Levantine Arabic

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Levantine Arabic
Eastern Arabic
لهجات شامية
Native to Levant
Native speakers
21 million  (1991–1996)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
apc – North Levantine
ajp – South Levantine
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Levantine Arabic (Arabic: اللهجة الشامية‎, al-lahjah aš-šāmiyyah), is a broad dialect of Arabic spoken in the 100 to 200 km-wide Eastern Mediterranean coastal strip.[2] It is considered one of the five major varieties of Arabic.[3] In the frame of the general diglossia status of the Arab world, Levantine Arabic is used for daily spoken use, while most of the written and official documents and media use Modern Standard Arabic. It is part of Eastern Arabic that includes Mesopotamian Arabic and peninsular Arabic along with Levantine.

On the basis of the criterion of mutual intelligibility, Levantine Arabic could be regarded as a self-standing language (with different variants or dialects as explained below), as distinct from other members of the Arabic language family such as Egyptian Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic or Peninsular Arabic, in the same way as French, Spanish, Italian and Romanian are all descended from Latin but are separate languages within the family of Romance languages.

Generalities[edit]

Location[edit]

Levantine Arabic is spoken in the fertile strip on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. To the East, in the desert, one finds North Arabian Bedouin varieties. The transition to Egyptian Arabic in the South via the Negev and Sinai desert where Bedouin varieties are spoken and then the Egyptian Sharqiyya dialect, was described by de Jong in 1999,.[4] In this direction, the Egyptian city of El Arish is the last one to display proper Levantine features. In a similar manner, the region of el-Karak announces Hijazi Arabic.[5] In the North, the limit between Mesopotamian Gilit dialects starts from the Turkish border near el-Rāʿi, and the lake Jabbul is the north-eastern limit of Levantine Arabic, which includes further south el-Qaryatayn [6] Damascus and the Hauran mountains.

Main features[edit]

The most distinctive feature of Levantine Arabic is probably its stress pattern, which remains closest to the Classical Arabic among all varieties. It ignores the gahawa syndrome typical of the Mesopotamian and Peninsular Arabic (/ˈqahwa/ > /ɡaˈhawa/); it does not shift the stress away from a heavy antepenultimate syllable, as does Egyptian Arabic (/ˈmadrasa/ > /madˈrasa/); and it is foreign to the North African stress shift to the last syllable (/baħr/ > /bħar/, /ˈmarʔa/ > /mra/). An important feature is the pronunciation of qāf, which is not voiced except in the southernmost part (Gaza, Beersheva, el-Karak). Another distinctive feature is the use of a prefixed b- in the imperfect to distinguish the indicative mood (with b-) from the subjunctive mood (without b-), e.g. /ˈbtɪʃrab/ 'you drink' vs. /ˈtɪʃrab/ 'that you drink'.

As in most Arabic-speaking areas, the spoken language differs significantly between urban, rural and nomad populations.

  • In the Levant, nomads trace to various tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, and their dialect is consequently close to Peninsular Arabic (Najdi). Note that although claiming a Bedouin ancestry sounds prestigious in the Levant, the Bedouin influence on this old sedentary area should not be overestimated. These dialects are not covered in detail here, as they are not specific to the area.
  • The rural language is the one that changes most, and as in every old sedentary area, the changes are gradual, with more marked forms in extremal or isolated areas (e.g. general shift of /k/ to [] in rural Palestinian, or conservation of the diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ in the Lebanese mountains).
  • The urban language spoken in the major cities is remarkably homogeneous, with a few shibboleths (markers) only to distinguish the various cities (see below). It should be noted that Levantine Arabic is commonly understood to be this urban sub-variety. Teaching manuals for foreigners provide a systematic introduction to this sub-variety, as it would sound very strange for a foreigner to speak a marked rural dialect, immediately raising questions on unexpected family links, for instance.[7]

Origin[edit]

The area where Levantine Arabic is spoken has historically been home to other Semitic speakers for millennia, with written records beginning with the Eblaite, then Ugaritic and Canaanite languages such as Moabite, Ammonite, Phoenician and Hebrew. The Canaanite languages had the characteristic feature of shifting common Semitic /ā/ to /ō/, /ð/ to /z/ and /θ/ to /š/, and showed a characteristic unbroken masuculine plural in /-iːm/.

By the middle of the 1st millennium BCE, Western Aramaic had come to dominate most of the region and was subsequently strengthened by its use as an official language of the Persian Empire. Persian influence declined after Alexander the Great conquered the area, which was subsequently annexed by the Romans several centuries later. Having been a part of the more Hellenized Eastern Roman Empire, just before Arabisation, the region certainly must have counted a significant number of Greek speakers as a province of the Byzantine Empire.

