Levantine Arabic

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Levantine Arabic
شامي‎, šāmi
Native toSyria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Turkey
RegionLevant / Greater Syria
Ethnicity
Primarily Arabs
Native speakers
38 million (2021)[2]
Dialects
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
apc – North Levantine
ajp – South Levantine
Glottologleva1239
Linguasphere12-AAC-eh "Syro-Palestinian"
IETFapc
ajp
Levantine Arabic Map 2021.jpg
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Levantine Arabic, also called Shami (autonym: شامي‎ šāmi, or Arabic: اللَّهْجَةُ الشَّامِيَّة‎, il-lahje š-šāmiyye),[3] or simply Levantine, is a subgroup of mutually intelligible vernacular Arabic varieties spoken in the Levant, in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Turkey (historically in Adana, Mersin and Hatay provinces only).[1][4] It is also spoken among diaspora communities from this region, most significantly among the Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian diasporas.[5]

With numerous dialects and over 38 million speakers worldwide,[2] Levantine has been described as one of the two "dominant (prestigeful) dialect centres of gravity for Spoken Arabic", together with Egyptian Arabic.[6] Levantine and Egyptian are considered the most widely understood varieties of Arabic, and they are the most commonly taught varieties to foreign students.[7]

Levantine varieties are not officially recognized in any state or territory.[8] Levantine is the majority language in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, but in the frame of the general diglossia status of the Arab world, it is predominantly used as a spoken vernacular in daily communication, whereas most of the written and official documents and media in these countries use the official Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), a form of literary Arabic that is only acquired through formal education and does not function as a native language.[9] In Israel and Turkey, Levantine Arabic is a minority language.[9] In Israel, Hebrew is the only official language, while MSA has "a special status."[10] In Turkey, the local Levantine dialect is endangered and only Turkish has official status.[11]

Sharing about 50% similarity in lexicon,[12] the Palestinian dialect of Levantine is considered the closest vernacular variety to MSA.[13][14][15] Nevertheless, Levantine and MSA are divergent varieties and not mutually intelligible.[16][17][18] Levantine speakers therefore often call their language Amiya,[a] which means "slang", "dialect", or "colloquial" in MSA (العامية, al-ʿāmmiyya).[19][20] However, with the emergence of social media, attitudes toward Levantine have improved and the amount of written Levantine has significantly increased.[3]

Naming[edit]

Map of Greater Syria / the Levant.

Scholars use the term "Levantine Arabic" to describe the continuum of mutually intelligible dialects spoken across the Levant.[21] Other terms include "Syro-Palestinian",[22] "Eastern Arabic",[b][23] "Syro-Lebanese" (as a broad term covering Jordan and Palestine as well),[24] "Greater Syrian",[25] or simply "Syrian Arabic" (in a broad meaning, referring to all the dialects of Greater Syria, which corresponds to the Levant).[26][17] Most authors only include sedentary dialects, excluding Bedouin dialects of the Syrian Desert and the Negev, which belong to Peninsular Arabic. Mesopotamian dialects from northeast Syria are also excluded.[24] Brustad & Zuniga note that the term "Levantine Arabic" is not indigenous and that "it is likely that many speakers would resist the grouping on the basis that the rich phonological, morphological and lexical variation within the Levant carries important social meanings and distinctions."[27]

Indeed, Levantine speakers often call their language Amiya,[a] which means "slang", "dialect", or "colloquial" in MSA (العامية, al-ʿāmmiyya) to compare their vernacular to Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic (الفصحى‎, al-fuṣḥā, meaning "the eloquent").[c][19][20] They may also simply call their spoken language "Arabic" (عربي, ʿarabiyy).[28] Alternatively, they may identify their language by the name of their country, for instance, Jordanian (أردني‎, Urduni),[2] Syrian (شامي‎, Shami),[2] or Lebanese (لبناني). In Lebanon, 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.[29]

Classification[edit]

Levantine is a variety of Arabic, a Semitic language. Semitic languages belong to Afroasiatic languages. The genealogical position of Arabic within the group of the Semitic languages has long been a problem.[30][31]

Indeed, Semitic languages were confined in a relatively small geographic area (Greater Syria, Mesopotamia and the Arabian desert) and often spoken in contiguous regions. Permanent contacts between the speakers of these languages facilitated borrowing between them. Borrowing disrupts historical processes of change and makes it difficult to reconstruct the genealogy of languages.[32]

In the traditional classification of the Semitic languages, Arabic was in the South-west Semitic group, based on some affinities with Modern South Arabian and Geʽez.[33]

Traditional classification of the Semitic languages[33]
Proto-Semitic
West SemiticEast Semitic (Akkadian)
North-west SemiticSouth-west Semitic
Canaanite
(Hebrew, Phoenician)
AramaicArabicSouth ArabianEthiopian

Today, most scholars reject the South-west Semitic subgrouping because it is not supported by any innovations and because shared features with South Arabian and Ethiopian were only due to areal diffusion.[31]

A more recent classification by Robert Hetzron (1974, 1976) classifies Arabic languages as a Central Semitic language:[34]

The genealogy of the Semitic languages (Hetzron 1974, 1976)[34]
Proto-Semitic
West SemiticEast Semitic (Akkadian)
South SemiticCentral Semitic
AramaicArabo-Canaanite
EthiopianEpigraphic South ArabianModern South ArabianArabicCanaanite

John Huehnergard, Aaron D. Rubin, and other scholars suggested subsequent modifications to Hetzron's model:[35]

Huehnergard & Pat-El's classification of Semitic languages[35]
Proto-Semitic
West SemiticEast Semitic (Akkadian)
Ethio-SemiticModern South ArabianCentral Semitic
North ArabianAncient ArabianNorthwest Semitic
Arabic-SafaiticArameo-CanaaniteUgariticSamalian
Arabic vernaculars
(inc. Levantine)
Classical Arabic and
Modern Standard Arabic
SafaiticDadanitic,
Taymanitic,
Hismaic, etc.

However, several scholars, such as Giovanni Garbini, consider that the historical–genetic interpretation is not a satisfactory way of representing the development of the Semitic languages (contrary to Indo-European languages, which spread over a wide area and were usually isolated from each other).[36] Edward Ullendorff even thinks it is impossible to establish any genetic hierarchy between Semitic languages.[34] These scholars prefer a purely typological–geographical approach without any claim to a historical derivation.[33]

For instance, in Garbini's view, the Syrian Desert was the core area of the Semitic languages where innovations came from. This region had contacts between sedentary settlements—on the desert fringe—and nomads from the desert. Some nomads joined settlements, while some settlers became isolated nomads ("Bedouinisation"). According to Garbini, this constant alternation explains how innovations spread from Syria into other areas.[37] Isolated nomads progressively spread southwards and reached South Arabia, where the South Arabian language was spoken. They established linguistic contacts back and forth between Syria and South Arabia and their languages. That is why Garbini considers that Arabic does not belong exclusively to either the Northwest Semitic languages (Aramaic, Phoenician, Hebrew, etc.) or the South Semitic languages (Modern South Arabian, Geʽez, etc.) but that it was affected by innovations in both groups.[38]

Today, there is still no consensus regarding the exact position of Arabic within Semitic languages. The only consensus among scholars is that Arabic varieties exhibit common features with both the South (South Arabian, Ethiopic) and the North (Canaanite, Aramaic) Semitic languages, and that it also contains unique innovations.[38]

The position of Levantine and other Arabic vernaculars in the Arabic macrolanguage family has also been contested. According to the Arabic linguistic and intellectual tradition, Classical Arabic was the spoken language of the pre- and Early Islamic period and remained stable to today's Modern Standard Arabic. In this view, Classical Arabic is the ancestor of all other Arabic vernaculars, including Levantine, which were corrupted by contacts with other languages.[39] However, many varieties of Arabic preserve features lost in Classical Arabic and are closer to other Semitic languages. This shows that these varieties of Arabic cannot have developed from Classical Arabic. It is therefore now considered among most Western scholars that Arabic vernaculars represent a different type of Arabic, rather than just a modified version of the Classical language,[40] and that Classical Arabic is a sister language to other varieties of Arabic rather than their direct ancestor.[39] In the above models, Classical Arabic and all other varieties, including Levantine, are seen as developing from an unattested common ancestor conventionally called Proto-Arabic.[31] Versteegh calls it Ancient North Arabian to distinguish it from Early Arabic, the early Islamic papyri's language.[41]

There is no consensus among scholars whether Arabic diglossia (between Classical Arabic, also called "Old Arabic" and Arabic vernaculars, also called "New Arabic" or "Neo-Arabic") was the result the result of the Islamic conquests and due to the influence of non-Arabic languages or whether is was already the natural state in 7th-century Arabia (which means that both types coexisted in the pre-Islamic period).[39][42]

Sedentary vernaculars (also called dialects) are then traditionally classified into 5 groups according to shared features:

Cypriot Arabic is considered either as a Levantine dialect,[45][46] or as a hybrid between Levantine and North Mesopotamian Arabic (qeltu).[47]

In the pre-Islamic period, all Arabs were able to communicate easily. Today, it is for instance extremely difficult for Moroccans and Iraqis, each speaking their own variety, to understand each other. The linguistic distance between Arabic vernaculars (including Levantine) is as large as that between the Germanic languages and the Romance languages (including Romanian), if not larger.[48] However, in practice, research by Trentman & Shiri indicates that native speakers of Arabic languages are able, thanks to previous exposure to their non-native dialects through media or personal contacts and through various strategies (contextual clues, predicting phonological differences, using knowledge of the root system to guess meaning, and recognizing affixes), to reach a high degree of mutual intelligibility in interactional situations.[7]

Geographical distribution and varieties[edit]

Map of Arabic varieties.

Levantine is spoken in the fertile strip on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. It is bordered by other Arabic varieties: Mesopotamian Arabic and North Mesopotamian Arabic to the north and the north-east of Syria; Najdi Arabic to the east and the south-east of Jordan and Syria; and Northwest Arabian Arabic to the south and the south west of Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.[49][50]

The degree of similarity among Levantine dialects is not necessarily determined by geographical location or political boundaries. The urban dialects of the main cities (such as Damascus, Beirut, and Jerusalem) have much more in common with each other than they do with the rural dialects of their respective countries. The sociolects of two different social or religious groups within the same country may also show more points of dissimilarity with each other than when compared with their counterparts in another country.[26]

Although Levantine dialects have remained notably stable over the past two centuries, in cities such as Damascus and Amman, a rapid standardization of the spoken language is taking place through variant reduction (koineization) and linguistic homogenization among the various religious groups and neighborhoods. Rapid urbanization and the increasing proportion of youth[d] constitute the common causes of dialect change.[53][54][44]

The process of koineization within each country of the Levant makes a classification of dialects by country more relevant today.[55][44] The ISO 639-3 standard divides Levantine into two groups: North Levantine (ISO 639-3 code: apc) and South Levantine (ISO 639-3 code: ajp).[2] Kees Versteegh classifies Levantine (which he calls "Syro-Lebanese") into three groups: Lebanese/Central Syrian (inc. Beirut, Damascus, Druze Arabic, Cypriot Maronite), North Syrian (inc. Aleppo), and Palestinian/Jordanian.[56] However, according to Versteegh, the distinctions between the groups are unclear and the exact boundary cannot be determined with certainty using isoglosses.[57]

North Levantine[edit]

David speaking Syrian Arabic.

North Levantine extends from Turkey in the North, specifically in the coastal regions of the Adana, Hatay, and Mersin provinces,[58] to Lebanon,[59] passing through the Mediterranean coastal regions of Syria (the Al Ladhiqiyah and Tartus governorates) as well as the areas surrounding Aleppo and Damascus.[2][49] In the North, the limit between Mesopotamian Arabic starts from the Turkish border near el-Rāʿi, and Sabkhat al-Jabbul is the north-eastern limit of Levantine, which includes further south al-Qaryatayn,[60] Damascus, and the Hauran.

Dialects of North Levantine include:[2]

  • Syrian Arabic: There is an urban standard dialect based on Damascus speech. This prestige dialect is the most widely documented and described Levantine variety.[27] A national variety of colloquial Arabic, which might be called "common Syrian Arabic" is emerging.[61] The dialect of Aleppo is also well-known, it shows Mesopotamian (North Syrian) influence,
  • Lebanese Arabic: No special prestige is attributed to the Beiruti dialect.[62] According to Ethnologue, there are also the following dialects: North Lebanese, South Lebanese (Metuali, Shii), North-Central Lebanese (Mount Lebanon Arabic), South-Central Lebanese (Druze Arabic), Beqaa, Sunni Beiruti, Saida Sunni, Iqlim al-Kharrub Sunni, Jdaideh.[2][63] There is an emerging "Standard Lebanese Arabic", which combines features of Beiruti Arabic and Jabale Arabic, the language of Mount Lebanon,[64] Armenians in Lebanon, who account for 6% of the population, are generally bilingual in Armenian and Levantine.[1]
  • Galilean Druze Arabic: A form of Druze Arabic spoken in Northern Israel,
  • Çukurova Arabic (also called Cilician Arabic or Çukurovan): spoken in Çukurova, Turkey,[65] including in Antakya (Antiochia Arabic).[11] Levantine Arabic speakers in Turkey come from four different religious groups: Sunni Muslim, Alawites,[e] Christian (Greek Orthodox and Catholic), and Jewish. It is difficult to know the number of Arabic speakers. Due to pressures against minority languages, younger generations of the Arabic-speaking communities increasingly use Turkish as their mother tongue. In 1971, 36% of the population in Hatay was Arabic-speaking. In 1996, Grimes estimated 500,000 speakers of North Levantine Arabic in Turkey.[66] In 2011, according to Procházka there were 70,000 Çukurova Arabic speakers in the Adana and Mersin provinces and people under 30 years old had completely switched to Turkish.[65] In 2011, Werner estimated 200,000 Antiochia Arabic in Hatay.[11] According to Ethnologue, Levantine Arabic is "Threatened" in Turkey.[67] Çukurova Arabic is in danger of becoming extinct in a few decades.[65]

South Levantine[edit]

South Levantine is spoken in Palestine and in the western area of Jordan (in the ‘Ajlun, Al Balqa', Al Karak, Al Mafraq, 'Amman, Irbid, Jarash, and Madaba governorates).[49] The language is also spoken in the HaTsafon district of Israel. There are about half a million speakers in the United Arab Emirates, though it is not indigenous there.[2]

Bedouin varieties are spoken in the Negev and Sinai Peninsula, which are areas of transition to the Egyptian dialect of the Sharqia Governorate (Šarqiyyah).[68][69] The dialect of the Egyptian city Arish in the North Sinai is classified by Linguasphere as Levantine.[22] The major characteristics distinguishing this dialect from its surrounding Bedouin dialects are those that more generally distinguish sedentary dialects from Bedouin dialects.[70]

