Lebanese Arabic

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Lebanese Arabic
اللهجة اللبنانية
Native toLebanon
Native speakers
6.4 million (2020)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Arabic chat alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3(covered by apc)
  North Lebanese Arabic
  North-Central Lebanese Arabic
  Beqaa Arabic
  Jdaideh Arabic
  Sunni Beiruti Arabic
  South-Central Lebanese Arabic
  Iqlim-Al-Kharrub Sunni Arabic
  Saida Sunni Arabic
  South Lebanese Arabic
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Lebanese Arabic (Arabic: عَرَبِيّ لُبْنَانِيّ ʿarabiyy lubnāniyy; autonym: ʿarabe libnēne [ˈʕaɾabe lɪbˈneːne]), or simply Lebanese (Arabic: لُبْنَانِيّ lubnāniyy; autonym: libnēne [lɪbˈneːne]), is a variety of North Levantine Arabic, indigenous to and primarily spoken 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 and pervasive diglossia among Lebanese people (a majority of the Lebanese people are bilingual or trilingual), it is not uncommon for Lebanese people to code-switch between or mix Lebanese Arabic, French, and English in their daily speech. It is also spoken among the Lebanese diaspora.

Lebanese Arabic is a descendant of the Arabic dialects introduced to the Levant and other Arabic dialects that were already spoken in other parts of the Levant in the 7th century AD, 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, French, and English. As a variety of Levantine Arabic, Lebanese Arabic is most closely related to Syrian Arabic and shares many innovations with Palestinian and Jordanian Arabic.

Differences from Standard Arabic[edit]

Lebanese 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.


An interview with Lebanese singer Maya Diab; she speaks in Lebanese Arabic.
  • The following example demonstrates two differences between Standard Arabic (Literary Arabic) and Spoken Lebanese Arabic: coffee (قهوة), Literary Arabic: /ˈqahwa/; Lebanese Arabic: [ˈʔahwe]. The voiceless uvular plosive /q/ corresponds to a glottal stop [ʔ], and the final vowel ([æ~a~ɐ]) commonly written with tāʾ marbūtah (ة) is raised to [e].
  • As a general rule, the voiceless uvular plosive /q/ is replaced with glottal stop [ʔ], e.g. دقيقة /daqiːqa/ 'minute' becomes [dʔiːʔa]. This debuccalization of /q/ 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 /q/ in the centre of direct neighbours who have replaced [q] with /ʔ/ (for example 'heart', which is /qalb/ in Literary Arabic, becomes [ʔaleb] or [ʔalb]. The use of /q/ by Druze is particularly prominent in the mountains and less so in urban areas.
  • Unlike most other varieties of Arabic, a few dialects of Lebanese Arabic have retained the classical diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ (pronounced in Lebanese Arabic as [eɪ] and [eʊ]), which were monophthongised into [] and [] elsewhere, although the majority of Lebanese Arabic dialects realize them as [oʊ] and [eɪ]. In urban dialects (i.e. Beiruti) [] has replaced /aj/ and sometimes medial /aː/, and [e] has replaced final /i/ making it indistinguishable with tāʾ marbūtah (ة). Also, [] has replaced /aw/; [o] replacing some short /u/s. In singing, the /aj/, /aw/ and medial /aː/ are usually maintained for artistic[specify] values.
  • The /θ/ sound from Modern Standard Arabic is sometimes replaced with /t/ in words from MSA like /θaːnija/, (second as in the number) when it becomes /teːnje/. Other times, it may be replaced with /s/ in words like /θaːnija/ (second as in the time measurement) when it becomes /seːnje/. It is assumed that this is to maintain an audible difference between the two words which were originally homophones. In some dialects, the /θ/ sound is replaced with /t/ for both words.

Contentions regarding descent from Arabic[edit]

Lebanese literary figure Said Akl led a movement to recognize the "Lebanese language" as a distinct prestigious language and oppose it to Standard Arabic, which he considered a "dead language". Akl's idea was relatively successful among the Lebanese diaspora.[6]

Several non-linguist commentators, most notably the statistician and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, have claimed that the Lebanese vernacular is not in fact a variety of Arabic at all, but rather a separate Central Semitic language descended from older languages including Aramaic; those who espouse this viewpoint suggest that a large percentage of its vocabulary consists of Arabic loanwords, and that this compounds with the use of the Arabic alphabet to disguise the language's true nature.[5] Taleb has recommended that the language be called Northwestern Levantine or neo-Canaanite.[7][8][9] However, this classification is at odds with the comparative method of historical linguistics; the lexicon of Lebanese, including basic lexicon, exhibits sound changes and other features that are unique to the Arabic branch of the Semitic language family,[10] making it difficult to categorize it under any other branch, and observations of its morphology also suggest a substantial Arabic makeup.[11] However, this is disputable as Arabic and Aramaic share many cognates, so only words proper to the Arabic language and cognates with Arabic-specific sound changes can certainly only be from Arabic. It is plausible that many words used in Lebanese Arabic today may have been influenced by their respective Aramaic and Canaanite cognates.[5]