Since Roman times, Arabic was a neighboring language, spoken in the desert immediately east of this area (Nabataeans in Petra and the Negev). The Ghassanid kingdom established in the first centuries CE in the Hauran mountains was the first (Christian) Arab authority on the sedentary area. In the first years of the Islamic conquest, the Levant was taken from the Byzantine Empire and the first Caliphate was established in Damascus. Arabic entered deeper into the population by then, although the shift occurred gradually. The persistence of a spoken Aramaic dialect in a few villages to the north of Damascus is the last trace of this slow conversion. It is interesting to note that this Aramaic dialect shares feature with rural Palestinian Arabic (e.g. /q/ > /k/).

It may thus be considered that Levantine Arabic arose from the adoption of Arabic by speakers of Aramaic languages which resulted in a marked Aramaic substrate. The state of affairs in Aramaic immediately before Arabization is largely unknown, but it could have shown dialectal variations linked to the languages Aramaic replaced (as it did rapidly so), and this may have left traces in the subsequent Arabic dialects. See, for example, the similarity of central Palestinian plural suffix pronouns (-kem, -ken, -hem, -hen) with their Hebrew counterparts, or the variant of the same pronouns in the Nusairiyyah mountains (-ko:n, -ke:n, -ho:n, -he:n) compared to identical forms in Aramaic. In other words, the implication is that there is an Aramaic substrate in Levantine Arabic, but the Aramaic of some regions already included strong substrates of preceding languages (e.g. Hebrew in Palestine). These influenced Levantine Arabic via Aramaic, although they had themselves long been out of use at the time of the Arabisation.

It is likely that the Arabic they adopted is a Hijazi (as opposed to Najdi spoken by Bedouins) variety of Arabic (as shown, for example, by the treatment of an internal glottal stop as a semivowel).

Urban Levantine Arabic[edit]

As mentioned above, the urban varieties are remarkably homogeneous throughout the whole area, compared to the changes the language undergo in rural populations. This homogeneity is probably inherited from the trading network among cities in the Ottoman Empire. It may also represent an older state of affairs. As a matter of facts, there is a current trend to diverge from this unity, the language of the cities taking on some of the features of their neighboring villages (e.g. Jerusalem used to say as Damascus [ˈnɪħna] ("we") and [ˈhʊnne] ("they") at the beginning of the 20th century, and this has moved to the more rural [ˈɪħna] and [ˈhʊmme] nowadays.).[8] The table below shows the main variants which have shibboleth role, most of the rest of the language remaining the same.

City /q/ /ǧ/ we (subj.) you (pl, compl.) they (subj) they (compl.) I say he says I write he writes write! now it is not …
Aleppo[9] ʔ ˈnəħne -kʊn ˈhənnen -hʊn baˈʔūl bɪˈʔūl ˈbaktʊb ˈbɪktʊb ktoːb ! ˈhallaʔ mʊ …
Damascus[10] ʔ ʒ ˈnəħna -kʊn ˈhənnen -hʊn bʔūl bəˈʔūl ˈbəkteb ˈbyəkteb ktoːb ! ˈhallaʔ mʊ …
Beirut ʔ ʒ ˈnɪħna -kʊn ˈhɪnne -ʊn bʔūl bɪˈʔūl ˈbɪktob ˈbyɪktob ktoːb ! ˈhallaʔ mɪʃ …
Haifa[11] ʔ ʒ ˈɪħna -kʊ ˈhɪnne -hen baˈʔūl bɪˈʔūl ˈbaktɪb ˈbɪktɪb ˈɪktɪb ˈɪssa mɪʃ
Jerusalem[12] ʔ ʒ ˈɪħna -kʊm ˈhʊmme -hʊm baˈʔūl bɪˈʔūl ˈbaktʊb ˈbɪktʊb ˈʊktʊb ha-l-ˈʔe:t mʊʃ …
Hebron[13] ʔ ˈɪħna -kʊ ˈhʊmme -hom baˈʔūl bɪˈʔūl ˈbaktob ˈbɪktob ˈʊktob haʔˈʔe:tɪ mʊʃ …
Gaza ʔ ʒ ˈɪħna -kʊ ˈhʊmma -hʊm baˈʔūl bɪˈʔūl ˈbaktʊb ˈbɪktʊb ˈʊktʊb ˈhallaʔ mɪʃ …
Amman[14] ɡ ˈɪħna -kʊm ˈhʊmme -hʊm baˈgūl bɪˈgūl ˈbaktʊb ˈbɪktʊb ˈʊktʊb hasˈsa:ʕ mʊʃ …
al-Karak[15] ɡ ˈɪħna -kʊm ˈhʊmmʊ -hʊm baˈgūl bɪˈgūl ˈbaktʊb ˈbɪktʊb ˈʊktʊb hasˈsa:ʕ mʊ(ʃ) …

