Lebanese Arabic

Lebanese Arabic
اللهجة اللبنانية
Native toLebanon
Native speakers
5.77 million (2017)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Arabic chat alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3apc
Lebanese Arabic Map.png
 North Lebanese Arabic
 North-Central Lebanese Arabic
 Beqaa Arabic
 Jdaideh Arabic
 Sunni Beiruti Arabic
 South-Central Lebanese Arabic
 Iqlim-Al-Kharrub Sunni Arabic
 Saida Sunni Arabic
 South Lebanese Arabic
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Lebanese Arabic (Arabic: عَرَبِيّ لُبْنَانِيّ‎, romanizedʿarabiyy lubnāniyy, Lebanese: ʿarabe libnēne), or simply Lebanese (Arabic: لُبْنَانِيّ‎, romanizedlubnāniyy, Lebanese: libnēne), is a variety of North Levantine Arabic, indigenous to and spoken primarily in Lebanon, with significant linguistic influences borrowed from other Middle Eastern and European languages and is in some ways unique from other varieties of Arabic. Due to multilingualism and pervasive diglossia among Lebanese people (a majority of the Lebanese people are bilingual or trilingual), it is not uncommon for Lebanese people to code-switch between or mix Lebanese Arabic, English, and French in their daily speech.

Lebanese Arabic is believed to be a descendant of the Arabic dialects introduced to the Levant in the 7th century CE, which gradually supplanted various indigenous Northwest Semitic languages to become the regional lingua franca. As a result of this prolonged process of language shift, Lebanese Arabic possesses a significant Aramaic substratum, along with later non-Semitic adstrate influences from Ottoman Turkish, English, and French. As a variety of Levantine Arabic, Lebanese Arabic is most closely related to Syrian Arabic and shares many innovations with Palestinian and Jordanian Arabic. However some modern researchers have opposed the idea of descendence from Peninsular Arabic dialects, such as Ahmad Al-Jallad and others[who?].[3][irrelevant citation] These hold that the vernaculars languages went through a parallel evolution.

Differences from Standard Arabic

Lebanese Arabic shares many features with other modern varieties of Arabic. Lebanese Arabic, like many other spoken Levantine Arabic varieties, has a syllable structure very different from that of Modern Standard Arabic. While Standard Arabic can have only one consonant at the beginning of a syllable, after which a vowel must follow, Lebanese Arabic commonly has two consonants in the onset.

  • Morphology: no mood or grammatical case markings.
  • Number: verbal agreement regarding number and gender is required for all subjects, whether already mentioned or not.
  • Vocabulary: many borrowings from other languages; most prominently Syriac-Aramaic, Western-Aramaic, Persian, Phoenician, Ottoman Turkish, French, as well as, less significantly, from English.[4]
  • Some authors, such as the statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, believe that a significant part of the Lebanese grammatical structure is due to Aramaic influences.[5][6]


An interview with Lebanese singer Maya Diab; she speaks in Lebanese Arabic.
  • The following example demonstrates two differences between Standard Arabic (Literary Arabic) and Spoken Lebanese Arabic: Coffee (قهوة), Literary Arabic: /ˈqahwa/; Lebanese Arabic: [ˈʔahwe]. The voiceless uvular plosive /q/ corresponds to a glottal stop [ʔ], and the final vowel ([æ~a~ɐ]) commonly written with tāʾ marbūtah (ة) is raised to [e].
  • As a general rule, the voiceless uvular plosive /q/ is replaced with glottal stop [ʔ], e.g. /daqiːqa/ "minute" becomes [dʔiːʔa]. This debuccalization of /q/ is a feature shared with Syrian Arabic, Palestinian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, and Maltese.
    • The exception for this general rule is the Druze of Lebanon who, like the Druze of Syria and Israel, have retained the pronunciation of /q/ in the centre of direct neighbours who have replaced [q] with /ʔ/ (for example "heart", which is /qalb/ in Literary Arabic, becomes [ʔaleb] or [ʔalb]. The use of /q/ by Druze is particularly prominent in the mountains and less so in urban areas.
  • Unlike most other varieties of Arabic, a few dialects of Lebanese Arabic have retained the classical diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ (pronounced in Lebanese Arabic as [eɪ] and [eʊ]), which were monophthongised into [] and [] elsewhere, although the majority of Lebanese Arabic dialects realize them as [oʊ] and [eɪ]. In urban dialects (i.e. Beiruti) [] has replaced /aj/ and sometimes medial /aː/, and [e] has replaced final /i/ making it indistinguishable with tāʾ marbūtah (ة). Also, [] has replaced /aw/; [o] replacing some short /u/s. In singing, the /aj/, /aw/ and medial /aː/ are usually maintained for artistic[specify] values.
  • The /θ/ sound from Modern Standard Arabic is sometimes replaced with /t/ in words from MSA like /θa:nija/, (second as in the number) when it becomes /te:nje/. Other times, it may be replaced with /s/ in words like /θa:nija/ (second as in the time measurement) when it becomes /se:nje/. It is assumed that this is to maintain an audible difference between the two words which were originally homophones. In some dialects, the /θ/ sound is replaced with /t/ for both words.

