and North Africa - most books, newspapers, magazines, official documents and reading primers for small children are written in MSA. Arabic speakers sometimes do not even distinguish between MSA and CA and nobody speaks either of them in their everyday lives anymore - that would be like encountering somebody in Europe to speak Latin. However, everybody in the Arab world understands MSA because they learn it at school.

Throughout Kuwait’s history, Arabic language has been influenced by other societies and their languages. In Kuwait, there are differences between the dialects spoken in urban areas and those spoken in rural areas. However, most Kuwaitis now speak an Arabic dialect in their colloquial daily discourse, known as Gulf Arabic. This dialect is also known by the name Khaliji in Kuwait and by the names Al Hasaa and Khamseh in other countries as it is spoken widely in both the shores of the Persian Gulf. It’s similar to Classic Arabic. One important characteristic of Gulf Arabic is the presence of very few Persian words. In this language you will find that the letter 'k' is pronounced as 'ch', the letter 'q' is pronounced as 'g' and the letter 'j' as 'y'.

English in Kuwait

English is one of the most important Kuwaiti languages. It is taught together with Arabic in Kuwaiti schools and is considered to have a prominent place in the educational curriculum of Kuwaitis. According to educationalists, demand for a Western education has increased among Kuwaitis for several reasons: the perceived inadequacy of state education, the importance of an English language education as a preparation for further education overseas and life in general, and the advanced curricula of the non-Arabic foreign schools in Kuwait. Despite the comparatively high fees, schools that teach American and British curricula are booming in Kuwait.

As a result, most people in Kuwait speak some English so it is not absolutely essential for an English speaking expat to learn Arabic. There are a number of radio and television broadcasts in English and newspapers and magazines are also available in the language. Most road signs are in Arabic and English, as are most business and restaurant signs. Interestingly, every Friday a mosque in Kuwait City delivers the sermon or khutbat al-Jumaa in English as well, making it easier for new converts to understand.

Other languages in Kuwait

The population of Kuwait comprises of foreigners who have come from different parts of the world. This has had an effect on the languages that are spoken within the country. Some of the other languages besides Gulf Arabic and English are Urdu, Persian, and Hindi. There are also several immigrant groups that are contributing to the language diversity in Kuwait like Omani, Balochis (Iranian ethnic group), and Filipino immigrants.

Further reading

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