Dialects of South Levantine include:[2]

Ethnicity and religion[edit]

The Levant is characterized by ethnic diversity and religious pluralism[75] and Levantine dialects vary along sectarian lines.[27]

Religious groups include Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Alawites,[e] Christians, Druze, and Jews (historically present all over the Levant, most of the Jewish community emigrated to Israel after 1948).[66][76] Differences between Muslim and Christian dialects are minimal, mainly involving some religious vocabulary.[9] A minority of features are perceived as typically associated with one group. For example, in Beirut, the analytic genitive exponent tēʕ is only used by Muslims and never by Christians (who use tabaʕ).[77] Druze and Alawite dialects are distinguished from others by retention of the phoneme /q/.[27] Sunni dialects are more influenced by MSA. Jewish dialects diverge more from Muslim dialects and often show influences from other towns as a result of trade networks and contacts with other Jewish communities.[75] For instance, the Jewish dialect of Hatay is very similar to the Aleppo dialect, in particular to the dialect of the Jews of Aleppo, and shows traits otherwise not found in any dialect of Hatay.[75][11][f] The process of koineization in cities such as Damascus leads to the homogenization of dialects through the spreading of features typical of a particular religious group to other religious groups.[53]

Levantine Arabic is primarily spoken by Arabs. It is also spoken as a first or second language by some other ethnic minorities in the region.[1] In particular, it is spoken natively by Samaritans[78] and by most Circassians in Jordan,[1][79] Armenians in Jordan[80] and Israel,[81] Assyrians in Israel,[81] Turkmen in Syria[82] and Lebanon,[83] Kurds in Lebanon,[84][85] and Dom people in Jerusalem.[86][87] Most Lebanese in Israel speak Lebanese Arabic and do not consider themselves Arabs, claiming to be Phoenicians.[88][89] Syrian Jews,[76][90] Lebanese Jews,[91] and Turkish Jews from Çukurova are native Levantine speakers, however, most of them moved to Israel after 1948.[11] Levantine also used to be spoken natively by most Jews in Jerusalem but the community experienced a shift to Modern Hebrew after the establishment of Israel.[92][93]

Moreover, Levantine is used as a second language by Dom people across the Levant,[94][2] Circassians in Israel,[2] Armenians in Lebanon,[1] Chechens in Jordan,[79][80] Assyrians in Syria[2] and Lebanon,[95] and most Kurds in Syria.[2][96]

Speakers by country[edit]

In addition to the Levant, where it is indigenous, Levantine is spoken by diasporic communities from the region, especially among the Palestinian,[73] Lebanese, and Syrian diasporas. In some countries, ethnic Arabs from the Levant have ceased to use the language. For instance, usage of Levantine Arabic varies in native and heritage speakers among the 7 million Lebanese Brazilians. There is evidence of gradual disuse in third-generation Lebanese Brazilians: 100% of first-generation Lebanese Brazilians declare being able to speak Lebanese, while only 11% of third-generation Lebanese Brazilians do so.[97]

Because of the Syrian Civil War, there are 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Jordan[98] and 3.7 million in Turkey.[99]

Levantine speakers, Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021)[2][g]
Country Total population North Levantine speakers (apc) South Levantine speakers (ajp) Total Levantine speakers (apc+ajp) % Levantine speakers among the population
 Egypt 100,388,000 173,000 N/A 173,000 0.2%
 Germany 83,149,000 712,000 15,300 727,300 0.9%
 Israel 8,675,000 93,700 1,430,000 1,523,700 17.6%
 Jordan 10,102,000 N/A 5,560,000 5,560,000 55.0%
 Kuwait 4,421,000 214,000 65,000 279,000 6.3%
 Lebanon 6,825,000 6,570,000 N/A 6,570,000 96.3%
 Palestine 4,981,000 14,800 4,000,000 4,014,800 80.6%
 Qatar 2,832,000 561,000 380,000 941,000 33.3%
 Saudi Arabia 34,269,000 500,000 415,000 915,000 2.8%
 Sweden 10,099,000 220,000 11,000 231,000 2.3%
 Syria 17,070,000 14,700,000 36,000 14,736,000 86.3%
 Turkey 83,430,000 1,250,000 N/A 1,250,000 1.5%
 United Arab Emirates 9,890,000 127,000 499,000 626,000 6.3%

History[edit]

In pre-Islamic antiquity, the predominant language spoken in the Levant was Western Aramaic, followed by Greek and, to a lesser extent, Latin. Arab communities stretched from the southern extremities of the Syrian Desert, including Transjordan and southern desert of Palestine, to central Syria, the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and the Beqaa Valley. This large swath of desert was inhabited by various Arabic-speaking tribes, including the Nabataeans, Tanukhids, Salihids, Banu al-Samayda, Banu Amilah and the Ghassanids. According to Al-Jallad, the Syrian steppe is the first region where Arabic was attested, in Safaitic inscriptions, and Arabic was part of the linguistic milieu of the Levant and Mesopotamia as early as the Iron Age.[4]

With the Muslim conquest of the Levant, the region became the new home of Arabic speakers originating from the Arabian Peninsula, so that Aramaic, also a Semitic language gradually declined until nearly disappearing. Nevertheless, Aramaic has left substrate influences on Levantine Arabic.[9] The language shift from Aramaic to Arabic was not a sudden switch from one language to another, but a long process over several generations, likely with an extended period of bilingualism. Some communities, such as the Samaritans, retained Aramaic well into the Muslim period, and a few small Aramaic-speaking villages had remained until the recent Syrian Civil War.[100]

Contact with Aramaic[edit]

There is evidence that a peripheral variety of Aramaic with archaic phonology existed in the southern Levant and possibly northern Arabia during the late first millennium BCE. This variety retained a velar/uvular realization of *ṣ́, as evidenced by an inscription with a prayer to the deity Rqy.[101]

The coexistence of Nabataean and Jewish Palestinian Aramaic in contracts from the Dead Sea show that Nabataeans were indeed exposed to other forms of Aramaic. The continuity of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, the emergence of Samaritan as well as Christian Palestinian Aramaic as written languages, and the eventual development of vocalization traditions make it possible to define Western Aramaic as a dialect group more clearly in the later Roman period than before.[102]

The degree to which Aramaic survived as a vernacular in Palestine after the 8th century CE is difficult to assess. One may suppose that the modern Western Aramaic dialects still spoken in the Christian and Muslim mountain villages of Maʿlūla, Baḫʿa, and Ǧubb ʿAdīn in the Antilebanon evolved from the same linguistic matrix as the older, now extinct Western Aramaic varieties that appear in the inscriptions and manuscript traditions of late Roman Palestine.[102]

Aramaic substrate elements in Palestinian Arabic are widely accepted and especially evident in the lexical component.[100]

Northern Old Arabic[edit]

In antiquity, ancient Arabia was home to a continuum of Central Semitic languages which stretched from the southern Levant to Yemen. The isoglosses associated with Arabic are clustered at the northern end of this continuum, in the northern Hijaz and the southern Levant. This may be in part due to a lack of documentation, but it is clear that Central Arabia was home to languages quite distinct from Arabic. Thus, Arabic can be said to have emerged in the second millennium BC and spread into the peninsula, replacing its sister languages on the Central Semitic continuum.[103]

In ancient times, the primary division between Arabic dialects was between Northern Old Arabic, spoken in the southern Levant, and Old Hijazi, spoken in the northern, and later central Hijaz. The main representatives of Northern Old Arabic were Safaitic, Hismaic, and Nabataean Arabic.[103] Tens of thousands of graffiti in the Safaitic and Hismaic scripts cover the deserts of southern Syria and present-day Jordan. The Safaitic inscriptions sometimes exhibit the article ʾ(l), a shared areal isogloss with the Arabic substrate of the Nabataean inscriptions. Many Safaitic inscriptions exhibit all of the features typical of Arabic. The Hismaic script was used to compose two long texts in an archaic stage of Arabic before the language acquired the definite article.[104]

Spread of Old Hijazi[edit]

Before the mid-sixth century, the coda of the definite article rarely exhibits assimilation to the following coronals and its onset is consistently given with an /a/ vowel. By the mid-sixth century CE in the dialect of Petra, the onset of the article and its vowel seem to have become weakened. There, the article is sometimes written as /el-/ or simply /l-/. A similar, but not identical, situation is found in the texts from the Islamic period. Unlike the pre-Islamic attestations, the coda of the article in the conquest Arabic assimilates to a following coronal consonant. The Arabic transcribed in the 1st century AH papyri represents a different strand of the Arabic language, likely related to Old Hijazi.[105]

The Damascus Psalm Fragment, dated to the mid- to late 9th century but possibly earlier, provides a glimpse of the vernacular of at least one segment of Damascene society during that period. Its linguistic features also shed light on a pre-grammarian standard of Arabic and the dialect from which it sprung, likely Old Hijazi.[106]

Early Modern Levantine Arabic[edit]

The Compendio of Lucas Caballero (1709) contains a description of spoken Damascene Arabic in the early 1700s. In some respects, the data given in this manuscript correspond to modern Damascene Arabic. For example, the allomorphic variation between -a/-e in the feminine suffix is essentially identical. In other respects, especially when it comes to insertion and deletion of vowels, it differs from the modern dialect. The presence of short vowels in /zibībih/ and /sifīnih/ point to an earlier stage of linguistic development, before elision led to the modern zbībe and sfīne, though the orthography of the manuscript is in this respect unclear.[107]

Status and usage[edit]

Diglossia[edit]

Levantine is not recognized in any state or territory.[8] Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. It has "special status" in Israel under the Basic Law. French is also recognized in Lebanon. In Turkey, the only official language is Turkish. Any variation from MSA is considered a "dialect" of Arabic.[8][108]

As in the rest of the Arab world, the linguistic situation in the Levant has been described as diglossia. Modern Standard Arabic is nobody's first acquired language. MSA is not transmitted naturally from parent to child but is learnt later on through formal instruction.[9]

MSA is the language of literature, official documents and the written formal media in general (newspapers, instruction leaflets, school books, etc.). In spoken form, MSA is mostly used when reading from a scripted text (e.g., news bulletins). MSA is also used for prayer and sermons in the mosque or church.[9] In Israel, Hebrew is the language used in the public sphere, except in religious and Arabic education settings, as well as internally among the Arab communities and on social media.[10][109]

Attitudes toward MSA are largely positive in the Arab world, even among those not proficient in the language. MSA is indeed associated with "the language of the Qur’an", and therefore revered by Muslims who form the majority of the population, including by non-Arab inhabitants such as Kurds. MSA is also associated with the "Arab heritage and civilization", eloquent expression, and a pan-Arab identity. As such, it is respected and admired by Arabs in general regardless of their religious affiliation.[110][8] Because the French and the British emphasized spoken vernaculars when they colonized the Arab world, MSA was also seen by Arabs as an asset against colonialism and imperialism.[111]

On the other hand, Levantine is the mother tongue of Arabic speakers in the region. It is the usual medium of communication in all domains except those described above, which require MSA.[9] Traditionally, it was regarded as less eloquent and less expressive than MSA and, therefore, not fit as the medium of literature or any form of writing.[110]

Levantine and MSA are so drastically different that they are mutually unintelligible. These differences are found on the levels of phonology, morphology, lexicon, and syntax.[16][17][18]

Traditionally in the Arab world, colloquial varieties, such as Levantine, have been regarded as corrupt forms of MSA and thus looked upon with disdain.[110][112] Writing in the vernacular has been a controversial issue for two reasons. First, Pan-Arab nationalists consider that this might divide the Arab people into different nations. Second, because Classical Arabic[c] is the language of the Quran, it is believed to be pure and everlasting, and Islamic religious ideology considers vernaculars to be inferior.[110][112] Therefore, until recently, the use of Levantine in formal settings or written form was often ideologically motivated, for instance, in opposition to Pan-Arabism.[112][110]

However, language attitudes surrounding Arabic diglossia are progressively shifting, and the use of Levantine has become de-ideologized for most people.[112] Recent research suggests that Levantine is now regarded in a more positive light, and its use is acknowledged in certain modes of writing. This increasing acceptance of the vernacular is partly due to its recent widespread use online, in both written and spoken forms.[108][110]

Code-switching[edit]

Code-switching between Levantine, MSA, English, French (in Lebanon and among Arab Christians in Syria[61]), and Hebrew (in Israel[112][88]) is frequent among Levantine speakers. Gordon cites two Lebanese examples: "Bonjour, ya habibti, how are you?" ("Hello, my love, how are you?") and "Oui, but leish?" ("Yes, but why?").[114]

Code-switching is not limited to normal conversations and informal settings and also happens in formal settings such as on television.[115]

Politics and government[edit]

In Lebanon, not all politicians master MSA, so they have to rely on Lebanese. Many public and formal speeches and most political talk shows are in Lebanese instead of MSA.[64]

In Israel, Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi often adds Palestinian Arabic sentences to his Hebrew speech, but he does not give full speeches in Arabic.[116]

Education[edit]

In the Levant, MSA is officially the only variety taught in schools as "Arabic," Levantine is not taught.[9] However in practice, lessons are often taught in a mix of MSA and Levantine. For instance, the lesson can be read out in MSA and explained in Levantine.[1]

In institutions of higher education, MSA is used as a medium of instruction in the social sciences and humanities, whereas in most universities (except in Syrian universities where only MSA is used), English or French are used in the applied and medical sciences.[9][1]

In Israel, MSA is the only language of instruction in Arab schools. The local Palestinian dialect is excluded from schools. Hebrew is studied as a second language by all Palestinian students from the second grade on. English is studied as a foreign language from the third grade on. Some schools start teaching Arabic, Hebrew and English all in the first grade.[117][109] In Jewish schools, in 2012, 23,000 pupils were studying spoken Arabic in 800 elementary schools. Palestinian Arabic is a compulsory subject in Jewish elementary schools in the Northern District. Otherwise, Jewish schools teach MSA.[118] In Jewish junior high schools, Arabic was studied by about 100,000 pupils. In Jewish high schools, by over 18,000 students. In total at all stages in 2012, 141,000 Jewish students were learning Arabic. In 2014, 2,487 Jewish students took the expanded Bagrut exam in Arabic, representing 2-3 percent of all students.[119]

In Jordan, MSA is the language in instruction, except at the university level in teaching sciences, engineering, and medicine where English is used.[79]

In Lebanon, about 50% of school students study in French.[120]

In Syria, the only language of instruction is MSA, including in universities. Teachers are obliged to speak only MSA with their pupils. In practice, they only do so partly.[61] In schools, English is mandatory for all students starting from the first grade. In seventh grade, each student has to choose a second foreign language between Russian (since 2014) and French.[121][122][123]

In Turkey, article 42.9 of the Constitution prohibits languages other than Turkish being taught as a mother tongue. Therefore, almost all Arabic speakers are illiterate in Arabic unless they have learned MSA for religious purposes.[66]

Social media[edit]

Research found that users in the Arab world communicate with their dialect language (such as Levantine) more than MSA on social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments of online newspapers). According to this paper, depending on the platform, between 12% and 23% of all dialectal Arabic content online was written in Levantine.[124]

Music and oral poetry[edit]

An interview with Lebanese singer Maya Diab; she speaks in Lebanese.

