Pre-Hilalian dialects are a result of early Arabization phases that lasted from the 7th to the 12th centuries, and that concerned the main urban settlements (Kairouan, Constantine, Tlemcen and Fez) and the neighboring harbors (respectively Mahdia and Sousse, Jijel and Collo, Rachgun and Honaine, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera and Tangier), as well as the –triangular– areas between them.
Pre-Hilalian Arabic dialects are classified in three types:
- (Old) Urban dialects: those of the major historical urban settlements such as Kairouan, Tunis, Constantine, Béjaïa, Algiers, Tlemcen, Taza, Fez, Rabat, Tétouan and Chefchaouen;
- "Village" and Mountain dialects: those of the areas between the four original urban settlements (Kairouan, Constantine, Tlemcen and Fez) and their respective harbors:
- All the Judeo-Arabic languages of the Maghreb.
Two geographical groups of pre-Hilalian dialects are distinguished:
- Eastern dialects, those spoken in Tripolitania, Tunisia and the Constantinois, forming the ancient "Ifriqiya" province ;
- Western dialects, those spoken in the Algérois, Oranais and Morocco.
Pre-Hilalian Urban dialects were formerly spoken in other cities such as Tripoli, Mascara and Azemmour, where they are extinct, replaced by the more widespread Hilalian dialects. Currently, many (Old) Urban dialects are endangered because of the prevalence of the Hilalian-based new urban koinés in everyday communication.
- Dominique Caubet, « Questionnaire de dialectologie du Maghreb », in: EDNA vol.5 (2000-2001), pp.73–92
- Kees Versteegh, « The Dialects of Arabic », in: The Arabic Language, Columbia University Press (1997), pp.148–172
- Martine Vanhove, « De quelques traits prehilaliens en maltais », in: Peuplement et Arabisation au Maghreb Occidental (Dialectologie et Histoire), Casa Velazquez - Universidad de Zaragoza (1998), pp.97-108