Historian and linguist Ahmad Al-Jallad has argued that modern dialects are not descendants of Classical Arabic, forms of Arabic existing before the formation of Classical Arabic being the historical foundation for the various dialects. Thus he states that, "most of the familiar modern dialects (i.e. Rabat, Cairo, Damascus, etc.) are sedimentary structures, containing layers of Arabics that must be teased out on a case-by-case basis."[12] In essence, the linguistic consensus is that Lebanese too is a variety of Arabic.[13][14]



Lebanese Arabic consonants
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic
Nasal m n
Stop voiceless (p) t (t͡ʃ) k (q) ʔ
voiced b d (ɡ)
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ x ħ h
voiced (v) z ʒ ɣ ʕ
Tap/trill r
Approximant l j w
  • The phonemes /p, v/ are not native to Lebanese Arabic and are only found in loanwords. They are sometimes realized as [b] and [f] respectively.
  • The velar stop /ɡ/ occurs in native Lebanese Arabic words but is generally restricted to loanwords. It is realized as [k] by some speakers.
  • [q] can be heard among Druze speech, alternating with a glottal /ʔ/.[15]

Vowels and diphthongs[edit]

Lebanese Arabic vowel chart.


This table shows the correspondence between general Lebanese Arabic vowel phonemes and their counterpart realizations in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and other Levantine Arabic varieties.

Lebanese Arabic MSA Southern Central Northern
/æ/ [a] [ɑ] or [ʌ] [ɔ] or [ɛ]
/ɪ/ [i] or [u] [e] [ə] [e] or [o]
/ʊ/ [u] [o] or [ʊ] [o]
/a/1 [a] [e]1
/ɛː/ [aː] [æː] [eː]
/ɔː/ [ɑː] [oː]
/eː/ [aː] [a] [e]
/iː/ [iː]
/i/~/e/ [iː] [i]
/u/ [uː]
/eɪ/~/eː/ [aj] [eː]
/oʊ/~/oː/ [aw] [oː]

^1 After back consonants this is pronounced [ʌ] in Lebanese Arabic, Central and Northern Levantine varieties, and as [ɑ] in Southern Levantine varieties.[16]

Regional varieties[edit]

Although there is a modern Lebanese Arabic dialect mutually understood by Lebanese people,[17] there are regionally distinct variations with, at times, unique pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.[18]

Widely used regional varieties include:

Writing system[edit]

Lebanese Arabic is rarely written, except in novels where a dialect is implied or in some types of poetry that do not use classical Arabic at all. Lebanese Arabic is also utilized in many Lebanese songs, theatrical pieces, local television and radio productions, and very prominently in zajal.

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 Said 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[citation needed] 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. Examples:

  • 7 for ح
  • 5 for خ
  • 3 for ع
  • 2 for ء or ق (qaf is often pronounced as a glottal stop)
  • 8 for غ

In 2010, The Lebanese Language Institute has released a Lebanese Arabic keyboard layout and made it easier to write Lebanese Arabic in a Latin script, using unicode-compatible symbols to substitute for missing sounds.[19]

Said Akl's orthography[edit]

Said Akl's statue in the American University of Science and Technology's campus in Beirut, Lebanon

Said Akl, the poet, philosopher, writer, playwright and language reformer, designed an 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 French and English
  • Some written consonant-letters, depending on their position, inherited a preceding vowel. As L and T.
  • Emphatic consonants are not distinguished in spelling by Said Akl's method, with the exception of /zˤ/ 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.
  • ꞓ which represents /ʔ/ (Arabic hamza) was written even initially.
  • All of 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
a /a/, /ɑ/ a
aa //, /ɑː/ aa, å
c /ʃ/ sh, ch, š
/ʔ/ 2, ’ The actual diacritic is a diagonal stroke crossing the bottom left of the letter
g /ɣ/ gh
i /ɪ/, /i/ Represents /i/ word-finally
ii //
j /ʒ/
k /χ/ kh, 5
q /k/ k
u /ʊ/, /u/ Represents /u/ word-finally
uu //
x /ħ/ 7, ḥ, h, H
y /j/
ý /ʕ/ 3, 9, ‘ The actual diacritic is a horizontal stroke going from the top of the upper-left spoke of the letter towards the top-center of the letter-space
ƶ /zˤ/