Levantine is commonly used in zajal and other forms of oral poetry.[125][61] Zajal written in vernacular was published in Lebanese newspapers such as al-Mašriq ("The Levant", from 1898) and ad-Dabbūr ("The Hornet", from 1925). In the 1940s, five reviews in Beirut were dedicated exclusively to poetry in Lebanese.[126]

Most songs are in a’amiya.[19] It is estimated that 40% of all music production in the Arab world is in Lebanese.[127][128]

Films, series, and TV shows[edit]

Most movies are in a’amiya.[19]

Egypt was the most influential center of Arab media productions (films, drama, TV series, etc.) during the 20th century,[128] but Levantine is now competing with Egyptian.[129] Lebanese television is the oldest running Arab television and is today the largest private Arab broadcast industry.[130] The majority of big-budget pan-Arab entertainment shows are filmed in the Lebanese dialect in the studios of Beirut. Moreover, the Syrian dialect dominates in Syrian TV series (such as Bab Al-Hara) and in the dubbing of Turkish television dramas (such as Noor), popular across all the Arab world.[128] Since the Syrian civil war, dubbing is still done in the Syrian dialect but in Dubai by Emirati companies.[131] Dubbing Turkish TV dramas has made the Syrian dialect understandable all over the Arab world.[27] Today, according to one survey, Native Arabic speakers think that Levantine dialects sound the most beautiful.[7]

The majority of Arabic satellite television networks use colloquial varieties (instead of MSA) for their programs. MSA is limited to news bulletin. This shift to vernacular started in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War and expanded to the rest of the Arab world. Despite this trend, Al Jazeera still uses MSA only, while Al Arabiya and Al-Manar use MSA or a hybrid between MSA and colloquial for talkshows.[115]

Newspapers[edit]

Newspapers usually use MSA and reserve Levantine for sarcastic commentaries and caricatures.[132] However, Levantine titles can commonly be found. The letter to the editor section can include entire paragraphs in Levantine, written by readers. Many newspapers also regularly publish personal columns in Levantine, such as خرم إبرة (xurm ʾibra, lit.'[through the] needle's eye') in the weekend edition of Al-Ayyam.[133]

In a 2013 study, Abuhakema investigated 270 written commercial ads in two Jordanian (Al Ghad and Ad-Dustour) and two Palestinian (Al-Quds and Al-Ayyam) daily newspapers. The study concluded that MSA is still the most used variety in ads, but both MSA and Levantine are acceptable, and Levantine is increasingly used in the language of ads.[134][135]

From 1983 to 1990, Said Akl's newspaper Lebnaan was published in Lebanese written in Latin alphabet.[29]

Literature[edit]

Levantine is seldom written, except for some novels, plays, and humorous writings. Prose written in Lebanese goes back to at least 1892 when Ṭannūs al-Ḥurr published Riwāyat aš-šābb as-sikkīr ʾay Qiṣṣat Naṣṣūr as-Sikrī ("The tale of the drunken youth, or The story of Naṣṣūr the Drunkard’"). In the 1960s, Said Akl led a movement in Lebanon to replace MSA as the national and literary language, and a handful of writers wrote in Lebanese. They also translated foreign works, such as La Fontaine's Fables, in Lebanese using Akl's alphabet.[136][29][126]

In general, most comedies are written in Levantine.[137] In Syria, plays became more common and popular in the 1980s by using Levantine instead of Classical Arabic. Saadallah Wannous, the most renowned Syrian playwright, used Syrian Arabic in his latest plays.[138]

In novels and short stories, most authors, such as Israeli-Arabs Riyad Baydas, Odeh Bisharat [ar], and Mohammad Naffa', write the dialogues in their Levantine dialect, while the rest of the text is in MSA.[139][140][133][141]

Lebanese authors Elias Khoury (especially in his recent works) and Kahlil Gibran wrote in Levantine, not only in the dialogues but also in the main narrative.[142][143]

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince was translated in Lebanese written in Arabic script by Mūrīs (Maurice) ʿAwwād (l-Amīr iz-zġīr, 1986).[126] It was later translated in Palestinian Arabic and published in two biscriptal editions: one written in Arabic script and Hebrew script, and another one in Arabic and Latin script.[144][145][146][147]

Comic books, such as the Syrian comic strip Kūktīl, are often written in Levantine instead of MSA.[148]

Full texts in dialect may be found in collections of short stories and anthologies of Palestinian folktales (turāṯ or heritage literature). On the other hand, Palestinian children's literature is almost exclusively written in MSA.[133][19]

The Gospel of Mark was published in the Palestinian dialect in 1940,[149] with the Gospel of Matthew and the Letter of James published in 1946.[150][151] The four Gospels were translated in Lebanese using Akl's alphabet in 1996 by Gilbert Khalifé. Muris (Maurice) 'Awwad published the four Gospels in 2001 in Lebanese in Arabic script.[29]

Phonology[edit]

Consonants[edit]

Consonant phonemes of Urban Levantine Arabic (Beirut,[62] Damascus,[76][152] Jerusalem,[92] Amman[153])
Labial Dental Denti-alveolar Post-alv./
Palatal
Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic
Nasal m n
Stop/
Affricate
voiceless (p)[h] t k q[i] ʔ
voiced b d d͡ʒ (g)[j]
Fricative voiceless f θ s ʃ x ~ χ ħ h
voiced (v)[h] ð z ðˤ ~ ɣ ~ ʁ ʕ
Approximant l (ɫ) j w
Trill r

Vowels[edit]

Vowel length is phonemic in Levantine. Vowels often show dialectal and/or allophonic variations, that are socially, geographically, and phonologically conditioned. Diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ are found in some Lebanese dialects, they respectively correspond to long vowels /eː/ and /oː/ in other dialects.[154]

In French borrowings, nasal vowels /ã/, /õ/, /ɛ̃/ and /ũ/ occur: ʾasãsēr ("lift"), selülēr "mobile phone".[76]

The difference between the short vowel pairs /e/ and /i/ as well as /o/ and /u/ is not always phonemic.[92] The vowel quality is usually /i/ and /u/ in stressed syllables.[76]

In North Levantine:

  • Stressed /i/ and /u/ merge. They usually become /i/, but might also be /u/ near emphatic consonants. Syrian and Beiruti tends to pronounce both of them as schwa [ə].[62]
  • The long vowel "ā" is pronounced similar to "ē" or even merge to "ē", when it is not near an emphatic or guttural consonant.[62]

Vowels in word final position are shortened. As a result, more short vowels are distinguished.[76]

Vowel system in Levantine[154]
Short Long
Front Central Back Front Back
Close/High /i/ N/A /u/ // //
Mid /e/ /ə/ /o/ // //
Open/Low /a/ [i ~ ɛ ~ æ ~ a ~ ɑ] // [ɛː ~ æː ~ ~ ɑː]
Diphthongs /aw/, /aj/

Helping vowels[edit]

Speakers often add a short vowel, called helping vowel or epenthetic vowel, sounding like a short schwa right before a word-initial consonant cluster to break it, as in ktiːr ǝmniːħ "very good/well". They are not considered part of the word as such and are never stressed. This process of anaptyxis is subject to social and regional variation.[155][156][157]

A helping vowel is inserted:

  • Before the word, if this word starts with two consonants and is at the beginning of a sentence,
  • Between two words, when a word ending in a consonant is followed by a word which starts with two consonants,
  • Between two consonants in the same word, if this word ends with two consonants and either is followed by a consonant or is at the end of a sentence.[158][159]

Stress[edit]

In Damascus Arabic, word stress falls on the last superheavy syllable (CVːC or CVCC). In the absence of a superheavy syllable:

  • if the word is bisyllabic, stress falls on the penultimate,
  • if the word contains three or more syllables and none of them is superheavy, then stress falls:
    • on the penultimate if it is heavy (CVː or CVC),
    • on the antepenult, if the penultimate is light (CV).[155]

Socio-phonetics[edit]

Levantine can be sub-classified based on political boundaries (Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian and Jordanian) but there are also many socio-phonetic variations, based on socio-cultural classifications (urban, rural and Bedouin), on gender, or on religion (Muslim, Christian, Druze). For instance ق tends to be pronounced as /q/ by Bedouins, /ʔ/ by women and urban speakers, and as /g/ by men and rural speakers. And in urban varieties, interdentals /θ/, /ð/, and /ðʕ/ tend to merge to stops or fricatives [t] ~ [s]; [d] ~ [z]; and [dʕ] ~ [zʕ] respectively.[160][152]

Socio-phonetic variations in Levantine[160]
Arabic letter Modern Standard Arabic Levantine (female/urban)[152] Levantine (male/rural)
ث /θ/ (th) /t/ (t) or [s] (s) /θ/ (th)
ج /d͡ʒ/ (j) /ʒ/ (j) /d͡ʒ/ (j)
ذ /ð/ (dh) /d/ (d) or [z] (z) /ð/ (dh)
ض /dˤ/ (ḍ) /dˤ/ (ḍ) /ðˤ/ (ẓ)
ظ /ðˤ/ (ẓ) /dˤ/ (ḍ) or [] /ðˤ/ (ẓ)
ق /q/ (q) /ʔ/ (ʾ) /g/ (g)

Regarding vowels, one of the most distinctive features of Levantine is word-final imāla, a process by which the vowel corresponding to ة (taa marbuuTa) is raised from [a] to [æ], [ε], [e] or even [i] in some dialects.[161]

Orthography[edit]

Writing systems[edit]

Tabloid newspaper Lebnaan in Lebanese using the Latin alphabet proposed by Said Akl.

In the frame of the general diglossia status of the Arab world, Levantine is mainly used for daily spoken use, while most of the written and official documents and media use Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).[19]

Therefore, until recently, Levantine was rarely written. Brustad & Zuniga report that in 1988, they did not find anything published in Levantine in Syria. However, it is now possible to see written Levantine in many public venues and on the internet.[162] Indeed, with the emergence of social media, the amount of written Levantine (among other varieties of Arabic) has increased.[3]

There is no standard orthography for Levantine.[3] There has been failed attempts to Latinize Levantine, especially Lebanese. For instance, the Lebanese writer Said Akl promoted a modified Latin alphabet. Akl used this alphabet to write books and to publish a newspaper, Lebnaan.[163][164][29] The Computational Approaches to Modeling Language (CAMeL) Lab, a research lab at New York University Abu Dhabi, has been developing CODA, a conventional orthography for dialectal Arabic, since 2012. CODA uses the Arabic script and is a unified framework for writing all vernacular varieties of Arabic, including Levantine. CODA is designed primarily to develop computational models of Arabic dialects.[165][166] A Palestinian CODA was also released.[167]

Today, written communication takes place using a variety of orthographies and writing systems, including Arabic (right-to-left script), Hebrew (right-to-left, used in Israel[168][133][169][170]), Latin (Arabizi, left-to-right), and a mixture of the three. Arabizi is a non-standard romanization often used by Levantine speakers in social media and discussion forums, SMS messaging and online chat.[171] Arabizi was initially developed because the Arabic script was not available or not easy to use on most computers and smartphones. Still its usage persisted even after Arabic software became widespread.[112] A 2012 study found that on the Jordanian forum Mahjoob about one-third of messages were written in Levantine in the Arabic script, one-third in Arabizi, and one-third in English.[172]

Zoabi (2012) studied alphabet choice in colloquial Arabic on Facebook. She found that Arabic script was dominant in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, and Libya. Latin script dominates in former French colonies: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Lebanon. In Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, and Gulf countries, both Arabic and Latin scripts are used. Israeli Druze and Bedouins preferred Hebrew script for status updates rather than Arabic or Latin. According to Zoabi, several factors affect script choice:

  1. Formality: Arabic script is used for formal situations (e.g., writing status updates). However, Latin script is used for informal situations (e.g., addressing someone specific and wall posts).
  2. Religion: Arabic script is strongly associated with being a Muslim, while Latin is associated with being Christian, particularly in wall posts.
  3. Age: Young use Latin more. 30 years of age and older use almost exclusively the Arabic script.
  4. Education: Educated people write more in Latin.
  5. Script Congruence: The tendency to reply to a post in the same script is higher than switching the script.[173][168]

According to a 2020 survey done in and around Nazareth, Arabizi "emerged" as a "‘bottom-up’ orthography" and there is now "a high degree of normativization or standardisation in Arabizi orthography." Among consonants, only five (ج ,ذ ,ض ,ظ ,ق) revealed variability in their representation in Arabizi.[174]

The Arabic alphabet is always cursive and letters vary in shape depending on their position within a word. Letters can exhibit up to four distinct forms corresponding to an initial, medial (middle), final, or isolated position (IMFI).[175] Only the isolated form is shown in the tables below.

Consonants[edit]

Said Akl's alphabet uses non-standard characters and could not be displayed on this page, it can be found in Płonka 2006, pp. 465–466.