Contentions regarding descent from Arabic

Several non-linguist commentators, including Nassim Taleb, have claimed that the Lebanese vernacular is not in fact a variety of Arabic at all, but rather a separate Central Semitic language descended from older languages including Aramaic; those who espouse this viewpoint suggest that a large percentage of its vocabulary consists of Arabic loanwords, and that this compounds with the use of the Arabic alphabet to disguise the language's true nature.[7] Taleb has recommended that the language be called Northwestern Levantine or neo-Canaanite.[8][9][10]

Historian and linguist Ahmad Al-Jallad has recently argued that while modern dialects are not descendants of Classical Arabic, forms of Arabic older than Classical are the historical foundation for the various dialects. Thus he states that, "most of the familiar modern dialects (i.e. Rabat, Cairo, Damascus, etc.) are sedimentary structures, containing layers of Arabics that must be teased out on a case-by-case basis." [11] In essence, the linguistic consensus is that Lebanese too is a variety of Arabic.



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

Vowels and diphthongs

Lebanese Arabic vowel chart.


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

Lebanese Arabic MSA Southern Central Northern
/ʌ/ [a] [ɑ] or [ʌ] [ɑ] or [ʌ] [ɔ] or [e]
/ɪ/ [i] or [u] [e] [e] [e] or [o]
/ʊ/ [u] [o] or [ʊ] [o] [o]
/e/1 [a] [e]1 [e]1 [e]1
/e:/ [a:] [e:] [e:] [e:]
/ɔ:/ [a:] [ɑ:] [ɑ:] [o:]
/e:/ [a:] [e] [e] [e]
/i/: [i:] [i:] [i:] [i:]
/e:/ [i] [e] [e] [e]
/u:/ [u:] [u:] [u:] [u:]
/eɪ~e:/ [aj] [e:] [e:] [e:]
/oʊ~o:/ [aw] [o:] [o:] [o:]

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


Regional varieties

Although there is a modern Lebanese Arabic dialect mutually understood by Lebanese people,[13] there are regionally distinct variations with, at times, unique pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.[14]

Widely used regional varieties include:

Writing system

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

Formal publications in Lebanon, such as newspapers, are typically written in Modern Standard Arabic, French, or English.

While Arabic script is usually employed, informal usage such as online chat may mix and match Latin letter transliterations. The Lebanese poet Saïd Akl proposed the use of the Latin alphabet but did not gain wide acceptance. Whereas some works, such as Romeo and Juliet and Plato's Dialogues have been transliterated using such systems, they have not[citation needed] gained widespread acceptance. Yet, now, most Arabic web users, when short of an Arabic keyboard, transliterate the Lebanese Arabic words in the Latin alphabet in a pattern similar to the Said Akl alphabet, the only difference being the use of digits to render the Arabic letters with no obvious equivalent in the Latin alphabet.

There is still today no generally accepted agreement on how to use the Latin alphabet to transliterate Lebanese Arabic words. However, Lebanese people are now using latin numbers while communicating online to make up for sounds not directly associable to latin letters. This is especially popular over text messages and apps such as WhatsApp. Examples:

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

In 2010, The Lebanese Language Institute has released a Lebanese Arabic keyboard layout and made it easier to write Lebanese Arabic in a Latin script, using unicode-compatible symbols to substitute for missing sounds.[15]

Said Akl's orthography

Said Akl, the poet, philosopher, writer, playwright and language reformer, designed alphabet for the Lebanese language using the Latin alphabet in addition to a few newly designed letters and some accented Latin letters to suit the Lebanese phonology in the following pattern:

  • Capitalization and punctuation are used normally the same way they are used in the French and English languages.
  • Some written consonant-letters, depending on their position, inherited a preceding vowel. As L and T.
  • Emphatic consonants are not distinguished from normal ones, with the exception of /zˤ/ represented by ƶ. Probably Said Akl did not acknowledge any other emphatic consonant.[contradictory]
  • Stress is not marked.
  • Long vowels and geminated consonants are represented by double letters.
  • Ç which represents /ʔ/ was written even initially.
  • All the basic Latin alphabet are used, in addition to other diacriticized ones. Most of the letters loosely represent their IPA counterparts, with some exceptions:
Letter Corresponding phoneme(s) Additional information
a /a/, /ɑ/
aa //, /ɑː/
c /ʃ/
ç /ʔ/ The actual diacritic looks like a diagonal stroke on the bottom left
g /ɣ/
i /ɪ/, /i/ Represents /i/ word-finally
ii //
j /ʒ/
k /χ/
q /k/
u /ʊ/, /u/ Represents /u/ word-finally
uu //
x /ħ/
y /j/
ȳ /ʕ/ The actual diacritic looks like a stroke connected to the upper-left spoke of the letter
ƶ /zˤ/

See also


  1. ^ "Arabic, North Levantine Spoken". Ethnologue. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Standard Lebanese Arabic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Ahmad Al-Jallad, "A Manual of the Historical Grammar of Arabic," 33. https://www.academia.edu/38100372/Al-Jallad._A_Manual_of_the_Historical_Grammar_of_Arabic
  4. ^ "Languages". Come To Lebanon. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  5. ^ "You may think you're speaking Lebanese, but some of your words are really Syriac". The Daily Star Newspaper - Lebanon. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  6. ^ Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2 January 2018). "No, Lebanese is not a "dialect of" Arabic". East Med Project: History, Philology, and Genetics. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  7. ^ Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2 January 2018). "No, Lebanese is not a "dialect of" Arabic".
  8. ^ https://www.maronite-heritage.com/Lebanese%20Language.php
  9. ^ "Phoenicia: The Lebanese Language: What is the difference between the Arabic Language and the Lebanese language?". phoenicia.org.
  10. ^ "Lebanese Language Institute » History". www.lebaneselanguage.org.
  11. ^ Ahmad Al-Jallad, "A Manual of the Historical Grammar of Arabic," 33.https://www.academia.edu/38100372/Al-Jallad._A_Manual_of_the_Historical_Grammar_of_Arabic
  12. ^ Abdul-Karim, K. 1979. Aspects of the Phonology of Lebanese Arabic. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Doctoral Dissertation.
  13. ^ "Lebanese Language - MARONITE HERITAGE". www.maronite-heritage.com. Retrieved 9 December 2018.
  14. ^ Makki, Elrabih Massoud. 1983. The Lebanese dialect of Arabic: Southern Region. (Doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University; 155pp.)
  15. ^ Lebanese Language Institute: Lebanese Latin Letters The Lebanese Latin Letters


  • Spoken Lebanese. Maksoud N. Feghali, Appalachian State University. Parkway Publishers, 1999 (ISBN 978-1-887905-14-5)
  • Michel T. Feghali, Syntaxe des parlers arabes actuels du Liban, Geuthner, Paris, 1928.
  • Elie Kallas, 'Atabi Lebnaaniyyi. Un livello soglia per l'apprendimento del neoarabo libanese, Cafoscarina, Venice, 1995.
  • Angela Daiana Langone, Btesem ente lebneni. Commedia in dialetto libanese di Yahya Jaber, Università degli Studi La Sapienza, Rome, 2004.
  • Jérome Lentin, "Classification et typologie des dialectes du Bilad al-Sham", in Matériaux Arabes et Sudarabiques n. 6, 1994, 11–43.
  • Plonka Arkadiusz, L’idée de langue libanaise d’après Sa‘īd ‘Aql, Paris, Geuthner, 2004, ISBN 978-2-7053-3739-1
  • Plonka Arkadiusz, "Le nationalisme linguistique au Liban autour de Sa‘īd ‘Aql et l’idée de langue libanaise dans la revue «Lebnaan» en nouvel alphabet", Arabica, 53 (4), 2006, 423–471.
  • Franck Salameh, "Language, Memory, and Identity in the Middle East", Lexington Books, 2010.
  • lebaneselanguage.org, "Lebanese vs Arabic", Lebanese Language Institute, March 6, 2010.
  • Abdul-Karim, K. 1979. Aspects of the Phonology of Lebanese Arabic. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Doctoral Dissertation.
  • Bishr, Kemal Mohamed Aly. 1956. A grammatical study of Lebanese Arabic. (Doctoral dissertation, University of London; 470pp.)
  • Choueiri, Lina. 2002. Issues in the syntax of resumption: restrictive relatives in Lebanese Arabic. Ann Arbor: UMI. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Los Angeles; xi+376pp.)
  • Makki, Elrabih Massoud. 1983. The Lebanese dialect of Arabic: Southern Region. (Doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University; 155pp.)

External links

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