Roger Makhlouf largely uses Akl's alphabet in his Lebanese-English Lexicon.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Arabic, North Levantine Spoken". Ethnologue. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  2. ^ "Languages". Come To Lebanon. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  3. ^ Bishai, Wilson B. (1 January 1964). "Coptic Lexical Influence on Egyptian Arabic". JSTOR. Retrieved 18 December 2022.
  4. ^ "You may think you're speaking Lebanese, but some of your words are really Syriac". The Daily Star Newspaper - Lebanon. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2 January 2018). "No, Lebanese is not a "dialect of" Arabic". East Med Project: History, Philology, and Genetics. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  6. ^ Płonka 2006
  7. ^ "Lebanese Language - MARONITE HERITAGE".
  8. ^ "Phoenicia: The Lebanese Language: What is the difference between the Arabic Language and the Lebanese language?". phoenicia.org.
  9. ^ "Lebanese Language Institute » History". www.lebaneselanguage.org.
  10. ^ Souag, Lameen (4 January 2018). "Jabal al-Lughat: Taleb unintentionally proves Lebanese comes from Arabic".
  11. ^ Souag, Lameen (9 September 2014). "Jabal al-Lughat: Why "Levantine" is Arabic, not Aramaic: Part 2".
  12. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad, A Manual of the Historical Grammar of Arabic – via Academia.edu
  13. ^ Brustad, Kristen; Zuniga, Emilie (6 March 2019). "Chapter 16: Levantine Arabic". In Huehnergard, John; Pat-El, Na'ama (eds.). The Semitic languages (2nd ed.). London & New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 403–432. doi:10.4324/9780429025563. ISBN 978-0-429-02556-3. S2CID 166512720.
  14. ^ Huehnergard, John; Pat-El, Na'ama (eds.). The Semitic languages (2nd ed.). London & New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 3–6. ISBN 978-0-429-02556-3. S2CID 166512720.
  15. ^ Khattab, Ghada; Al-Tamimi, Jalal (2009). Phonetic Cues to Gemination in Lebanese Arabic. Newcastle University.
  16. ^ Abdul-Karim, K. 1979. Aspects of the Phonology of Lebanese Arabic. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Doctoral Dissertation.
  17. ^ "Lebanese Language - MARONITE HERITAGE". www.maronite-heritage.com. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  18. ^ Makki, Elrabih Massoud. 1983. The Lebanese dialect of Arabic: Southern Region. (Doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University; 155pp.)
  19. ^ Lebanese Language Institute: Lebanese Latin Letters The Lebanese Latin Letters
  20. ^ Makhlouf, Roger (2018). Lebanese-English Lexicon. ISBN 978-1-7180-8620-3.


  • Feghali, Maksoud Nayef (1999). Spoken Lebanese. Parkway Publishers. OCLC 43497631.
  • Feghali, Michel T. (1928). Syntaxe des parlers arabes actuels du Liban. Paris: Impr. nationale. OCLC 580564758.
  • Elie Kallas, 'Atabi Lebnaaniyyi. Un livello soglia per l'apprendimento del neoarabo libanese, Cafoscarina, Venice, 1995.
  • Angela Daiana Langone, Btesem ente lebneni. Commedia in dialetto libanese di Yahya Jaber, Università degli Studi La Sapienza, Rome, 2004.
  • Jérome Lentin, "Classification et typologie des dialectes du Bilad al-Sham", in Matériaux Arabes et Sudarabiques n. 6, 1994, 11–43.
  • Płonka, Arkadiusz (2004). L'idée de langue libanaise d'après Sa'ïd 'Aql. Geuthner. ISBN 2-7053-3739-3. OCLC 57573072.
  • Płonka, Arkadiusz (2006). "Le nationalisme linguistique au Liban autour de Sa'īd 'Aql et l'idée de langue libanaise dans la revue Lebnaan en nouvel Alphabet". Arabica (in French). Brill. 53 (4): 423–471. doi:10.1163/157005806778915100.
  • Franck Salameh, "Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East", Lexington Books, 2010.
  • Abdul-Karim, K. 1979. Aspects of the Phonology of Lebanese Arabic. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Doctoral Dissertation.
  • Bishr, Kemal Mohamed Aly. 1956. A grammatical study of Lebanese Arabic. (Doctoral dissertation, University of London; 470pp.)
  • Choueiri, Lina. 2002. Issues in the syntax of resumption: restrictive relatives in Lebanese Arabic. Ann Arbor: UMI. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Los Angeles; xi+376pp.)
  • Makki, Elrabih Massoud. 1983. The Lebanese dialect of Arabic: Southern Region. (Doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University; 155pp.)

External links[edit]