Rural Subdialects[edit]

Rural Levantine Arabic can be divided into two groups of mutually intelligible subdialects.[16] Again, these dialect considerations have to be understood to apply mainly to rural populations, as the urban forms change much less.

  • Northern Levantine Arabic, spoken in Lebanon, Northern Israel and Syria (except the Hauran area south of Damascus). It is characterized by"
  • a widespread pronunciation of /q/ as [ʔ] (the Druze, however, retain the uvular [q]).
  • A strong tendency to pronounce /ā/ as [ɛː] ([imala]) in front phonemic context or [oː] ([tafkhim]) in back phonemic context. This is all the stronger as one goes northward. For instance, Damascus and Beirut only have final /ā/ consistently uttered [e], e.g. /šitā/ is [ʃəte] rain. This feature may be used to distinguish Central from Northern Levantine.
  • A widespread realization of /ǧ/ as [ʒ], especially along the Mediterranean coast. This feature may be used to distinguish northwest (coastal, Nusayriyyah) from northeast (e.g. Aleppo, Idlib) Levantine Arabic where /ǧ/ is realized as [dʒ].
  • The second and third person plural pronominal suffixes end in /-n/ : /-kun/, /-hun/ (or /-hen/ in Galilee).
  • The characteristic vowel of the imperative is long: /'uktub/ > [ktoːb].
  • The first and third person singular imperfect are /bqūl/ ("I say") and /bəqūl/ ("he says") in Lebanon and Damascus instead of /baqūl/ and /biqūl/, respectively, everywhere else, which may be used to further distinguish Central from Northern and Southern Levantine Arabic.
  • Tafkhim is nonexistent there, and imala affects only the feminine ending /-ah/ > [e] after front consonants (and not even in Gaza where it remains /a/), while /šitā/ is [ʃɪta].
  • In central Palestinian (Jaffa, West Bank, Nazareth, Tiberias) rural speech, /q/ changes to [k], k changes to [tʃ], interdentals are conserved, and /ǧ/ is pronounced [dʒ]. In southern Palestinian (Ashdod, Asqelon, Hebron countryside) as well as western Jordan and Syrian Hauran, /q/ changes to [ɡ] and k changes to [tʃ] before front vowels. This latter feature resembles the North Arabian Bedouin dialects.

Note that in Israel, apart from Galilee and the Negev, rural dialects are almost extinct, and this description gives is the pre-1948 state of affairs. Palestinian refugees in Jordan have brought with them their typical features, although they tend to adopt the emerging Jordanian urban speech.

To these typical, widespread subdialects, one could add marginal varieties such as:

  • Outer South Levantine, spoken in the Gaza–Beersheva area in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as in cities east of the Dead Sea in Jordan (Karak, Tafilah), which display different Bedouin influences as compared to south Levantine. For instance, there, /k/ never changes to [tʃ]. This announces Hijazi or Sinai Bedouin Arabic rather than North Arabian Bedouin dialects.
  • Bedouin dialects proper, which on top of the above mentioned features that influence the sedentary dialects, present typical stress patterns (e.g. gahawa syndrome) or lexical items.

Linguistic description[edit]

Phonetics[edit]

Consonants[edit]

The table below shows the correspondence between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) phonemes, and their counterpart realization in Levantine Arabic. The Urban speech is taken as reference, the variations are given relative to it.

MSA phoneme Common realisation Variants
/b/ [b]
/t/ [t]
/ṯ/ [t] [s] in some roots, [θ] in rural and outer Southern Levantine
/ǧ/ [ʒ] [dʒ] in Northern Levantine and rural Palestinian
/ḥ/ [ħ]
/d/ [d]
/ḏ/ [d] [z] in some roots, [ð] in rural Southern Levantine
/r/ [ɾ]
/z/ [z]
/s/ [s]
/š/ [ʃ]
/ṣ/ [sˤ]
/ḍ/ [dˤ]
/ṭ/ [tˤ]
/ẓ/ [zˤ] [dˤ] in some words, [ðˤ] in rural Southern Levantine
/ʿ/ [ʕ]
/ġ/ [ɣ]
/f/ [f]
/q/ [ʔ] [q] in the Druze and rural Lebanese speech, [k] in rural Palestinian(only in presence of front vowels in south Palestinian areas), [g] in outer Southern Levantine
/k/ [k] [tʃ] in rural Palestinian (except central Palestinian areas and only in presence of front vowels in south Palestinian areas)
/l/ [l]
/m/ [m]
/n/ [n]
/h/ [h]
/w/ [w]
/y/ [j]

