|36.2 million (2016)|
With numerous dialects and over 30 million native speakers worldwide, it is considered one of the five major varieties of Arabic. In the frame of the general diglossia status of the Arab world, Levantine Arabic is used for daily spoken use, while most of the written and official documents and media use Modern Standard Arabic.
North Levantine Arabic
- Syria: The dialect of Damascus and the dialect of Aleppo are well-known.
- Lebanon: North Lebanese, South Lebanese (Metuali, Shii), North-Central Lebanese (Mount Lebanon Arabic), South-Central Lebanese (Druze Arabic), Standard Lebanese, Beqaa, Sunni Beiruti, Saida Sunni, Iqlim-Al-Kharrub Sunni, Jdaideh
- Çukurova, Turkey: Cilician/Çukurovan
South Levantine Arabic
Levantine Arabic is spoken in the fertile strip on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and is traditionally divided into two groups:
- North Levantine stems from the north in Turkey, specifically in the coastal regions of the Adana, Hatay, and Mersin provinces, to Lebanon, passing through the Mediterranean coastal regions of Syria (the Al Ladhiqiyah and Tartus governorates) as well as the areas surrounding Aleppo and Damascus. In the North, the limit between Gilit Mesopotamian Arabic starts from the Turkish border near el-Rāʿi, and Sabkhat al-Jabbul is the north-eastern limit of Levantine Arabic, which includes further south al-Qaryatayn Damascus, and the Hauran.
- South Levantine is spoken in Palestine, as well as in the western area of Jordan (in the ‘Ajlun, Al Balqa', Al Karak, Al Mafraq, 'Amman, Irbid, Jarash, and Madaba governorates). The language is also spoken in the HaZafon district of Israel and central district of Israel, south of Lebanon, and there are about half a million speakers in the United Arab Emirates, though it is not indigenous to the UAE. In the Negev and Arabia Petraea, Northwest Arabian Arabic varieties are spoken. The transition to Egyptian Arabic in the south via the Negev and Sinai Peninsula, where Northwest Arabian Arabic is spoken and then the dialect of Sharqia Governorate, was described by de Jong in 1999. In this direction, the Egyptian city of Arish is the last one to display proper Levantine features. In a similar manner, the region of el-Karak announces Hijazi Arabic.
Although small communities of Arabic speakers were present prior to the Muslim conquest of the Levant, it is widely accepted that during the Roman and Byzantine periods, varieties of Greek-influenced Aramaic were the dominant spoken language of Palestine. The language shift from Aramaic to Arabic, both Semitic languages, that began in the 7th century after the conquests, 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.
Northern Old Arabic
Ancient Arabia was home to a continuum of Central Semitic languages in antiquity 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.
The primary division between Arabic dialects in ancient times 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. 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.
Spread of Old Hijazi
Before the mid-sixth century, the coda of the definite article almost never 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 clearly represents a different strand of the Arabic language, likely related to Old Hijazi and the QCT.
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.
Early Modern Levantine Arabic
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.
Contact with Northwest Semitic
The existence of Hismaic and Safaitic varieties without a definite article strongly suggests that their ancestor lacked a morphological means of definiteness. The definite article entered these varieties through contact with Northwest Semitic languages in the southern Levant. Evidence for such contact is given by a possibly bilingual North Arabian-Canaanite inscription containing a prayer to the gods Malkom, Kemōš, and Qaws.
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.
Nabataean Aramaic was extremely close to, but not identical with, Achaemenid Official Aramaic and may have been connected with the wider speech area. The use of the direct object marker yt /yāt/ seems to have been taken over from a Western form of Aramaic with which the inhabitants of the Nabataean kingdom may have been in contact.
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 makes it possible to define Western Aramaic as a dialect group more clearly in the later Roman period than before.
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 mountain villages of Maʿlūla, Baḫʿa, and Ǧubb ʿAdīn in the Antilebanon once have 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.
|Nasal||m – م||n – ن|
|Occlusive||voiceless||t – ت||tˤ – ط||k – ك||ʔ – ء ق|
|voiced||b – ب||d – د||dˤ – ض|
|Fricative||voiceless||f – ف||s – س ث||sˤ – ص||ʃ – ش||x – خ||ħ – ح||h – ه|
|voiced||z – ز ذ||zˤ – ظ||ʒ – ج||ɣ – غ||ʕ – ع|
|Trill / Tap||r – ر|
|Approximant||l – ل||(ɫ)||j – ي||w – و|
The US Defense Language Institute published two comparative texts for Levantine Arabic, one with Egyptian Arabic and another with Moroccan Arabic, to help learners of LA learn and distinguish between them.
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South Levantine at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
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|North Levantine Arabic test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|South Levantine Arabic test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|