The story begins in 36 BCE when the last Queen of ancient Egypt, Cleopatra, married the Roman, Mark Antony, to whom she offered her country as a ‘dowry’.
Egypt then remained part of the Roman Empire for seven long centuries. Many people from the Italian peninsula moved to live there during this time.
Since then, there has been a continuous presence of Italian Egyptians and their descendants. For the new generations, there was a considerable amount of cultural assimilation and influence, which went both ways. There was even a Venetian Quarter in Cairo.
In Alexandria of Egypt the Italian influence is very clear in many buildings and streets of Alexandria that italian engineers constructed
For example: there is a square in a very famous zone in Alexandria that is a called (Victor Emanuele) in Arabic فيكتور عمناويل
It took it’s name form the famous Italian King that was buried in Alexandria.
In Egypt there are some famous Italian schools such as (Don bosco) that till now students can enroll for courses and programs in italian language.
After Napoleon I, the Italian community in Alexandria, and in Egypt in general, began growing exponentially. The 1882 census recorded 18,665 Italians in the country; just before World War II, they had reached 55,000 — forming the second largest expatriate community in Egypt after the Greek. Most Italian Egyptians resided in Alexandria and Cairo, and consisted primarily of merchants, artisans, professionals, along with a large number of workers.
As a result of this existence, many Italian words entered the Egyptian dialect and became Egyptian words.
Here are some of the many words we still use in Egypt that have Italian origins:
1. Estbena! From sta bene, which means ‘it’s fine’.
Egyptians use it to say ‘we have a deal.
2. Alesta: From alla lista.
In Egypt, it’s used to denote that ‘all is okay’ or ‘everything is under control’. It is especially used by sailors.
Ballo in Italian refers to parties or dance.
In Egypt, it refers to noise… This is our ballo!
From Roba Vecchia, or junk.
Egyptians use this one to describe old possessions they are ready to get rid of and give to the Robabekya uncle.
From gonnella, meaning skirt.
Just don’t try this at home… or anywhere!
(In my opinion it is not used now as you will be considered an old fashion person )
From guanto, which means ‘glove’.
Cool glove, eh?
From parrucca, a wig.
Watching old Egyptian movies, especially in the 60s and 70s, one can see many wigs that were all the craze back then!
In Italian mobilia refers to portable furniture.
But every kind of furniture to us is now mobilia, movable or not.
Prova in Italian means ‘to try’.
We use this word till today, to describe fitting rooms, rehearsals, and fitting sessions at the tailor shop!
From falso, meaning ‘false’ or ‘fake’.
In Egypt, falso is used to describe anything fake, especially when referring to fake gold.
From Tenda, a cover or sort of curtain.
From Vaso, Vase.
From Pagliacco, Clown.
From Veranda, Balcony.
Hall or reception area.
Invoice or bill.
From Benzina, Gas station.
From cartone, Pasteboard.
From Insalata, Salad.
21. Makeena / Makana
From Macchina, Machine.
From Meccanico, Mechanic.
From Vetrina, Shop window.
All remaining Italian Egyptians speak Italian, while speaking Arabic and English as second language, and are Catholics.
Egyptian Arabic is the first language of 100 million Egyptians. Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world, and so its Arabic is the most widely spoken Arabic dialect.
It is understood by almost all of the 300 million Arabic speakers in the world, thanks to the Egyptian cinema and media industry. It is spoken primarily in Egypt, but listened to across many countries.
Egyptian Arabic has many similar features to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). It also has been influenced by a number of other languages, including Coptic (the language of pre-Islamic Egypt, which is now mostly used in Coptic Christian religious contexts), Turkish (Egypt was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years), French, and more recently English.
Vocabulary in Egyptian Arabic is mostly based on standard Arabic, but also borrows words from Coptic, Turkish, French, and English. Examples:
‘Ah’ = ‘yes’ (origin: Coptic)
‘ōda’ = ‘room’ (origin: Turkish)
‘asansir’ = ‘elevator’ (origin: French)
‘yisantar’ = ‘to center (something)’ (origin: English)
The Egyptian dialect is full of creative, amusing and sometimes absolutely ridiculous terms and expressions that are only ever said in Egypt.
About the Author:
Samar is egyptian. She studied archaeology greek and roman and graduated 2013. She speaks 4 languages and she would be happy if she could help anyone in these languages. In 2016, Samar won a scholarship and went to Greece , Thessaloniki for a modern greek program. Learning Languages is one of her hobbies as she likes to learn and experience other cultures and other ways of living and seeing our world.