Letter(s) Romanization IPA Pronunciation notes
Cowell[176] Al-Masri[177] Aldrich[178] Elihay[179] Liddicoat[180] Assimil[181] Stowasser[182] Arabizi[183][174][168]
أ إ ؤ ئ ء ʔ ʔ ʔ ' ʔ 2 or not written [ʔ] glottal stop like in uh-oh
ق q g ʔ
q
q

q
q
2 or not written
9 or q or k
[ʔ] or [g]
[q]
- glottal stop (urban accent) or "hard g" as in get (Jordanian, Beduin, Gaza[74])
- guttural "k", pronounced further back in the throat (formal MSA words)
ع ε 3 3 c ع c ε 3 [ʕ] voiced throat sound similar to "a" as in father, but with more friction
ب b [b] as in English
د d [d] as in English
ض D ɖ d d or D [] emphatic "d" (constricted throat, surrounded vowels become dark)
ف f [f] as in English
غ ġ gh ɣ ġ gh gh ġ 3’ or 8 or gh [ɣ] like Spanish "g" between vowels, similar to French "r"
ه h [h] as in English
ح H ɧ h 7 or h [ħ] "whispered h", has more friction in the throat than "h"
خ x x x ꜧ̄ kh kh x 7’ or 5 or kh [x] "ch" as in Scottish loch, like German "ch" or Spanish "j"
ج ž j ž j or g [] or [ʒ] "j" as in jump or "s" as in pleasure
ك k [k] as in English
ل l [l]
[ɫ]
- light "l" as in English love
- dark "l" as call, used in Allah and derived words
م m [m] as in English
ن n [n] as in English
ر r []
[r]
- "rolled r" as in Spanish or Italian, usually emphatic
- not emphatic before vowel "e" or "i" or after long vowel "i"
س s [s] as in English
ث θ  th s s
th t s
t
t or s or not written [s]
[θ]
- "s" as in English (urban)
- voiceless "th" as in think (rural, formal MSA words)
ص S ʂ s s [] emphatic "s" (constricted throat, surrounded vowels become dark)
ش š sh š š sh ch š sh or ch or $ [ʃ] "sh" as in sheep
ت t [t] as in English but with the tongue touching the back of the upper teeth
ط T ƭ t t or T or 6 [] emphatic "t" (constricted throat, surrounded vowels become dark)
و w [w] as in English
ي y [y] as in English
ذ 𝛿 dh z z
d d or z z
d
d or z or th [z]
[ð]
- "z" as in English (urban)
- voiced "th" as in this (rural, formal MSA words)
ز z [z] as in English
ظ DH ʐ z
th or z or d [] emphatic "z" (constricted throat, surrounded vowels become dark)

Usage in loanwords[edit]

Some sounds in loanwords do not exist in Levantine. They are represented as follows:

Letter(s) Romanization IPA Pronunciation notes
ج غ ك
چ[k]
g [g] "hard g" as in get
ب
پ[l]
p [p] "p" as in pen
ف
ڤ[l]
v [v] "v" as in vat

Doubled consonants[edit]

A consonant can be doubled in length. In the Arabic script, the symbol shadda is written above the consonant. In Latin alphabet, the consonant is written twice. Unlike the other diacritic marks, the shadda is often written in a normal Arabic text to avoid ambiguity. If a consonant carries both a shadda and a kasrah, the kasrah is written under the shadda (which is above the consonant), instead of being under the consonant.[180]

Example of words with shadda[180]
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
مدرِّسة mudarrise a female teacher
مدرسة madrase a school

Vowels[edit]

Short vowels[edit]

In the Arabic script, short vowels are not represented by letters but by diacritics above or below the letters. When Levantine is written with the Arabic script, the short vowels are usually not indicated, unless a word is ambiguous.[178][180]

Letter(s) Aldrich[178] Elihay[179] Liddicoat[180] Assimil[181] Arabizi[174] Environment IPA Pronunciation notes
ـَ ɑ α a a a near emphatic consonant [ɑ] as in got (American pronunciation)
a elsewhere [a~æ] as in cat
ـِ i e / i e / i / é i / é e before/after ح (ḥ) or ع (ʕ) [ɛ] as in get
elsewhere [e] or [ɪ] as in kit
ـُ u o / u o / u o / ou u any [o] or [ʊ] as in full

Long vowels[edit]

Letter(s) Aldrich[178] Elihay[179] Liddicoat[180] Assimil[181] Arabizi[174] Environment IPA Pronunciation notes
ـَا ɑ̄ aa ā a near emphatic consonant [ɑː] as in father
ā elsewhere [~æː] as in can
ē ē Imāla in North Levantine [ɛː~] as in face, but plain vowel
ـَي ē ee e any []
ɑy in open syllable in Lebanese /ay/ as in price or in face
ـِي ī ii ī any [] as in see
ـَو ō ō oo ō o any [] as in boat, but plain vowel
ɑw in open syllable in Lebanese /aw/ as in mouth or in boat
ـُو ū uu any [] as in food

Final vowels[edit]

Letter(s) Aldrich[21] Elihay[179] Liddicoat[180] Assimil[181] Environment IPA Pronunciation notes
ـَا ـَى ـَة ɑ α a a near emphatic consonant [ɑ] as in got (American pronunciation)
a elsewhere [a~æ] as in cat
ـَا ـَى i (respelled to ي) é Imāla in North Levantine [ɛ~e] as in get, but closed vowel
ـِة i e e any [e]
ـِي i i any [i]
[e] (Lebanese)
as in see, but shorter
merged to "e" in Lebanese
ـُه u (respelled to و) o N/A o any [o] as in lot, but closed vowel
ـُو u any [u]
[o] (Lebanese)
as in food, but shorter
merged to "o" in Lebanese

Helping vowels[edit]

Helping vowels (see above) are usually not written.[184][167]

Grammar[edit]

Word order[edit]

Both VSO (verb before subject before object) and SVO (subject before verb before object) word orders are possible in Levantine. The verb is before the object (VO).[185] However, Classical Arabic tends to prefer VSO, whereas in Levantine SVO is more common.[186] Subject-initial order indicates topic-prominent sentences, while verb-initial order indicates subject-prominent sentences.[187]

In interrogative sentences, the interrogative particle comes first.[188]

Copula[edit]

There is no copula used in the present tense in Levantine. In other tenses, the verb kān (كان) is used, its present tense form is used in the future tense.[189]

Definiteness[edit]

There is no indefinite article in Levantine. Nouns (except proper nouns) are automatically indefinite by the absence of the definite article.[190]

The Arabic definite article ال (il) precedes the noun or adjective and has multiple pronunciations. Its vowel is dropped when the preceding word ends in a vowel. A helping vowel "e" is inserted if the following word begins with a consonant cluster.[158]

It assimilates with "Sun letters", basically all consonants that are pronounced with the tip of the tongue. Other letters are called "Moon letters".[158] The letter Jeem (ج) is a special case. It is usually a Sun letter for speakers pronouncing it as [ʒ] but not for those pronouncing it as [d͡ʒ].[190][191]

Definiteness in Levantine: Examples
Moon letter البيت il-bēt
Sun letter (assimilation) الشمس iš-šams
Letter Jeem (ج) الجمعة il-jumʕa [ɪl.ˈd͡ʒʊm.ʕa] / ij-jumʕa [ɪʒ.ˈʒʊm.ʕa]
Consonant cluster الكتاب le-ktāb

Nouns[edit]

Case[edit]

There is no case marking in Levantine (contrary to Classical Arabic).[192]

Gender[edit]

Nouns can be either masculine or feminine. In the singular, most feminine nouns end with Tāʼ marbūṭah (ـة). This is pronounced as –a or -e depending on the preceding consonant. Generally, -a after guttural (ح خ ع غ ق ه ء) and emphatic consonants (ر ص ض ط ظ), and -e after other consonants.[193]

Number[edit]

Nouns in Levantine can be singular, dual or plural.[194][193]

The dual is invariably formed with suffix -ēn (ين-).[195][193] The dual is often used in a non-exact sense, especially in temporal and spatial nouns:

For nouns referring to humans, the regular (also called sound) masculine plural is formed with the suffix -īn. The regular feminine plural is formed with -āt. The masculine plural is used to refer to a group with both gender. However, there are many broken plurals (also called internal plurals),[196][193] in which the consonantal root of the singular is changed (nonconcatenative morphology). These plural patterns are shared with other varieties of Arabic and may also be applied to foreign borrowings: such as faːtuːra (plural: fwaːtiːr), from the Italian fattura, invoice.[192] Several patterns of broken plurals exist and it is not possible to exactly predict them.[197]

Inanimate objects take feminine singular agreement in the plural, for verbs, attached pronouns, and adjectives.[198]

Some foreign words that designate weights and measures such as sαnti (centimeter), šēkel (shekel), and kīlo (kilometer/kilogram) (but not mitr, meter, which behaves like other Arabic nouns) are invariable. The dual form is not used and numbers 3-10 don't lose their final vowel when followed by these nouns:

  • šēkel: 1 shekel
  • tnēn šēkel: 2 shekels
  • talāte šēkel: 3 shekels
  • ʕašara šēkel: 10 shekels[199]
The 12 most common broken plural patterns[197]
Pattern (Arabic) Pattern (Latin) Example English meaning
ـَ و ا ـِ ـ CawāCeC شارعšāreʕ
شوارعšawāreʕ
street
streets
أَ ـْ ـ ا ـ ʔaCCāC شخصšaḵṣ
أشخاصʾašḵāš
person
people
ـَ ـ ا ـِ ي ـ CaCāCīC دكانdukkān
دكاكينdakākīn
convenience store
convenience stores
ـُ ـُ و ـ CuCūC حرفḥarf
حروفḥurūf
letter
letters
ـُ ـَ ـ CuCaC قصةʾuṣṣa
قصصʾuṣaṣ
story
stories
ـِ ـَ ـ CiCaC فريقfarīq
فرقfiraq
team
teams
ـُ ـَ ـ ا CuCaCa مديرmudīr
مدراmudara
manager
managers
ـُ ـّ ا ـ CuC2C2āC طالبṭāleb
طلابṭullāb
student
students
أَ ـْ ـِ ـ ة ʔaCCiCe جهازjihāz
أجهزةʾajhize
electrical device
electrical devices
ـُ ـُ ـ CuCoC مدينةmadīne
مدنmudon
city
cities
ـُ ـْ ـ ا ن CuCCān قميصʾamīṣ
قمصانʾumṣān
dress shirt
dress shirts
أَ ـْ ـِ ـ ا ء ʔCCiCāʔ صديقṣadīq
أصدقاءʾaṣdiqāʾ
friend
friends

Nominal sentences[edit]

Phrasal word order is head-dependent:[185]

  • Noun-Genitive
  • Noun-Adjective
  • Noun-Relative clause.

The genitive relationship is formed by putting the nouns next to each other,[200] this construct is called Iḍāfah (lit.'addition'). The first noun is always indefinite. If an indefinite noun is added to a definite noun, it results in a new definite compound noun.[201][76][202]

Besides possessiveness, the Iḍāfah construct can be used to specify or define the first term.[201]

Possession can also be expressed with تبع, tabaC, especially for loanwords:

  • my dog: kalbi or il-kalb tabaCi,
  • the neighbors' house: bēt il-jirᾱn or il-bēt tabaC il-jirᾱn
  • your radio: ir-rᾱdyo tabaCkom.[203]

There is no limit to the number of nouns you can string together in an Iḍāfah, however, it is rare to have three or more words, except with very common or monosyllabic nouns.[200]

The Iḍāfah construct is different from the noun-adjective structure. In an Iḍāfah construct, the two nouns might be different in terms of their definiteness: the first is indefinite, the second is usually definite. Whereas adjectives always agree with nouns in definiteness.[204][201]

The first term must be in the construct state: if it ends in the feminine marker (/-ah/, or /-ih/), it changes to (/-at/, /-it/) in pronunciation (i.e. ة pronounced as "t"). Whereas in a noun-adjective string, the pronunciation would remain (/-ah/, /-ih/).[201]

Iḍāfah and noun-adjective examples[201][204][203]
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English Note
كتاب إستاذ ktāb ʾistāz a book of a/the teacher Iḍāfah of two indefinite nouns
كتاب الإستاذ ktāb il-ʾistāz the book of the teacher Iḍāfah of indefinite + definite noun
كتاب الإستاذ الجديد ktāb il-ʾistāz le-jdīd the new book of the teacher OR the book of the new teacher The adjective is definite, because the Iḍāfah is definite. Both meanings are possible, to avoid confusion the preposition -la can be used to split the Iḍāfah.
الكتاب الجديد للإستاذ le-ktāb le-jdīd l-il-ʾistāz the new book of the teacher Split Iḍāfah
الكتاب للإستاذ الجديد le-ktāb l-il-ʾistāz le-jdīd the book of the new teacher Split Iḍāfah
الكتاب الجديد تبع الإستاذ le-ktāb le-jdīd tabaC il-ʾistāz the teacher's new book Use of تبع, tabaC to avoid confusion.
كتاب إستاذ العربي ktāb ʾistāz il-ʕarabi the book of the teacher of Arabic Chained Iḍāfah, only the last noun takes the definite article
مجلة جديدة majalle jdīde a new magazine Noun-adjective: ة pronounced as "ih"
مجلة الإستاذ majallet il-ʾistāz the magazine of the teacher ة pronounced as "t" in construct state
بيت خالد bēt ḵālid Khalid's house With a proper noun: possessiveness
مدينة نيويورك madīnet nyū-yōrk New York City First noun ends with ah (pronounced as "t"), second is a proper noun
مدينة زغيرة madīne zḡīre a small town/city Noun-adjective, ة pronounced as "ah"
صحن حمص ṣaḥen ḥummuṣ hummus dish

Numerals[edit]

Cardinal numbers[edit]

Number one and two have a masculine and feminine form. When used with a noun, they rather follow it like an adjective than precede it for emphasis.[205] An exception are uncountable nouns.[206] When the number 2 is accompanied by a noun, the dual form is usually used: waladēn, 2 boys.[205]

Numbers larger than 3 do not have gender but may have two forms, one used before nouns and one used independently.[207] In particular, numbers between 3 and 10 lose their final vowel before a noun.[205]

Numbers from 3 to 10 are followed by plural nouns. Numbers from 11 to 99 are followed by a singular.[207][208][205]

Numbers 100 and onwards follow the same rule as numbers 0-99 based on their last two digits. 100 and 101 are followed by a singular, 102 is followed by a dual (102 books: miyye u-ktābēn), 103-110 by a plural, and 111-199 is like 11-99, followed by a singular.[209]

Before a small set of nouns (e.g. ألف, ʾalf, "thousand") the independent form is used in construct state (ة pronounced as "t"). مية (miyye, "hundred") is always in construct state before nouns.[206]

Levantine cardinal numbers[206][205][209]
Number Gender Independent Followed by noun Number of noun
0 / ٠ صفرṣifr N/A Plural
1 / ١ m واحدwāḥad N/A Singular
f واحدة‎waḥde N/A
2 / ٢ m تنينtnēn N/A Dual or plural
f تنتين‎tintēn N/A
3 / ٣ تلاتةtalāte (South)
تلاتةtlēte (North)
تلت‎talat/tlat (South)
تلات‎tlēt/tlat (North)
Plural
4 / ٤ أربعةʾarbaʕa أربع‎ʾarbaʕ
5 / ٥ خمسةḵamse خمس‎ḵams
6 / ٦ ستةsitte ست‎sitt
7 / ٧ سبعةsabʕa سبع‎sabʕ
8 / ٨ تمانيةtamānye (South)
تمانةtmēne (North)
تمن‎taman/tman (South)
تمن‎tman/tmin (North)
9 / ٩ تسعtisʕa تسع‎tisʕ
10 / ١٠ عشرةʕašara عشر‎ʕašr
11 / ١١ احدعش(i)ḥdaʕš احدعشر‎(i)ḥdaʕšar Singular
12 / ١٢ تنعشtnaʕš تنعشر‎tnaʕšar
20 / ٢٠ عشرينʕišrīn
21 / ٢١ واحد وعشرينwāhad w-ʕišrīn
30 / ٣٠ تلاتينtalatīn (South) / tlētīn (North)
100 / ١٠٠ ميةmiyye ميةmīt
101 / ١٠١ مية وواحدmiyye u-wāḥad مية و-miyye u- + Singular noun
102 / ١٠٢ مية وتنينmiyye u-tnēn مية و-miyye u- + Dual noun Dual
103 / ١٠٣ مية وتلاتةmiyye u-talāte مية وتلت‎miyye u-talat Plural
200 / ٢٠٠ ميتينmītēn Singular
300 / ٣٠٠ تلتميةt(a)lat-miyye تلتميةt(a)lat-mīt
1000 / ١٠٠٠ ألفʾalf
2000 / ٢٠٠٠ ألفينʾalfēn
3000 / ٣٠٠٠ تلتة آلافt(a)latt‿ālāf
10000 / ١٠٠٠٠ عشرة آلافʕašert‿ālāf
11000 / ١١٠٠٠ إحدشر ألف‎ʾiḥdaʕšar ʾalf
100000 / ١٠٠٠٠٠ مية ألف‎mīt ʾalf

