The Lebanese Language: What is the difference between the Arabic Language and the Lebanese language?
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The Importance of Distinguishing Lebanese Language from Arabic Language

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Lebanese Language Center
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Languages of what is claimed to be the Arab World.

Phoenicia.org Author's Note:
Below is a very eloquent post by a person with nickname Shreek. I am reproducing the posts here without permission from the
Lebanese ForcesForum. It makes an excellent argument in support of the Lebanese Language. Further, please see the blog of the philologist scholar about the same on Ecce Libano.

So is spoken Syrian not Arabic, like spoken Egyptian isn’t Arabic, like spoken Khaliji isn't Arabic? Please enlighten me. We should invent a new language called Lebanese to satisfy people like you?

What you said is true. Lebanese isn't Arabic. Let me enlighten you. I will take this argument one step further and submit to you that not only are historical and social affinities the cardinal points in the development of the Lebanese identity, but that, in our case, the Lebanese language (a spontaneous, self-contained and indigenous Lebanese generation, and NOT an Arabic lahja) is today our only national nimbus.

Lebanon, is the principal Middle Eastern country to witness (since its inception) a systematized blossoming of its local dialectal variant; call it Lahja if it's soothes your Arab sensibilities, but please note that Sati' al-Husri, the father of the linguistically based "Arab nationalism" conceded in his 1979 introduction to Anis Freyha's "al-Lugha l-3arabiyya was usluubu diraasatiha" that "we are no longer allowed to refer to the various Arabic Lahjas as dialectal or vulgar variants of the classical language." In Husri's estimation, Lebanese had already become an autonomous linguistic competency, and any attempts to bring back formal "Arabic" from the burial vaults of time were mere exercises in futility, analogous to re-instituting Latin as the spoken language of France, Romania, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc...

The spoken language of Lebanon has grace, malleability and an amazing capacity for neologisms and other evolutionary trends that formal Arabic (for liturgical and dogmatic reasons) is no longer able to attain.

Lebanese, NOT Arabic, is my native language. Nevertheless, I consider myself fairly proficient in English, Arabic and Syriac. However, Arabic is the only language that requires me to think in an alternative language (usually my maternal tongue, Lebanese) before I am able to utter one word of Arabic or write one meaningful Arabic sentence.

This is not a natural process! it is most artificial, and it is called diglossia in the discourse of linguists. It is a dualism that most bilinguals suffer from.

I hope that one day you will gather up the courage and integrity that goaded Sati' al-Husri to admit this self-evident truth, and reach the same conclusion yourself.

Regardless of the ideological and religious motives that force you to think otherwise, Lebanese, NOT Arabic, is also YOUR native language, and it is the ONLY element of unity that you and I have in common. So why not capitalize on our linguistic Lebanonism and use it as the corner stone of our "Lebanese" identity. It should be very clear by now (as evidenced by 14 centuries of struggles) that political Islam will never be able to mold me into its image, just as political Maronitism was unable to mold you into its image. We each have our own sources that feed our self-image and national vigor, and we may never reconcile our differences without a clear and resolute physical separation if we persist in denying each other's specificity.

The language BOTH our mothers spoke MUST be an element of national pride and MUST become the cement of our heteroclite national identity.

Here's the bombshell:

The two people that first pointed out Lebanon's linguistic specificity, and consequently instigated our linguistic Lebanonism in the late 1940's were MUSLIMS not Christians; Nagib Jamaaleddine, a Shiite, and Kamaal Charaabi, a Sunni. Jamaaleddine was a brilliant lawyer who will forever remain in the annals of modern Lebanese history as the author of the first "Lebanese" counsel's address to be delivered extemporaneously (i.e.: NOT from a prepared text) at a Lebanese tribunal. Jamaaleddine was also the translator of Imam Ali's Nahju l-balaaghati into Lebanese (titled "Che2af mne n-nahj). Charaabi and Jamaaleddine became two of the principal and closest advisors of Said Akl in the 1950s.., and who knows, perhaps even influenced his thought. This, then, is the most coherent early illustration of the blossoming of the Lebanese language and its movement from its traditional popular-social-cultural position to reach a literary-intellectual status. Thanks to Charaabi and Jamaaleddine, our Lebanese language is making great impression today on all aspects of artistic expression that are bound up with popular life (radio, movies, TV, newscasts, theatre) and on all aspects of religious, intellectual and political expression that are bound up in "official" life (parliament, newsprint and other media...)

This particular reflection of national self-consciousness (expressed in the Lebanese linguistic nimbus) might still throw religious and conservative diehards, like yourself (protective of the classical language of Islam) into a bloc opposed to the efflorescence of the Lebanese language. But I am not holding my breath. It is society that decides the evolutionary course of its language, not individuals, and certainly not religious zealots stuck in time lag.

