Lebanese Arabic, or simply Lebanese, is a variety of North Levantine Arabic, indigenous to and spoken primarily in Lebanon, with significant linguistic influences borrowed from other Middle Eastern and European languages and is in some ways unique from other varieties of Arabic. Due to multilingualism among Lebanese people, it is not uncommon for Lebanese people to mix Lebanese Arabic, English, and French into their daily speech.
Lebanese Arabic is believed to be a descendant of the Arabic dialects introduced to the Levant in the 7th century CE, which gradually supplanted various indigenous Northwest Semitic languages to become the regional lingua franca. As a result of this prolonged process of language shift, Lebanese Arabic possesses a significant Aramaic substratum, along with later non-Semitic adstrate influences from Ottoman Turkish, English, and French. As a variety of Levantine Arabic, Lebanese Arabic is most closely related to Syrian Arabic and shares many innovations with Palestinian and Jordanian Arabic. However some modern researchers have opposed the idea of descendance from Peninsular Arabic dialects, such as Ahmad Al-Jallad and others. These hold that the vernaculars languages went through a parallel evolution.
Differences from Standard ArabicLebanese Arabic shares many features with other modern varieties of Arabic. Lebanese Arabic, like many other spoken Levantine Arabic varieties, has a syllable structure very different from that of Modern Standard Arabic. While Standard Arabic can have only one consonant at the beginning of a syllable, after which a vowel must follow, Lebanese Arabic commonly has two consonants in the onset.
- Morphology: no mood or grammatical case markings.
- Number: verbal agreement regarding number and gender is required for all subjects, whether already mentioned or not.
- Vocabulary: many borrowings from other languages; most prominently Syriac-Aramaic, Western-Aramaic, Persian, Phoenician, Ottoman Turkish, French, as well as, less significantly, from English.
- Some authors, such as the statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, believe that a significant part of the Lebanese grammatical structure is due to Aramaic influences.
- The following example demonstrates two differences between Standard Arabic and Spoken Lebanese Arabic: Coffee, Literary Arabic: ; Lebanese Arabic:. The voiceless uvular plosive corresponds to a glottal stop, and the final vowel commonly written with tāʾ marbūtah is raised to.
- As a general rule, the voiceless uvular plosive is replaced with glottal stop, e.g. "minute" becomes. This debuccalization of is a feature shared with Syrian Arabic, Palestinian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, and Maltese.
- * The exception for this general rule is the Druze of Lebanon who, like the Druze of Syria and Israel, have retained the pronunciation of in the centre of direct neighbours who have replaced with , which were monophthongised into and elsewhere, although the majority of Lebanese Arabic dialects realize them as and. In urban dialects has replaced and sometimes medial, and has replaced final making it indistinguishable with tāʾ marbūtah. Also, has replaced ; replacing some short s. In singing, the, and medial are usually maintained for artistic values.
- The sound from Modern Standard Arabic is sometimes replaced with in words from MSA like, when it becomes. Other times, it may be replaced with in words like when it becomes. It is assumed that this is to maintain an audible difference between the two words which were originally homophones. In some dialects, the sound is replaced with for both words.
Contentions regarding descent from Arabic
Furthermore, historian and linguist Ahmad Al-Jallad has recently shown that while modern dialects are not descendants of Classical Arabic, forms of Arabic older than Classical are the historical foundation for the various dialects. Thus, "most of the familiar modern dialects are sedimentary structures, containing layers of Arabics that must be teased out on a case-by-case basis." In essence, the linguistic consensus is that Lebanese too is a variety of Arabic.
- The phonemes are not native to Lebanese Arabic and are only found in loanwords. They are sometimes realized as and respectively.
- The velar stop occurs in native Lebanese Arabic words but is generally restricted to loanwords. It is realized as by some speakers.
Vowels and diphthongs
ComparisonThis table shows the correspondence between general Lebanese Arabic vowel phonemes and their counterpart realizations in Modern Standard Arabic and other Levantine Arabic varieties.
After back consonants this is pronounced in Lebanese Arabic, Central and Northern Levantine varieties, and as in Southern Levantine varieties
Regional varietiesAlthough there is a modern Lebanese Arabic dialect mutually understood by Lebanese people, there are regionally distinct variations with, at times, unique pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.
Widely used regional varieties include:
- Beiruti varieties, further distributed according to neighbourhoods, the notable ones being Achrafieh variety, Basta variety, Ras Beirut variety, etc.
- Northern varieties, further distributed regionally, the most notable ones being Tripoli variety, Zgharta variety, Bsharri variety, Koura variety, Akkar variety.
- Southern varieties, with notable ones being the Tyre and Bint Jbeil varieties.
- Beqaa varieties, further divided into varieties, the notable ones being Zahlé and Baalbek-Hermel varieties.
- Mount Lebanon varieties, further divided into regional varieties like the Keserwan variety, the Matin dialect, Shouf variety, etc.
Formal publications in Lebanon, such as newspapers, are typically written in Modern Standard Arabic, French, or English.
While Arabic script is usually employed, informal usage such as online chat may mix and match Latin letter transliterations. The Lebanese poet Saïd Akl proposed the use of the Latin alphabet but did not gain wide acceptance. Whereas some works, such as Romeo and Juliet and Plato's Dialogues have been transliterated using such systems, they have not gained widespread acceptance. Yet, now, most Arabic web users, when short of an Arabic keyboard, transliterate the Lebanese Arabic words in the Latin alphabet in a pattern similar to the Said Akl alphabet, the only difference being the use of digits to render the Arabic letters with no obvious equivalent in the Latin alphabet.
There is still today no generally accepted agreement on how to use the Latin alphabet to transliterate Lebanese Arabic words. However, Lebanese people are now using latin numbers while communicating online to make up for sounds not directly associable to latin letters. This is especially popular over text messages and apps such as WhatsApp.
- 7 for ح
- 3 for ع
- 2 for ء or ق
Said Akl's orthography, the poet, philosopher, writer, playwright and language reformer, designed alphabet for the Lebanese language using the Latin alphabet in addition to a few newly designed letters and some accented Latin letters to suit the Lebanese phonology in the following pattern:
- Capitalization and punctuation are used normally the same way they are used in the French and English languages.
- Some written consonant-letters, depending on their position, inherited a preceding vowel. As L and T.
- Emphatic consonants are not distinguished from normal ones, with the exception of represented by ƶ. Probably Said Akl did not acknowledge any other emphatic consonant.
- Stress is not marked.
- Long vowels and geminated consonants are represented by double letters.
- Ç which represents was written even initially.
- All the basic Latin alphabet are used, in addition to other diacriticized ones. Most of the letters loosely represent their IPA counterparts, with some exceptions:
|Letter||Corresponding phoneme||Additional information|
|ç||The actual diacritic looks like a diagonal stroke on the bottom left|
|ȳ||The actual diacritic looks like a stroke connected to the upper-left spoke of the letter|