Ordinal numbers and fractions[edit]

Ordinal numbers can either precede or follow the noun. If they precede the noun the masculine form is used and the definite article is dropped.[206]

Ordinal numbers above 10 do not exist, instead the cardinal numbers are used following the noun.[206]

Ordinal numbers in Levantine[206]
Ordinal number Fraction
Number Masculine or
followed by noun
Feminine Plural Number Singular Plural
1 / ١ أولʾawwal أولى‎ʾūla أوائلʾawāʾel or ‏أولىʾuwala N/A
2 / ٢ تانيtāni تانية‎tānye تانينtānyīn 12 / ١٢ نصnuṣṣ أنصاص(ʾa)nṣāṣ
3 / ٣ تالتtālet تالتةtālte تالتينtāltīn 13 / ١٣ تلتtult تلاتtlāt
4 / ٤ رابعrābeʕ رابعةrābʕa رابعينrābʕīn 14 / ١٤ ربعrubʕ رباعrbāʕ
5 / ٥ خامسḵāmes خامسةḵāmse خامسينḵāmsīn 15 / ١٥ خمسḵums أخماس(ʾa)ḵmās
6 / ٦ سادسsādes سادسةsādse سادسينsādsīn 16 / ١٦ سدسsuds أسداس(ʾa)sdās
7 / ٧ سابعsābeʕ سابعةsābʕa سابعينsābʕīn 17 / ١٧ سبعsubʕ أسباع(ʾa)sbāʕ
8 / ٨ تامن tāmen تامنةtāmne تامنينtāmnīn 18 / ١٨ تمنtumn أتمان(ʾa)tmān
9 / ٩ تاسعtāseʕ تاسعةtāsʕa تاسعينtāsʕīn 19 / ١٩ تسعtusʕ أتساع(ʾa)tsāʕ
10 / ١٠ عاشرʕāšer عاشرةʕāšra عاشرينʕāšrīn 110 / ١١٠ عشرʕušr أشار(ʾa)ʕšār

Adjectives[edit]

Form[edit]

Many adjectives have the pattern فعيل (fʕīl / CCīC or faʕīl / CaCīC) but other patterns are also possible.[76]

Adjectives derived from nouns by the suffix ـي (-i) are called Nisba adjectives. Their feminine form ends in ـية (-iyye) and the plural in ـيين (-iyyīn).[210]

Gender[edit]

Adjectives typically have three form: a masculine singular, a feminine singular, and a plural which does not distinguish gender. In most adjectives the feminine is formed through addition of -a/e, sometimes dropping an unstressed short vowel.[211]

Number[edit]

Nouns in dual have adjectives in plural.[76]

The plural of adjectives is either regular ending in ـين (-īn) or is an irregular "broken" plural. It is used with nouns referring to people. For non-human / inanimate / abstract nouns, adjectives can use either the plural or the singular feminine form regardless of the noun's gender.[211][76][212][198]

Word order[edit]

Adjectives follow the noun they modify and agree with it in definiteness. Adjectives without an article after a definite noun express a clause with the invisible copula "to be".[213]

Examples
بيت كبير bēt kbīr a big house
البيت الكبير il-bēt le-kbīr the big house
البيت كبير il-bēt kbīr the house is big

There is no dominant order for degree words and adjectives: Adverbs of degree like ‏كتير‎ (ktīr, "very") and ‏شوي‎ (šwayy, "a little / a bit") can either precede or follow the adjective.[185]

Superlative and comparative[edit]

There are no separate comparative and superlative forms but the elative is used in both cases.[211]

The elative is formed by adding a hamza at the beginning of the adjective and replace the vowels by "a" (pattern: أفعل ʾafʕal / aCCaC).[76] Adjective endings in ‏ي‎ (i) and ‏و‎ (u) are changed into ‏ی‎ (a). If the second and third consonant in the root are the same, they are geminated (pattern: أفلّ ʾafall / ʾaCaCC).[214]

Speakers who pronounce ‏ق‎ as hamza might pronounced the elative prefix as "h" in order to avoid two consecutive hamzas.[215]

Examples of elative adjectives
Adjective Elative
Regular كبيرkbīr أكبرʾakbar
سهلsahl أسهلʾashal
قديمʾadīm أقدمʾaʾdam / haʾdam
Gemination جديدjdīd أجدّʾajadd
قليلʾalīl أقلّʾaʾall / haʾall
Final i/u عاليʕāli أعلىʾaʕla
حلوḥilu أحلىʾaḥla
Irregular منيحmnīḥ / ‏كويسkwayyes أحسن'aḥsan (from ‏حسنḥasan)

When an elative modifies a noun, it precedes the noun an no definite article is used.[216]

In order to compare two things, the word ‏من‎ (min, lit.'from') is used in the sense of "than" in English.[216]

Examples of elative sentences
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
أحسن إشي ʾaḥsan ʾiši the best thing
هالإشي أحسن ha-l-ʾiši ʾaḥsan this thing is better / the best
هالإشي أحسن من إشي تاني ha-l-ʾiši ʾaḥsan min ʾiši tāni this thing is better than something else

Not all adjectives can form an elative, especially those that are participles or derived from nouns. In this case, ‏أكتر‎ (ʾaktar, "more, most") is used.[211]

Examples of comparative and superlative using ‏أكتر‎ (ʾaktar, "more, most")
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
مجنون majnūn crazy
مجنون أكتر majnūn ʾaktar crazier / craziest
هو مجنون أكتر منك huwwe majnūn ʾaktar minnak he is crazier than you
أكتر واحد مجنون ʾaktar wāḥad majnūn the caziest one

Prepositions[edit]

Prepositions must precede nominals in Levantine.[188]

Common prepositions[187]
Levantine English
بـbi- with; in, at
فِي in, at
مَعَmaʕ with, along with
مِنmin from; than
لـla- to; for
عـʕa- / ‏علىʕāla on, upon; to; about
قبلʾabl before
بعدbaʕd after
قدّامʾuddām in front of
وراwara behind
فوقfōʾ above, over
تحتtaḥt below, under
بينbēn between

Pronouns[edit]

Feminine plural forms modifying human females are found mostly in rural and Bedouin areas. They are not mentioned below.[217]

Personal pronouns[edit]

Levantine has eight persons, and therefore eight pronouns. Dual forms that exist in Modern Standard Arabic do not exist in Levantine, the plural is used instead. Because conjugated verbs indicate the subject with a prefix and/or a suffix, independent subject pronouns are usually not necessary and are mainly used for emphasis.[218][219]

Independent personal pronouns[edit]
Levantine independent personal pronouns[219][220]
Singular Plural
1st person (m/f) أناʾana احناʾiḥna (South) / ‏نحناniḥna (North)
2nd person m انتʾinta انتو‎ / ‏انتواʾintu
f انتيʾinti
3rd person m هوhuwwe همhumme (South) / ‏هنhinne (North)
f هيhiyye
Direct object and possessive pronouns[edit]

Direct object pronouns are indicated by suffixes attached to the conjugated verb. Their form depends whether the verb ends with a consonant or a vowel. Suffixed to nouns, these pronouns express possessive.[221][219]

Levantine enclitic pronouns, direct object and possessive[219]
Singular Plural
after consonant after vowel
1st person after verb ـني-ni ـنا-na
else ـِي-i ـي-y
2nd person m ـَك-ak ـك-k ـكُن-kun (North)
ـكُم-komـكو-ku (South)
f ـِك-ik ـكِ-ki
3rd person m و-u (North)
ـُه-o (South)
ـه‎ (silent)[m] ـُن-(h/w/y)un (North)
ـهُم-hom (South)
f ـا-a (North)
ـها-ha (South)
ـا-(h/w/y)a (North)
ـها-ha (South)

If a pronoun is already attached on the end of a word, the second pronoun is attached to يا (after a vowel) / iyā- (after a consonant), for instance: بدي ياك beddi yaak (I want you (m)).[222][223]

Indirect object pronouns[edit]

Indirect object pronouns (dative) are suffixed to the conjugated verb. They are form by adding an ل (-l) and then the possessive suffix to the verb.[217] They precede object pronouns if present:

  • jāb il-jarīde la-ʔabūy: he brought the newspaper to my father,
  • jāb-ha la-ʔabūy: he brought it to my father,
  • jab-lo il-jarīde: he brought him the newspaper,
  • jab-lo yyā-ha: he brought him it.[217][223]
Levantine indirect object pronoun suffixes[219]
Singular Plural
1st person (m/f) ـلي-li ـلنا-lna
2nd person m لَك-lak ـلكُن-lkun (North)
ـلكُم-lkom, ‏ـلكو-lku (South)
f ـِلك-lik
3rd person m لو-lu (North)
لُه-lo (South)
ـلُن-lun (North)
ـلهُم-lhom (South)
f ـلا-la (North)
ـلها-lha (South)

Demonstrative pronouns[edit]

Demonstrative pronouns have three referential types: immediate, proximal, and distal. The distinction between proximal and distal demonstratives is of physical, temporal, or metaphorical distance. The genderless and numberless immediate demonstrative article ‏هاha is translated by "this/the", to designate something immediately visible or accessible.[224]

Levantine demonstrative pronouns
Singular Plural
Proximal
(this, these)
m هاداhāda / ‏هادhād (South, Syria)
هيداhayda (Lebanon)
هدولhadōl (South, Syria)
هيدولhaydōl / ‏هوديhawdi (Lebanon)
f هاديhādi / ‏هايhāy (South)
هيّhayy (Syria)
هيديhaydi (Lebanon)
Distal
(that, those)
m هداكhadāk (South, Syria)
هيداكhaydāk (Lebanon)
هدولاكhadōlāk (South)
هدوليكhadōlīk (Syria)
هيدوليكhaydōlīk (Lebanon)
f هديكhadīk (South, Syria)
هيديكhaydīk (Lebanon)

Interrogative pronouns[edit]

Interrogative pronouns in Levantine[224]
Levantine English
مينmīn who
لمينla-mīn whose
شوšū / ‏إيشʾēš (South) what
لشوla-šu for what
ليشlēš / ‏ليه (Lebanon) why
أيّʾayy which
إيمتىʾēmta / ‏إمتىʾimta (Lebanon) when
وينwēn where
لوينla-wēn where to
من وينmin wēn / ‏منينmnēn where from
كيفkīf / ‏شلونšlōn (Syria) how
قدّيشʾaddēš / ‏قدّيهʾaddē (Lebanon) how much
كمkam how many
كل قدّيشkull/kill ʾaddēš / ‏كم مرّةkam marra how often

Relative pronouns[edit]

The relative pronoun, invariable for number and gender, is ‏اللي‎ (illi).[225]

Verbs[edit]

Root[edit]

Like Arabic verbs, most Levantine verbs are based on a triliteral root (also called radical) made of three consonants (therefore also called triconsonantal root). The set of consonants communicates the basic meaning of a verb, e.g. k-t-b 'write', q-r-’ 'read', ’-k-l 'eat'. Changes to the vowels in between the consonants, along with prefixes or suffixes, specify grammatical functions such as tense, person and number, in addition to changes in the meaning of the verb that embody grammatical concepts such as mood (e.g. indicative, subjunctive, imperative), voice (active or passive), and functions such as causative, intensive, or reflexive.[226]

Quadriliteral roots are less common, but often used to coin new vocabulary or to Arabicize foreign words.[227][228]

The base form is the third-person masculine singular of the perfect (also called past) tense.[229]

Verb forms[edit]

Almost all Levantine verbs can be categorized in one of ten verb forms (also called verb measures,[230] stems,[231] patterns,[232] or types[233]). Form I, the most common one, serves as a base for the other nine forms. Each form carries a different verbal idea, relative to the meaning of its root. Technically, 10 verbs can be constructed from any given triconsonantal root. However, all of those ten forms may not be used in practice by speakers.[226] After Form I, Forms II, V, VII, and X are the most common ones.[231]

Sound verb forms in Levantine[230][226][231][n]
Form/Measure/Stem Tendency of meaning Perfect pattern Imperfect pattern Example Root of the example Note
Form I Active or stative verb (base form) C1vC2vC3 -C1vC2vC3 عمل
ʕimil
(to do, to make)
ع م ل
ʕ-m-l
(related to work)
N/A
Form II Causes action (Causative), shows intensity (Augmentative), or may indicates continuing action C1aC2C2aC3 -C1aC2C2eC3 علّم
ʕallam
(to teach)
ع ل م
ʕ-l-m
(related to knowledge)
Most productive form[76]
Form III Active in meaning or shows attempt; focus is on one-sided action C1v̄C2aC3 -C1v̄C2eC3 عامل
ʕāmal
(to treat)
ع م ل
ʕ-m-l
(related to work)
N/A
Form IV Causes action, similar to Form II ʔaC1C2aC3 -C1C2eC3 أعلن
ʔaʕlan
(to announce)
ع ل ن
ʔ-l-n
(related to publicity)
Rare, limited to borrowings from MSA
Form V Reflexive/passive/mediopassive meaning for transitive Form II verbs tC1aC2C2aC3 -tC1aC2C2aC3 تعلّم
tʕallam
(to learn)
ع ل م
ʕ-l-m
(related to knowledge)
Usually intransitive
Form VI Reflexive/passive meaning for Form III or active in meaning tC1v̄C2aC3 -tC1v̄C2eC3 تعامل
tʕāmal
(to work or deal with)
ع م ل
ʕ-m-l
(related to work)
Usually intransitive
Form VII Reflexive/passive meaning for Form I or no particular tendency of meaning nC1aC2aC3 (North)
inC1aC2aC3 (South)
-nC1ǝC2eC3
-nC1aːC2 in medial glide roots
انبسط
inbasaṭ
(to have fun, enjoy oneself)
ب س ط
b-s-ṭ
(related to spreading and extending)
N/A
Form VIII Active, reflexive, or passive in meaning C1tvC2vC3 (North)
iC1tvC2vC3 (South)
-C1tvC2vC3 اعترف
iʕtaraf
(to confess)
ع ر ف
ʕ-r-f
(related to awareness)
Not productive[76]
Form IX Inchoative verbs from adjectives: Changing of color or physical handicap C1C2aC3C3 (North)
iC1C2aC3C3 (South)
-C1C2aC3C3 اِبْيَضَّ
ibyaḍḍa
(to become white)
ب ي ض
b-y-ḍ
(related to whiteness)
Very rare, replaced by ṣār "to become" + adjective[92]
Form X Sought to do something or believe something to be big, close, etc. (Denominal or deadjectival) staC1C2aC3 (North)
istaC1C2aC3 (South)
-staC1C2eC3 استعمل
istaʕmal
(to use)
ع م ل
ʕ-m-l
(related to work)
Often transitive verbs[76]