Dante did not kill Latin by writing the Divine Comedy in his native Tuscan (which later became Italian), he merely delivered the coup de grace that weakened the hold of the Catholic Church and the Latin language on the Academy, and gave birth to the Italian nation by giving social status to a popular language (Tuscan). Who knows? Perhaps our Dante will turn out to be the Shiite Nagib Jamaaleddine?

The word "Arab" is ambiguous and amorphous, mainly because Islam does not recognize national/ethnic distinctions. For Islam, the locus of group loyalty is religiously based. Consequently, it has not been possible, for the past 14 centuries, to speak of an Arab community based on ethnic or cultural congruity.

In fact, one of the principal accomplishments of Islam over the centuries has been to convert the ethnically diverse "Arabic-speaking" world into an imaginary melting pot where all origins were forgotten (or rather granted a fictitious "Arab" character.)

As a result of the spread of Islam (which incidentally did NOT occur in a vacuum) more that 4.5 million square miles of Africa and Asia became "Arabic-speaking". However, the equivocal character of the expression "Arabic-speaking" itself, adds further ambiguity to the word "Arab" today, which refers merely to the fabricated community of a FORMAL language. Consequently, if the word "Arab" is used as a criterion of unity (based on this imagined community of language), then the expression itself carries perforce the seed of its own destruction since "Arabic" has been suffering from aphasia for over a 1000 years and has seized being a spoken language since the end of the Abbasid era. This begs a simple illustration:

"Haana lana ann na'kula" is an octo-syllabic Arabic sentence; it is shackled by declensions; it requires 6 grammatical rules (or sarf wa naHw) to conform it to the purists' (i.e.: Qoranic) conception of what constitutes proper Arabic; it is consequently (according to linguists)a DEAD Language for all intents and purposes.

Conversely, "Hallna n.e.kol" is Lebanese; it is formed by 4 syllables (brevity is a form of eloquence), it does NOT contain declensions, and it requires ONLY one grammatical rule to be produced correctly! Lebanese is therefore a vibrant and dynamic language of life.

The difference between the 2 locutions above, is a difference of nature not degree. It is hypocritical and mendacious to pretend that the first sentence is Arabic, and the second one is an Arabic "lahja" (accent.) This would be analogous to saying that Latin is a "language" and French is a Latin "lahja" (accent.) The difference between the two is, again, one of nature NOT degree.

"Wa inni wa in kuntu jamiilu zamaanihi" IS one Arabic lahja (accent), and "wa innii wa in kuntchuu djamiiluu zamaanihii" is ANOTHER Arabic lahja. THIS, is a difference of degree not nature. The lahja pertains to timber and inflections, it has NOTHING to do with structure and syntax.

For instance, the negating particles in Lebanese (like in French) flank the verb (ma ba3refch, or aba3rebch.. again, 3 syllables, and, declensions, and a remnant of Syriac) whereas in Arabic, the negating particle can ONLY precede the verb (laa a3rifu.. 4 syllables, and four different declensions within ONE verb.)

The average Lebanese "jerdeh" can extemporaneously describe what's under the hood of his car IN Lebanese without missing a single beat. Conversely, Taha Hussein, one of our times' most distinguished princes of the Arabic language, admits with much frustration that he would sit in his Sorbonne flat, grope for words, and fail to describe his own furniture in Arabic. Therefore, the Lebanese "jerdeh" speaks a vibrant language of life, while Taha Hussein spoke a dead language (out of a prepared text, never impulsively!!!) (And YES, achikmeen, duburyaage, direction and sobbaab ARE Lebanese words.)

Thus, to say that the Lebanese speak Arabic is analogous to saying that the Haitians speak French (an unscrupulous and simplistic statement from a linguistic point of view, and an ideologically loaded one, from a political point of view.) The Haitians speak Haitian (Creole) which might have some genetic similarities to French, but which nevertheless remains an autochthonous and autonomous Haitian linguistic competence specific to Haiti (despite the Jeremiads of archeologists!!) Similarly, the Lebanese language is a spontaneous Lebanese creation and a Lebanese impulse sui generis. It is society that instigates and propels the evolution of language, NOT lamentations, wishful thinking, linguistic policies, or demagogic agendas. Rome with all its might, vigor, and intellectual pedigree was unable to prevent the bursting-out, dispersal and ultimate DEATH of its language. I wonder how the so-called Arabs intend to resuscitate THEIR dead and buried "language".

ADDENDUM

Re: The Necessity of Distinguishing Lebanese Language from Arabic Language, posted September 17, 2008

From a linguistic point of view the expression "Arabic dialect" in reference to the Lebanese language is unscrupulous; from a political point of view it is both hypocritical and mendacious.