NB. Hamza has a special treatment: at the end of a closed syllable, it vanishes and lengthens the preceding vowel, e.g. /ra's/ > [ra:s] (see compensatory lengthening). If followed by i, it turns into [j], /nā'im/ > [na:jɪm]. These evolutions plead for a Hijazi origin of Levantine Arabic. Word initially, hamza is often changed to [h] in Southern Levantine.

Vowels and diphthongs[edit]

The table below shows the correspondence between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) phonemes and their counterpart realization in Levantine Arabic.

Phoneme Southern Lebanese Central Northern
/a/ [ɑ] or [ʌ] [æ] [ɑ] or [ʌ] [ɔ] or [ɛ]
/i/ [e] [ɪ] [ə] (stressed) , [ɪ] (unstressed) [e]
/u/ [o] or [ʊ] [ɪ] (stressed) , [ʊ] (unstressed) [ə] (stressed) , [o] (unstressed) [o]
-aʰ [ɑ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants [ʌ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants [ʌ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants [ʌ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants
/ā/ [a:], final [a] [ɛ:] (front context) , [ɔ:] (back context), final [e:] [ɑ:] (back context) , [æ:] (front context), final [e] [o:] (back context) , [e:] (front context), final [e]
/ī/ [i:], final [i] [i:], final [i] [i:], final [i] [i:], final [i]
/ū/ [u:], final [u] [u:], final [u] [u:], final [u] [u:], final [u]
/ay/ [e:] [eɪ] [e:] [e:]
/aw/ [o:] [oʊ] [o:] [o:]

Levantine Arabic vowels can be represented in the Arabic script in many ways because of etymological and grammatical reasons, e.g. /ᵊlyo:m/ اليَوم "today".

Grammar[edit]

For Modern Standard and Classical Arabic grammar, see Arabic grammar.

Morphology[edit]

Personal pronouns[edit]

In Levantine Arabic, personal pronouns can have anything between eight to twelve forms depending on various locational and social factors: The second and third persons differentiate gender, while the first person does not, although many Levantine Arabic variants (especially urban varieties) have not preserved gender in the plural whatsoever. Most variants of Levantine Arabic have lost the dual number. Traditionally, the pronouns are listed in the order "third, second, first".

Person Common form Arabic Script Variants
1 p. sing. I 'ana

أنا

'ane (Nablus Samaritans)
2 p. sing. masc thou" 'ɪnte

انتَ

ɪnᵊt (rural Palestinian, Lebanese)
2 p. sing. fem. 'ɪnti

انتِ

ɪnᵊt (rural Palestinian, Lebanese)
3 p. sing. masc. 'huwwe

هو

hu:we (Syrian, Lebanese), hu: (rural Palestinian, Hauran), hu (as short, unstressed form)
3 p. sing. fem. 'hiyye

هي

hi:ye (Syrian, Lebanese), hi: (rural Palestinian, Hauran), hi (as short, unstressed form)
1 p. plur. 'nɪħna

نحن

'ɪħna (West Bank, Gaza, Jaffa, Jordan, Syrian Hauran), 'nɪħne (Nablus Samaritans)
2 p. plur. masc. 'ɪntu

انتم

2 p. plur. fem. 'ɪntɪn

انتن

'ɪntu (in most cities)
3 p. plur. masc. 'hʊmme

هم

'hɪnne (Lebanon), 'hənne (Damascus), 'hʊm (Hauran, West Bank)
3 p. plur. fem. 'hɪnne

هن

'hʊmme (Jerusalem, Jaffa, Amman), 'hənne (Damascus), 'hɪn (Hauran, West Bank)

The trend in the most evolutive variants (i.e. urban) is to lose the distinction between masculine and feminine in the plural. The result is an alignment on the masculine for both genders, but the feminine variant remains understood.