Aldrich also defines verb forms XI (for verbs based on quadriliteral roots) and XII (for passive or intransitive version of form XI verbs).[230]

In addition to its form, each verb has a "quality":

  • Sound (or regular): 3 distinct radicals, neither the second nor the third is w or y,
  • Verbs containing the radicals w or y are called weak. They can be either:
    • Hollow: verbs with w or y as the second radical, which can become a long a in some forms, or
    • Defective: verbs with w or y as the third radical, treated as a vowel,
  • Geminate (or doubled): the second and third radicals are identical, remaining together as a double consonant.[230]

Some irregular verbs do not fit into any of the verb forms.[230]

The initial i in verb forms VII, VIII, IX, X drops when the preceding word ends in a vowel or at the beginning of a sentence.[158]

Regular verb conjugation[edit]

The Levantine verb has only two tenses: past (perfect) and present (also called imperfect, b-imperfect, or bi-imperfect). The future tense is an extension of the present tense. The negative imperative is the same as the negative present with helping verb (imperfect). The grammatical person and number as well as the mood are designated by a variety of prefixes and suffixes. The following table shows the paradigm of a sound Form I verb, katab (كتب) 'to write'.[226]

The b-imperfect is usually used for the indicative mood (non-past present, habitual/general present, narrative present, planned future actions, or potential). The prefix b- is deleted in the subjunctive mood, usually after various modal verbs, auxiliary verbs, pseudo-verbs, prepositions, and particles.[76][92][62][153]

In the following table, the accented vowel is in bold.

Conjugation of كتب, 'to write' (sound form I verb)
North Levantine[234] South Levantine[235][236]
1st person 2nd person 3rd person 1st person 2nd person 3rd person
Past[o] Masc. كتبت‎katabit كتبتkatabit كتبkatab كتبت‎katabt كتبت‎katabt كتب‎katab
Fem. كتبتي‎katabti كتبت‎katabit كتبتي‎katabti كتبت‎katbat
Plural كتبنا‎katabna كتبتو‎katabtu كتبو‎‎katabu كتبنا‎katabna كتبتو‎‎katabtu كتبو‎‎katabu
Present[p] Masc. بكتب‎biktub بتكتبbtiktub بيكتب‎byiktub بكتب‎baktob بتكتب‎btuktob بكتب‎buktob
Fem. بتكتبي‎btiktbi بتكتب‎btiktub بتكتبي‎btuktobi بتكتب‎btuktob
Plural منكتب‎mniktub بتكتبو‎btiktbu بيكتبو‎byiktbu منكتب‎‎mnuktob
بنكتب‎‎bnuktob
[237][q]
بتكتبو‎‎btuktobu بكتبو‎‎buktobu
Present with helping verb[r] Masc. اكتبiktub تكتب‎tiktub يكتب‎yiktub أكتب‎ʾaktob تكتب‎tuktob يكتب‎yuktob
Fem. تكتبي‎tiktbi تكتب‎tiktub تكتبي‎tuktobi تكتب‎tuktob
Plural نكتب‎niktub تكتبو‎tiktbu يكتبو‎yiktbu نكتب‎nuktob تكتبو‎tuktobu يكتبو‎yuktobu
Positive imperative[s] Masc. N/A كتوب‎ktūb N/A N/A أكتبʾuktob N/A
Fem. كتبي‎ktibi أكتبʾuktobi
Plural كتبو‎ktibu أكتبʾuktobu
Active participle[t] Masc. كاتبkētib كاتبkāteb
Fem. كاتبةkētbi كاتبةkātbe
Plural كاتبينkētbīn كاتبينkātbīn
Passive participle[u] Masc. مكتوبmaktūb مكتوبmaktūb
Fem. مكتوبةmaktūba مكتوبةmaktūba
Plural مكتوبينmaktūbīn مكتوبينmaktūbīn
Table of prefixes, affixes, and suffixes added to the base form (for sound form I verbs with stressed prefixes)[238]
Singular Dual/Plural
1st person 2nd person 3rd person 1st person 2nd person 3rd person
Past[o] M -it -it ∅ (base form) -na -tu -u
F -ti -it (North)
-at (South)
Present[p] M bi- (North)
ba- (South)
bti- byi- (North)[220]
bi- (South)
mni- bti- -u byi- -u (North)[220]
bi- -u (South)
F bti- -i bti-
Present with helping verb[r] M i- (North)
a- (South)
ti- yi- ni- ti- -u yi- -u
F ti- -i ti-
Positive imperative[s] M N/A ∅ (Lengthening the present tense vowel, North)
i- (Subjunctive without initial consonant, South)
N/A N/A -u (Stressed vowel u becomes i, North)
i- -u (South)
N/A
F -i (Stressed vowel u becomes i, North)
i- -i (South)
Active participle[t] M -ē- (North) or -ā- (South) after the first consonant -īn (added to the masculine form)
F -e/i or -a (added to the masculine form)
Passive participle[u] M ma- and -ū- after the second consonant
F -a (added to the masculine form)

In the perfect tense, the first person singular and second person masculine singular are identical. For regular verbs, the third-person feminine singular is written identically but stressed differently.[239]

Depending on regions and accents, the -u can be pronounced -o and the -i can be pronounced -é.[240]

In Southern Levantine dialects, the vowel of the suffix in past tense 3rd person feminine as well as the prefix in the present tense 1st person singular is "a" instead of "i". It might be "u" in other persons of the present tense due to vowel harmony.[241]

Active participle[edit]

The active participle, also called present participle, is grammatically an adjective derived from a verb. Depending on the context, it can express the present or present continuous (with verbs of motion, location, or mental state), the near future, or the present perfect (past action with a present result).[242] It can also serve as a noun or an adjective.[243]

The active participle can be inflected from the verb based on its verb form.[243]

Active participle declension patterns for the ten verb forms[n][243]
Form Verb pattern Active participle pattern Example[244][245][246][247][248][249][250][251][252][253]
Verb Active participle
Form I C1vC2vC3 C1v̄C2vC3 ‏مسك
masak
(to grab, to arrest)
ماسك
mɑ̄sik
(is arresting, has arrested)
Form II C1aC2C2aC3 mC1aC2C2eC3 قدّم
qaddam
(to present, to offer)
مقدّم
mqaddem
(has presented, a presenter)
Form III C1v̄C2aC3 mC1v̄C2iC3 ساعد
sāʕad
(to help)
مساعد
msāʕid
(assistant, has helped)
Form IV ʔaC1C2aC3 miC1C2iC3 أقنع
ʾaqnaʿ
(to convince)
مقنع
miqniʿ
(is convincing, has convinced)
Form V tC1aC2C2aC3 mitC1aC2C2eC3 تجنب
tjannab
(to avoid)
متجنب
mitjanneb
(is avoiding)
Form VI tC1v̄C2aC3 mitC1v̄C2aC3 تجاهل
tjāhal
(to ignore)
متجاهل
mitjāhal
(is ignoring)
Form VII nC1aC2aC3 (North)
inC1aC2aC3 (South)
minC1aC2eC3 انبسط
inbasaṭ
(to be happy, to have fun)
منبسط
minbasiṭ
(is happy)
Form VIII C1tvC2vC3 (North)
iC1tvC2vC3 (South)
minC1tvC2vC3 اقترح
iqtaraḥ
(to suggest)
مقترح
miqtariḥ
(has suggested)
Form IX C1C2aC3C3 (North)
iC1C2aC3C3 (South)
miC1C2aC3C3 احمر
iḥmarr
(to blush, to turn red)
محمر
miḥmarr
(is blushing, has turned red)
Form X staC1C2aC3 (North)
istaC1C2aC3 (South)
mistaC1C2iC3 استعمل
istaʕmal
(to use)
مستعمل
ismtaʕmil
(user, has used)

Passive participle[edit]

The passive participle, also called past participle,[21] has a similar meaning as in English (i.e. sent, written, etc.). It is mostly used as an adjective but it can sometimes be used as a noun. It is inflected from the verb based on its verb form.[254] However, in practice, passive participles are largely limited to verb forms I (CvCvC) and II (CvCCvC), becoming maCCūC for the former and mCaCCaC for the latter.[187]

Passive participle declension patterns[n][254]
Form Verb pattern Passive participle pattern Example
Verb Passive participle
Form I C1vC2vC3 maC1C2ūC3 فتح
fataḥ
(to open)
مفتوح
maftūḥ
(opened)
Form II C1aC2C2aC3 mC1aC2C2aC3 رتب
rattab
(to organize, to tidy up)
مرتب
mrattab
(organized, neat)
Form III C1v̄C2aC3 muC1v̄C2eC3 فاجأ
fājaʔ
(to surprise)
مفاجِئ‎
mufājaʔ
(surprised)
Form IV ʔaC1C2aC3 muC1C2eC3 أعطى
ʔaʕṭa
(to give)
معطى
muʕṭa
(given)
Form V tC1aC2C2aC3 Very rarely used
Form VI tC1v̄C2aC3 Very rarely used
Form VII nC1aC2aC3 (North)
inC1aC2aC3 (South)
Not used
Form VIII C1tvC2vC3 (North)
iC1tvC2vC3 (South)
muC1tvC2vC3 اقترح
iqtaraḥ
(to suggest)
مقترح
muqtaraḥ
(suggested)
Form IX C1C2aC3C3 (North)
iC1C2aC3C3 (South)
Not used
Form X staC1C2aC3 (North)
istaC1C2aC3 (South)
mustaC1C2eC3 استعمل
istaʕmal
(to use)
مستعمل
mustaʕmel
(used)

Future[edit]

There are various ways to express the future. One is by using the present tense (with b- prefix) on its own. Another one is by using ‏بد‎ (bidd-, lit.'want').[255]

The future tense is formed with the imperfect preceded by the particle ‏رح‎ (raḥ) or by the prefixed particle ‏حـ‎ (ḥa-) .[256]

Expressing the future: examples
Way Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
Present tense بروح معك. barūḥ maʕek. I'll go with you.
bidd- (to want) بدي أمرق لعنده بكرة. biddi ʾamroʾ la-ʕindo bukra. I'm going to go to his house tomorrow.
Future tense رح شوفك بكرة. raḥ šūfak bukra. I'll see you tomorrow.
حشوفك بكرة. ḥa-šūfak bukra.

Present continuous[edit]

The present continuous is formed with the progressive particle ‏عم‎ (ʕam) followed by the imperfect, with or without the initial b/m depending on the speaker.[257][258]

Examples of the present continuous
Without b-/m- prefix With b-/m- prefix English
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin)
شو عم تعمل؟ šū ʕam tiʕmel? شو عم بتعمل؟ šū ʕam(ma) btiʕmel? What are you doing?
عم أشرب قهوة. ʕam ʾašrab ʾahwe. عم بشرب قهوة. ʕam bašrab ʾahwe. I'm drinking coffee.

It is also common to use the b- prefix only in those forms starting with a vowel (e.g. 1st person singular).[259]

Mixed usage (b- prefix before vowels)
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
عم بعمل ʕam baʕmel I'm doing
عم تعمل ʕam tiʕmel you're doing / she's doing
عم بعمل / عم يعمل ʕam biʕmel / ʕam yiʕmel he's doing

Helping verbs[edit]

After helping verbs (may also be called modal verbs, pseudo-verbs, auxiliary verbs, or prepositional phrases) the imperfect form (also called subjunctive)[r] is used, that is, the form without the initial b/m.[258]

Common components followed by the subjunctive[r][258][76][92][260]
Levantine English
بدbidd- / badd- to want
ممكنmumkin, ‏قدرqider to can
قدرqider / ‏فيـfī- (North) / ḥəsen to be able to
لازمlazim to must, it is necessary to
حبḥabb to like
بلكيbalki / ‏بركيberki may
ممنوعmamnūʿ it's forbidden to
مفروضmafrūḍ / ‏المفروضil-mafrūḍ should
صارṣār to start to, to got used to doing
بلشballaš to begin to
فضلfiḍel / bəʾi to end up
ضلḍall / ‏تمtamm to keep doing
رجعrijeʕ to start doing again
كانkān used to doing

Compound tenses[edit]

The verb ‏كان‎ (kān) can be followed by another verb, forming compound tenses. Both verbs are conjugated with their subject.[261]

Compound tenses with the example of the verb ʕimil (to do)[261][262][255]
kān in the past tense kān in the present tense
Followed by Levantine English Levantine English
Past tense كان عمل kān ʕimel he had done بكون عمل bikūn ʕimel he will have done
Active participle كان عامل kān ʕāmel he had done بكون عامل bikūn ʕāmel he will have done
Subjunctive كان يعمل kān yiʕmel he used to do / he was doing بكون يعمل bikūn yiʕmel he will be doing
Progressive كان عم يعمل kān ʕam yiʕmel he was doing بكون عم يعمل bikūn ʕam yiʕmel he will be doing
Future tense كان رح يعمل kān raḥ yiʕmel
كان حيعمل kān ḥa-yiʕmel
he was going to do N/A
Present tense كان بعمل kān biʕmel he would do

Passive voice[edit]

Form I verbs often correspond to an equivalent passive form VII verb, with the prefix n-. Form II and form III verbs usually correspond to an equivalent passive on forms V and VI, respectively, with the prefix t-.[230][263]

Examples of passive forms
Active Passive
Verb form Levantine English Verb form Levantine English
I مسكmasak to catch VII انمسكinmasak to be caught
II غيّرḡayyar to change V تغيّرtḡayyar to be changed
III فاجأfājaʾ to surprise VI تفاجأtfājaʾ to be surprised

While the verb forms V, VI and VII are common in the simple past and compound tenses, the passive participle (past participle) is preferred in the present tense.[264]

Examples of the passive voice[264]
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English Verb form Tense
الكتاب مكتوب. le-ktāb maktūb The book is written. I passive participle
الكتاب عم بنكتب. le-ktāb ʕam binkateb The book is being written. VII progressive
الكتاب انكتب. le-ktāb inkatab The book has been written. / The book was written. VII past tense
الكتاب كان مكتوب. le-ktāb kān maktūb The book was written. I kān + passive participle
الكتاب رح ينكتب. le-ktāb raḥ yinkateb The book will be written. VII future

To have[edit]

Levantine does not have a verb "to have". Instead, possession is expressed using the prepositions عند (ʕind, lit.'at', meaning "to possess") and مع (maʕ, lit.'with', meaning "to have on oneself"), followed by personal pronoun suffixes. The past indicator ken and the future indicator raH are used to express possession in the past or the future, respectively.[265][266]

Inflected forms of عند (ʕind, "at", "to possess, to have")
Base form عندʕind
Personal-pronoun-
including forms
singular plural
m f
1st person عنديʕindi عنّاʕinna
2nd person عندكʕindak عندكʕindek عندكمʕindkom (South) / ‏عندكنʕindkun (North)
3rd person عندهʕindo (South) / ‏عندوʕindu (North) عندهاʕindha (South) / ‏عنداʕinda (North) عندهمʕindhom (South) / ‏عندنʕindun (North)
Inflected forms of مع (maʕ, "with", "to have on oneself")
Base form معmaʕ
Personal-pronoun-
including forms
singular plural
m f
1st person معيmaʕi معناmaʕna
2nd person معكmaʕak معكmaʕek معكمmaʕkom (South) / ‏معكنmaʕkun (North)
3rd person معهmaʕo (South) / ‏معوmaʕu (North) معهاmaʕha (South) / ‏معاmaʕa (North) معهمmaʕhom (South) / ‏معنmaʕun (North)

To want[edit]

Enclitic personal pronouns are suffixed directly to the pseudo-verb بدّ (North: badd- / South: bidd-) to express "to want".[217]

Examples of bidd-
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
بدها تشرب قهوة. bidha tišrab ʾahwe. She wants to drink coffee.
ما بدي ياه. mā biddi yyā. I don't want it.

Adverbs[edit]

Levant does not distinguish between adverbs and adjectives in adverbial function. Almost any adjective can be used as an adverb: ‏منيح‎ (mnīḥ, ‘good’) vs. نمتي منيح؟ (nimti mnīḥ, ‘Did you sleep well?’) Adverbs from MSA, showing the suffix -an, are often used, e.g. ‏أبدا‎ (ʾabadan, ‘at all’).[187] Adverbs often appear after the verb or the adjective. ‏كتير‎ (ktīr, ‘very’) can be positioned after or before the adjective.[187]

Adverbs of manner can usually be formed using bi- followed by the nominal form: ‏بسرعة‎ (b-sirʿa, ‘fast, quickly’, lit.'with speed').[62]

Common adverbs[153][62][76]
Levantine English
إيمتىʾēmta when (interrogative)
اليومil-yōm today
بكرةbukra tomorrow
بعد بكرةbaʕd bukra the day after tomorrow
مبارحmbāreḥ yesterday
أول مبارحʾawwal mbāriḥ / ‏قبل مبارحʾabl mbāreḥ the day before yesterday
هلاhalla(ʾ) (common Levantine) / ‏هساhassa (Amman) / ‏هلقيتhalʾēt (Jerusalem) now
بكيرbakkīr early
بعدينbaʕdēn afterwards
على بكرةʕala bukra early in the morning
وقتهاwaʾt-ha at that time
الصبحiṣ-ṣubḥ in the morning or this morning
دايماdāyman / ‏على طولʕala ṭūl (Damascus) always
لساlissa / ‏بعدbaʕd (Beirut) still / not yet
هونhōn here
هناكhunāk (Amman) / ‏هونيكhonīk (Beirut) / ‏هنيكhnīk (Damascus) there
هيكhēk like this
على مهلʕala mahl / ‏شوي شويšway šway / ‏بهدوءbi-hudūʾ slowly
كتيرktīr very
عالآخرʕa-lʾāxir totally
قوامʾawām quickly
حاجةḥāje enough!
بسbass only
كمانkamān(e) also
دغريduḡri straight on
لأللهlaʾalla lit.'to God', used as an intensifier
عاديʕādi lit.'ordinary' or 'it makes no difference'
عشان هيكʕašān hēk therefore
مبلاmbala it is so
أكيدʾakīd assuredly
يمكنyimken / ‏بركيbarki maybe

Negation[edit]

لا and ‏لأlaʔ mean “no.”[267]

Verbs and prepositional phrases can be negated by the particle ‏ماmā / ma either on its own or, in South Levantine, together with the suffix ‏ـش-iš at the end of the verb or prepositional phrase. In Palestinian, it is also common to negate verbs by the suffix ‏ـش-iš only.[267]

Examples of negation with mā and -š
Without -š With -š English
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin)
ما كتب. mā katab. ما كتبش. ma katab-š. He didn't write.
ما بحكي إنكليزي. mā baḥki ʾinglīzi. ما بحكيش إنكليزي. ma baḥkī-š ʾinglīzi. I don't speak English.
ما تنسى! mā tinsa! ما تنساش! ma tinsā-š! Don't forget!
ما بده ييجي عالحفلة. mā biddo yīji ʕa-l-ḥafle. N/A He doesn't want to come to the party.

مشmiš or in Syrian Arabic ‏مو negates adjectives (including active participles), demonstratives, and nominal phrases.[268][267]

Examples of negation with miš
Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
أنا مش فلسطيني. ʾana miš falasṭīni. I'm not Palestinian.
مش عارفة. miš ʕārfe. I (fem.) don't know.
هادا مش منيح. hāda miš mnīḥ. That's not good.

The particles ‏عم‎ (ʕam) and ‏رح‎ (raḥ) can be negated with either ‏ما or ‏مشmiš.

Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) English
ما رح أروح. mā raḥ ʾarūḥ. I won't go.
مش رح أروح. miš raḥ ʾarūḥ.

Negative copula[edit]

North Levantine has a negative copula formed by ‏ماmā / ma and a suffixed pronoun.[267]

Negative copula in Levantine[267]
Singular Plural
1st person (m/f) مانيmāni ماناmāna
2nd person m مانَكmānak مانكُنmānkon
f مانِكmānek
3rd person m مانوmāno مانلُنmānon
f ماناmāna

Subordination[edit]

Relative clauses are formed with the particle yalli/illi/halli (the one who) when definite things are being described. It can be used either for people (who) or objects (that, which).[269][270][271]

If the noun to which the relative pronoun refers is indefinite and non specific, the relative clause is linked without any coordinating conjunction and is indistinguishable from an independent sentence.[272][270][271]

Examples of relative clauses[271][153]
English Levantine (Arabic) Levantine (Latin) Note
I saw the boy who was playing football. شفت الولد اللي كان يلعب فطبول šuft il-walad illi kān yilʕab faṭbōl. Definite subject: use of illi
I saw a girl playing football. شفت بنت كانت تلعب فطبول šuft bint kānat tilʕab faṭbōl. Indefinite subject: sentences connected without a pronoun

In formal speech, sentence complements can be introduced with the particle ʔǝnn ("that"), to which some speakers attach a personal pronoun (o or i).[272]

For circumstantial clauses, the conjunction w- introduces subordinate clauses with the sense "while, when, with".[273]

Temporal adverbs such as baʕd (after) may be used with the "ma" to form a subordinate clause: baʕd ma tnaːm ("after she goes to sleep").[272]

Common conjunctions[76][62][153]
Levantine English
وw ~ u and (also with temporal meaning "then, during...")
أوʾaw or
يا ... ياya ... ya either ... or
بسbass but
لإنهlaʾinno / ‏حاكمḥākem / ‏لأنlaʾann(o) (Beirut) because
لماlamma / ‏بسbass as soon as
وقتwaʾt / ‏وقت الليwaʾt illi when
ما ... إلاma ... ʾilla just as soon as, hardly
طالماṭāla ma as long as
تـta so that, until
عشانʕašān so that
كل ماkull/kill ma every time that
على بين ما(ʕa)la bēn ma until
أحسن ماʾaḥsan ma rather than
لـla / ‏حتىḥatta / ‏لحتىla ḥatta / ‏منشانminšān in order to
لـla lest
إذاʾiza / ‏لوlaw / ‏إنʾin / ‏إذاًʾizan (Amman) if

Vocabulary[edit]

Overview[edit]

The lexicon of Levantine is overwhelmingly Arabic.[274] However, it also includes layers of ancient indigenous languages: Canaanite, classical Hebrew (Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew), Aramaic (particularly Western Aramaic), Persian, Greek, and Latin.[275] After the Arab conquest of the Levant in the 7th century, linguistically and religiously, the area became a Muslim Arab region, and Aramaic survived only among Christian minorities, Jews, and Mandaeans. Moreover, since the early modern period, it has borrowed from Turkish and European languages, mainly English, French, German, and Italian.[275] With the establishment of Israel in 1948, there has also been a significant influence of Modern Hebrew on the Palestinian dialect spoken by Arab Israelis.[275] Loanwords are gradually replaced with words of Arabic root. For instance, borrowings from Ottoman Turkish that were common in the 20th century have been largely replaced by Arabic words after the end of Ottoman Syria.[274]

Lexical distance from MSA[edit]

Saiegh-Haddad & Ali (2009) studied phonological distance between Palestinian and MSA. They analyzed the spoken lexicon of five-year old native Palestinian speakers and concluded that:

  • 40% of the words were unique to Palestinian and not present in MSA;
  • 40% of the spoken Palestinian words were related to words in MSA but were different in between 1 and 6 phonological parameters (sound change, addition, or deletion);
  • 20% of the words were identical in Palestinian and MSA.[276][277]

Levantine words coming from Classical Arabic have undergone three common phonological processes:

  • Regressive vowel harmony: The first vowel /a/ has changed to /u/ in harmony with the following vowel /u/,
  • Final vowel deletion: The final vowel /u/ is deleted, and
  • Initial consonant addition: A voiced bilabial consonant is often added before present verb prefixes. It is /b/ in all forms except 1st person plural, where it is /m/.[16]

Despite these differences, three scientific papers concluded, using various natural language processing techniques, that Levantine dialects (and especially Palestinian) were the closest colloquial varieties, in terms of lexical similarity, to Modern Standard Arabic: Harrat et al. (2015, comparing MSA to two Algerian dialects, Tunisian, Palestinian, and Syrian; found 38% of common words between Syrian and MSA and 52% between Palestinian and MSA),[12] El-Haj et al. (2018, comparing MSA to Egyptian, Levantine, Gulf, and North African Arabic),[14] and Abu Kwaik et al. (2018, comparing MSA to Algerian, Tunisian, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian; found that Levantine dialects were very similar to each other and between 0.4 and 0.5 similarity between MSA and Palestinian).[15]

Verbal nouns[edit]

Verbal nouns (also called gerunds or masdar[21]) play an important role in Levantine. Derived from a verb root, they can be used as a noun ("food") or as a gerund ("eating").[278] Verbal nouns do not exist as infinitives, they are not part of the verbal system but of the lexicon.[187]

Verbal nouns declension patterns for the ten verb forms[n][278]
Form Verb pattern Verbal noun pattern Example[244][245][246][247][248][249][250][251][252][253]
Most common Variants Verb Verbal noun
Form I C1vC2vC3 C1vC2C3 Many variants ‏درس
daras
(to study, to learn)
درس
dars
(a lesson)
Form II C1aC2C2aC3 taC1C2īC3 taC1C2iC3a / tiC1C2āC3 قدّم
qaddam
(to present, to offer)
تقديم
taqdīm
(a presentation, presenting)
Form III C1v̄C2aC3 muC1v̄C2aC3a C1iC2v̄C3 ساعد
sāʕad
(to help)
مساعدة
musāʕida
(help, assistance)
Form IV ʔaC1C2aC3 ʔiC1C2āC3 أقنع
ʾaqnaʿ
(to convince)
إقناع
ʾiqnāʿ
(convincing)
Form V tC1aC2C2aC3 taC1aC2C2uC3 تجنب
tjannab
(to avoid)
تجنّب
tajannub
(avoiding, avoidance)
Form VI tC1v̄C2aC3 taC1v̄C2uC3 تجاهل
tjāhal
(to ignore)
تجاهل
tajāhul
(ignoring)
Form VII nC1aC2aC3 (North)
inC1aC2aC3 (South)
inC1iC2v̄C3 انبسط
inbasaṭ
(to be happy, to have fun)
انبساط
inbisāṭ
(happiness)
Form VIII C1tvC2vC3 (North)
iC1tvC2vC3 (South)
iC1tiC2v̄C3 اقترح
iqtaraḥ
(to suggest)
اقتراح
iqtirāḥ
(a suggestion)
Form IX C1C2aC3C3 (North)
iC1C2aC3C3 (South)
iC1C2iC3āC3 احمر
iḥmarr
(to blush, to turn red)
احمرار
iḥmirār
(blushing, turning red)
Form X staC1C2aC3 (North)
istaC1C2aC3 (South)
istiC1C2āC3 استعمل
istaʕmal
(to use)
استعمال
ismtiʕmāl
(use, usage)

Aramaic substrate[edit]

Aramaic traces remains in Levantine, especially in rural areas. Aramaic influence on Levantine is relatively minor, but it is particularly prominent in vocabulary. Aramaic words underwent morphophonemic adaptation when they entered Levantine. In the course of time, it has become difficult to identify them. They belong to different fields of everyday life such as seasonal agriculture, housekeeping, tools and utensils, alongside Christian religious terms.[275][279]

Loanwords[edit]

Morphology[edit]

The plural of loanwords may be sound or broken.[280]

Learned borrowings from MSA[edit]

As it is generally the case in diglossic environments, Levantine (the "Low" or "L" variety) shows a tendency to borrow learned words from Modern Standard Arabic (the "High" or "H" variety), particularly when speakers try to use Levantine in more formal ways.[16]

In modern and religious borrowings from MSA the original MSA pronunciation is often preserved. For instance, قرآن (Quran) is only pronounced /qur’an/.[281]

From English[edit]

Contacts between Levantine and English started during the nineteenth century when the British ran academic and religious institutions in the Levant. More influence of English occurred during the British protectorate over Jordan (1921–1946) and the British Mandate for Palestine (1923-1948). However, the borrowing process was low at the time as the number of British personnel was very small. In Jordan, English is a compulsory subject in schools and all scientific subjects at universities are taught in English.[282] Over the last few decades, English contact with Levantine has gained increasing momentum, leading to the introduction of many loanwords, particularly in the contexts of technology and entertainment.[283][284][285]

From French[edit]

Many French loanwords exist in Levantine. Especially in Lebanese, due to the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon (1923−1946).[286]