Enclitic pronouns[edit]

Enclitic forms of personal pronouns (Arabic: الضمائر المتصلة aḍ-ḍamāʾir al-muttaṣilah) are affixed to various parts of speech, with varying meanings:

  • To the construct state of nouns, where they have the meaning of possessive demonstratives, e.g. "my, your, his"
  • To verbs, where they have the meaning of direct object pronouns, e.g. "me, you, her"
  • To prepositions, where they have the meaning of objects of the prepositions, e.g. "to me, to you, to him"
  • To conjunctions and particles, e.g. "because I, because you, because she"
Person Common form Arabic script variants
1 p. sing. I -i / -iyye (-ni after verbs)

(ـي (ـنـي

2 p. sing. masc thou" -ak / -k

ـَك

-ek (Lebanese)
2 p. sing. fem. -ɪk / -ki

ـِك

3 p. sing. masc. -ʰʊ / -ʰ

ـه

-ʰa / -ʰ (Central West Bank)
3 p. sing. fem. -ʰa / -ha

ـها

-he (Nablus Samaritans)
1 p. plur. -na / -na

ـنا

-ne (Nablus Samaritans)
2 p. plur. masc. -kʊm

ـكم

-kʊn (Syrian, Lebanese), -ku (Galilee, Hebron), -kɪm (West Bank)
2 p. plur. fem. -kɪn

ـكن

-kʊn (Syrian, Lebanese), -ku (Galilee, Hebron), -kʊm (Jerusalem, Jaffa)
3 p. plur. masc. -ʰʊm / -hʊm

ـهم

-ʰʊn / -hʊn (Lebanese, Syrian), -ʰɪn/-hɪn (Galilee)
3 p. plur. fem. -ʰɪn/-hɪn

ـهن

-ʰʊm / -hʊm (Jerusalem, Jaffa, Amman), -ʰʊn / -hʊn (Lebanese, Syrian)

Attempts at institutionalisation[edit]

Lebanon has been passing through trials of setting up the Lebanese Language. LEBNAAN Newspaper in proposed Said Akl alphabet (issue #686)
Lebanese nationalist poet Said Akl's book, Yara, and an excerpt from the book in his proposed Lebanese alphabet. Fairouz and the Rahbani Brothers had chosen Akl's book for the title of their song of the same name.

See more[edit]

For more information, see

References[edit]

  1. ^ North Levantine at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    South Levantine at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Versteegh, Kees, The Arabic language, Edinburgh University Press, 2001, p.170
  3. ^ Bassiouney, Reem, Arabic sociolinguistics, Edinburgh University Press, 2009, p.20
  4. ^ Rudolf de Jong, Characteristics of Bedouin dialects in southern Sinai: preliminary observations, in, Manfred Woidich, Martine Haak, Rudolf Erik de Jong,, eds., Approaches to Arabic dialects: a collection of articles presented to Manfred Woidich on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, BRILL, 2004, pp.151-176
  5. ^ Heikki Palva, Sedentary and Bedouin Dialects in Contact: Remarks On Karaki and Salti Dialects in Jordan, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies vol 9 (2008)
  6. ^ Peter Behnstedt, Sprachatlas von Syrien I, Kartenband & Beiheft, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997, 1037 & 242 pages
  7. ^ See e.g. Yohanan Elihai, The olive tree dictionary: a transliterated dictionary of conversational Eastern Arabic (Palestinian). Washington, DC: Kidron Pub. 2004 (ISBN 0-9759726-0-X)
  8. ^ U. Seeger, Mediterranean Language Review 10 (1998), pp. 89-145.
  9. ^ Handbuch der arabische Dialekte - Jastrow & Fischer - Harrassowitz verlag
  10. ^ Manuel Du Parler Arabe Moderne Au Moyen, Jean Kassab, Paul Geuthner ed., Paris (2006)
  11. ^ Die arabischen Stadtdialekte von Haifa in der ersten Hälfte des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2004.
  12. ^ Yohanan Elihai, The olive tree dictionary: a transliterated dictionary of conversational Eastern Arabic (Palestinian). Washington, DC: Kidron Pub. 2004 (ISBN 0-9759726-0-X)
  13. ^ Der arabische Dialekt von il-Xalil (Hebron), Mediterranean Language Review Heft 10 (1998), S. 89-145
  14. ^ Enam Al-Wer Jordanian Arabic (Amman) Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. Managing Editors Online Edition: Lutz Edzard, Rudolf de Jong. Brill Online 2012
  15. ^ Heikki Palva, Sedentary and Bedouin Dialects in Contact: Remarks On Karaki and Salti Dialects in Jordan, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies vol 9 (2008)
  16. ^ Handbuch der arabische Dialekte - Jastrow & Fischer - Harrassowitz verlag

External links[edit]