Example of common French loanwords in Lebanese[286]
French original word French pronunciation French meaning Lebanese meaning Lebanese
abat-jour /a.ba.ʒuʁ/ lampshade /ɑ.bɑ.ʒuɾ/ ‏أباجور
antenne /ɑ̃.tɛn/ antenna /ɑn.tˤen/
baffle /bafl/ speaker /bɑfl/
bonjour /bɔ̃.ʒuʁ/ good morning /bon.ʒuɾ/ ‏بونجور
chauffeur /ʃo.fœʁ/ driver /ʃu.feɾ/ ‏شوفير
douche /duʃ/ shower /duʃ/ ‏دوش
échappement /e.ʃap.mɑ̃/ exhaust pipe /æ.ʃɘk.mɑn/ ‏أشكمون
garçon /ɡaʁ.sɔ̃/ waiter /ɡɑɾ.sˤon/ ‏جرسون
maillot /ma.jo/ swimsuit /mæj.jo/ ‏مايو
mayonnaise /ma.jɔ.nɛz/ mayonnaise /mæj.jo.nez/ ‏مايونيز
mécanicien /me.ka.ni.sjɛ̃/ mechanic /mɘ.kæ.nɘs.jen/-
numéro /nymeʁo/ number license plate /nom.ɾɑ/
pantalon /pɑ̃.ta.lɔ̃/ pants /bɑn.tˤɑ.lon/ ‏بانتالون
pharmacie /faʁ.ma.si/ pharmacy /fæɾ.mæ.ʃi.jæ/ ‏فرمشيَّا
porno /pɔʁ.nɔ/ porn movie /poɾ.no/

From Ottoman Turkish[edit]

The vast majority of Turkish loans in Levantine date from the time of the Ottoman Empire, which for about four hundred years dominated the Levant and a large part of the Arab world. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire resulted in a rapid and drastic decrease in the use of Turkish words, due to Arabization of the language and the negative perception of the Ottoman era among Arabs.[274] However, Arabic-speaking minorities in Turkey (mostly in the Hatay Province) are still influenced by Turkish today. Many Western words entered Arabic through Ottoman Turkish as Turkish was the main language for the transmission of Western ideas and culture into the Arab world. There are about 3,000 Turkish borrowings in Syrian Arabic. Most Turkish loanwords are in the domains of administration and government, army and war, crafts and tools, house and household, dress, and food and dishes.[287][288]

Example of Levantine terms derived from Ottoman Turkish[287]
Ottoman Turkish Modern Turkish Meaning Levantine
قازمه kazma kazma pick, mattock قزمةqazma
طبانجه tabanca tabanca pistol طبنجةṭabanje
طوغری doğrı doğru straight ahead دغريduḡri
تپسی tepsi tepsi tray, ashtray تبسيةtəbsiyye / ‏تبسة‎təbse
اوطه oda oda room أوضةʾōḍa
باشلامق başlamak başlamak to begin بلّشballaš

From Modern Hebrew[edit]

There are many Modern Hebrew loanwords in the Levantine dialect spoken by Palestinian Israelis.[289] Modern Hebrew is now the main source of innovation in Palestinian Arabic in Israel, including for words that originally derive from English. Most of the borrowed items are nouns and many are borrowed without any change.[290]

Hebrew loanwords can be written in Hebrew, Arabic, or Latin script, depending on the speaker and the context. Code-switching between Levantine and Hebrew is frequent. In one study, the average frequency of Hebrew borrowings, mostly nouns, in conversations on WhatsApp and Viber was about 2.7% of all words. The vast majority of Hebrew loanwords in this study were from the domains of education, technology, and employment. Some Hebrew loanwords are originally English borrowings into Hebrew that were subsequently borrowed from Hebrew into Palestinian Israeli vernacular. According to the author, this percentage is low compared to other languages; for instance, about 10% of Japanese words are English loanwords.[112]

Example of common Hebrew borrowed words in Palestinian Israeli dialect[112]
Palestinian (Arabic script) Palestinian pronunciation (IPA) Original Hebrew word Hebrew transliteration English meaning
الكورس [alkors] קורס kurs the course
لسمستر [lasimister] סמסטר seméster for semester
ترجول [tirgo:l] תרגול‎ tirgúl practice
ھودعوت [hodaʕo:t] הודעה hoda'á SMS
كلیتاه [klitah] קליטה klitá mobile reception
بلفون [bilifon] פלאפון‎ pélefon mobile phone (Genericized trademark of Pelephone)
السدور [ilsido:r] סידור sidúr the work schedule
حوفش [ћofiʃ] חופש khófesh break from work
عیسیك [ʕesik] עסק 'ések business
بجروت [bigro:t] בגרות‎ bagrút comprehensive high school final exam (Bagrut certificate)
ھرتسآه [hartsaˀah] הרצאה hartsa'á lecture
ھشتلموت [hiʃtalmo:t] השתלמות hishtalmút extension of study
مزجان [mazga:n] מזגן mazgán air conditioner
شوئیف [ʃuˀev] שואב sho'ev vacuum cleaner
شلاط [ʃala:tˁ] שלט shalát remote control
رأیون [riˀajo:n] ריאיון re'ayon interview
المعسیك [ilmaʕsik] מעסיק‎ ma'asik employer
بتسوییم [bitsuj:m] פיצויים pitsúyim compensation payment

Common words and phrases[edit]

Wiktionary and Wikivoyage have list of common words (from the Swadesh list) and phrasebooks in North and South Levantine.

Sample texts[edit]

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[edit]

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Lebanese (Arabic) Lebanese (Romanized)[291] Palestinian (Arabic) Palestinian (Romanized) Modern Standard Arabic[292] MSA (Romanized)[293] English[294]
كل البشر بيخلقوا أحرار ومتساويين بالكرامة والحقوق. وهن انوهبوا عقل وضمير، ولازم يعاملوا بعضهن البعض بروح الأخوة.
Kill el bachar byekhla2o a7rar w metsewyin bil karame w el 7o2ou2. W hinne nwahabo 3a2el w damir, w lezim y3emlo ba3dun el ba3ed b’rou7 el okhouwe.
-
-
يولد جميع الناس أحراراً ومتساوين في الكرامة والحقوق. وهم قد وهبوا العقل والوجدان وعليهم أن يعاملوا بعضهم بعضاً بروح الإخاء.
Yūladu jamī'u n-nāsi aḥrāran mutasāwīna fī l-karāmati wa-l-ḥuqūq. Wa-qad wuhibū 'aqlan wa-ḍamīran wa-'alayhim an yu'āmila ba'ḍuhum ba'ḍan bi-rūḥi l-ikhā'. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

The Little Prince[edit]

The Little Prince: Chapter 6
Lebanese (Arabic)[295] Lebanese (Romanized)[295] Palestinian (Arabic)[296][146] Palestinian (Romanized)[296][146] Modern Standard Arabic[297] MSA (Romanized)[297] English[298]
الأمير الزغير
al-amir az-z'ghir
الأمير الصغير
il-’amir le-zġīr
الأمير الصغير
al-amir as-saghir The Little Prince
وهيك يا إميري الزغير، ونتفي نتفي، فهمت حياتك التواضعا الكئيبي. إنت اللّي ضلّيت عَ مِدّي طويلي ما عندك شي يسلّيك إلاّ عزوبة التطليع بغياب الشمس. هالشي الجزءي، وجديد، غرفتو رابع يوم من عبكرا، لِمّن قلتلّي: أنا بحب غياب الشمس.[v]
-
أخ، يا أميري الصغير!شوي شوي عرفت عن سر حياتك الكئبة. وما كانش إلك ملاذ تاني غير غروب الشمس. وهدا الإشي عرفته بصباح اليوم الرابع لما قلت لي: - بحب كتير غروب الشمس[w]
’ᾱꜧ̄, yā ’amīri le-zġīr! šwayy ešwayy eCrifet Can sirr ḥayātak il-ka’ībe. u-ma kan-š ’ilak malād tāni ġēr ġurūb iš-šams. u-hāda l-’iši Crifto bi-ṣαbᾱḥ il-yōm ir-rᾱbeC lamma qultelli: - baḥebb ektīr ġurūb iš-šams[x]
آه أيها الأمير الصغير ، لقد أدركت شيئا فشيئا أبعاد حياتك الصغيرة المحزنة ، لم تكن تملك من الوقت للتفكير والتأمل غير تلك اللحظات التي كنت تسرح فيها مع غروب الشمس. لقد عرفت بهذا الأمر الجديد في صباح اليوم الرابع من لقائنا، عندما قلت لي: إنني مغرم بغروب الشمس.
Aah al-amiir as-saghiir, liqad adrakat shay'an fashai'an ab"ad xayaatika as-saghiirat al-xazinat, lam takun tamallaka min waqt liltafqiir wa-ttaamil ghayr tilka al-laxazaat allati kanat tasarrax fiihaa ma"a gharuub ash-shams. Liqad "araftu bihadha al-amiir al-jadiid fii sabaaxi al-yawmi ar-raabi"i min liqaa'inan, "indamaa qalta lii: innanii mughram bigharuub ash-shams. Oh, little prince! Bit by bit I came to understand the secrets of your sad little life. For a long time you had found your only entertainment in the quiet pleasure of looking at the sunset. I learned that new detail on the morning of the fourth day, when you said to me: I am very fond of sunsets.

Lord's Prayer[edit]

Lord's Prayer
North Levantine (Arabic) North Levantine (Romanized)[299] South Levantine (Arabic) South Levantine (Romanized) Modern Standard Arabic[300] MSA (Romanized)[300] English[301]
‏أبونا اللي بالسما
abūna ellé bel-sama, - -
،أَبَانَا الَّذِي فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ
’abā-nā alladhī fī as-samāwāt-i, Our Father in heaven,
خلي اسمك يتقدس
xallé esmak yet’addas - -
!لِيَتَقَدَّسِ اسْمُكَ
li-ya-ta-qaddas-i asm-u-ka! hallowed be your name,
خلي ملكوتك يجي
xallé malakūtak yejé - -
!لِيَأْتِ مَلَكُوتُكَ
li-ya-’ti malakūt-u-ka! your kingdom come,
خلي مشيئتك تصير بالأرض متل ما بالسما
xallé mašī’tak tṣīr bel areḍ metel ma bel-sama - -
!لِتَكُنْ مَشِيئَتُكَ عَلَى الأَرْضِ كَمَا هِيَ السَّمَاءِ فِي
li-takun ma-shī’at-u-ka ʽalā al-’arḍ-i kamā hīa fī as-samā’-i! your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
خبزنا حاجتنا كل يوم عطينا ياه
xebezna hɑ̄jetna kel yōm cṭīna yyē - -
!خُبْزَنَا كَفَافَنَا أَعْطِنَا الْيَوْمَ
khubz-a-nā kafāf-a-nā ’a-ʽṭi-nā al-yawm-a! Give us today our daily bread.
وسامحلنا غلطنا
w sēmeħelna ġalaṭna - -
،وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا
wa-aghfir la-nā dhunūb-a-nā, Forgive us our sins
متل ما نحنا منسامح للي غلطو معنا
metel ma neħna mensēmeħ lallé ġelṭo macna - -
!كَمَا نَغْفِرُ نَحْنُ لِلْمُذْنِبِينَ إِلَيْنَا
kamā na-ghfir-u naḥnu li-lmu-dhnib-ī-na ’ilay-nā! as we forgive those who sin against us.
وما تدخلنا بالتجربة
w ma tdaxxelna bel-tajerbé - -
،وَلاَ تُدْخِلْنَا فِي تَجْرِبَةٍ
wa-lā tu-dkhil-nā fī ta-jribat-in, Save us from the time of trial
بس خلصنا من الشر
bas xalleṣna men el-šar - -
،لَكِنْ نَجِّنَا مِنَ الشِّرِّيرِ
lakin najji-nā mina ash-shirrīr-i, and deliver us from evil.
لأنه لإلك الملكوت والقوة والمجد للأبد
la’anno la-elak el-malakūt w el-uwwé w el-majed lal-abad. - -
.لأَنَّ لَكَ الْمُلْكَ وَالْقُوَّةَ وَالْمَجْدَ إِلَى الأَبَدِ
l’anna laka al-mulka wa-al-qūwaha wa-al-majda ’ilā al-’abadi. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
آمين‎‎
ēmīn - -
.آمِين
’āmīn. Amen.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Also spelled Ammiya, Amiyya, Ammiyya, 'Ammiyya, 'Ammiya, Amiyah, Ammiyah, Amiyyah, Ammiyyah.
  2. ^ In a broader meaning, "Eastern Arabic" may refer to Mashriqi Arabic, to which Levantine belongs, one of the two main varieties of Arabic (as opposed to Western Arabic, also called Maghrebi Arabic).
  3. ^ a b Native speakers of Arabic generally do not distinguish between "Modern Standard Arabic" and "Classical Arabic" as separate languages; they refer to both as al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā (العربية الفصحى) meaning "the eloquent Arabic".[113]
  4. ^ Youth, especially teenagers, are considered the most active initiators of language change.[51][52]
  5. ^ a b Some Alawites reject the label "Muslim".[66]
  6. ^ The Jewish community of Hatay belonged to the rabbinate of Aleppo until 1938.[11]
  7. ^ Only countries with at least 100,000 speakers are shown.
  8. ^ a b In loanwords only.
  9. ^ Mainly in words from Classical Arabic and in Druze, rural, and Bedouin dialects.
  10. ^ Only in loanwords, except in Jordanian Arabic.
  11. ^ On Israeli road signs.
  12. ^ a b Rarely used.
  13. ^ The accent moves to the last vowel.
  14. ^ a b c d C represents a consonant, v represent a short vowel, v̄ represents a long vowel. Short vowel variations include e ~ i ~ ǝ and a ~ ǝ.[231]
  15. ^ a b Also called perfect.
  16. ^ a b Also called bi-imperfect, b-imperfect, or standard imperfect.
  17. ^ The mn- form is the most common one. However, the bn- form is used in some parts of Palestine such as Jerusalem.
  18. ^ a b c d Also called Ø-imperfect, imperfect, or subjunctive.
  19. ^ a b Also called imperative or command.
  20. ^ a b Also called present participle. Not all active participles are used and their meaning may vary.
  21. ^ a b Also called past participle, mostly used as an adjective. Not all passive participles are used and their meaning may vary.
  22. ^ This is author's original orthography. An alternate orthography could be: وهيك يا إميري الزغير، ونتفة نتفة، فهمت حياتك المتواضعة الكئيبة. إنت اللي ضليت ع مدة طويلة ما عندك شي يسليك إلا عزوبة التطليع بغياب الشمس. هالشي الجزئي، وجديد، عرفته رابع يوم من عبكرا، لمن قلتلي: أنا بحب غياب الشمس.
  23. ^ According to the authors: "we decided to adopt a flexible approach and use a form of transcription that reflects the spelling used by native Arabic speakers when they write brief colloquial texts on computer, table or smartphone."
  24. ^ Transcription follows J. Elihay's convention.

References[edit]

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