Many Lebanese, in spite of the irrefutable linguistic and historical evidence attesting to the Syriac origins of our Lebanese language, persist in exhibiting an "arabising" complex by wrongly referring to our maternal language as an "Arabic" dialect.

The pronounced influence of Syriac on our modern Lebanese language is not only apparent in the heavy reliance on Arabic vocabulary in the language of daily parlance; it is also apparent in the Lebanese vocalization of certain vowels which do not exist in Arabic, as well as in the timber and inflection of various consonants common to both Arabic and Syriac. This influence is also obvious in the sentence structure (syntax) of modern Lebanese, as well as in its grammatical rules.

For instance, the ommission of the letter Zhaal (the ninth symbol of the Arabic Alphabet) and its replacement by Daal or Zayn, is characteristic of Aramaic/Syriac which does not recognize the sound Zhall... So we say in Lebanese "Abaana l lazi fis samawaat" etc..

Lebanese also uses "sukuun" in its personal pronouns, and so, we say Huu and Hii (for He and She), whereas Egyptians and others say Huwwa and Hiyya, just as we say Aana for Ana (in accordance with what is customary in Syriac.)

Defective (three stemmed) hollow verbs kept their defective Waaw and Yaa' in the conjugation of its 1st person masculine imperative (in accordance with Syriac/Aramaic usage.) For instance a Lebanese would say 'Uuum and Bii3 (for get-up and sell) instead of the Arabic Qumm wa Bi33.

The silent first radical of a given root is a characteristic of Lebano-Syriac and completely foreign (and therefore unacceptable) to Arabic. In Lebanese we say Hmaar, Kteeb, T'uum, Kbaar, Zghaar, Jnuub (indifferently for verbs or nouns), whereas in Arabic, the first consonant of a word can NEVER be silent, and therefore to say Junuub, Habiib, Kibaar etc.. is a must. Similarly, the meeting of two silent consonants is common in Lebanese; for example Maktbo, Darjtak, Makhznak, instead of the Arabic Maktabuhu, Darjatuka, Makhzanuka etc...

Similarly the Arabic plural pronominal suffix m (as in Akhuukum, 3indahum, Akalahum) becomes n in modern Lebanese (Khayykun, 3indun, Akalun) exactly in accordance with Syriac.

Also a Lebanese would say "Chaafuune Ikhwtak", instead of the Arabic "Chaahadani Ikhwatuka".. ie: in this verbal sentence structure, the Lebanese verb benefits from 2 subjects, on suffixed to the verb and a second following it, exactly in accordance with Syriac usage, a structure that is anathema to Arabic. Also, the hamza of the imperative is ommitted in modern Lebanese, and so we say, Chraab, Ktoob, instead of the Arabic Ichrab, Uktub.

We can oversimplify matters and call Lebanese an Arabic dialect, although from the point of view of linguists, this is no longer acceptable. Arabic can evolve ONLY in Arabia (its original home), outside of its home, it can no longer maintain its purity and will have to intermarry with the intellectual tyranny of other verbal competencies.

Correct Arabic for instance does not accept the starting of a word with a silent consonant (ie: we MUST say "Himaar" in Arabic, and NEVER "Hmaar".. "Kitaab" and NEVER "Kteeb", a trivial point from our perspective, but a very significant point from the perspective of the scrupulous linguist.)

For instance, the French "pays" and the Spanish "Pais" are undeniably related, but it is unacceptable to say that "pais" for instance is a French dialectal form, or that "pays" is a Spanish patois to mean "country". This is when we know that a language is undergoing structural change. "Kteeb" and "Kitaaab", and "Trablos" and "Taraabulus", ARE NOT accents, but significant structural differences between Arabic and Lebanese!
Otherwise, we'll have to accept that "Pays" and "Pais", or that "Bonjour" and "Buongiorno" are variants of the same language. This, of course, would be a travesty from the point of view of the French, the Spaniards, or the Italians.

In addition, Arabic may be a revered language; a sacred language of Muslim liturgy, but today Arabic is no longer a living tongue.

The only recent example of a successful revival (of a dead language) that comes to mind is that of Hebrew (also a beautiful language.) But the Jews benefit from coherent cultural/national coordination, cooperation, esprit de corps, natural cohesiveness, ideals, morale, and most importantly scientific efficiency and technical skills - things that the Arabs never had and never will. And to add incoherence to an already messy corporate-consciousness, Islam wants to forcibly Arabize the Lebanese. If the Lebanese wanted to be arabized, they would have done it under the Umayyads, when Islam was at its apogee.

Lebanon has a self-contained, indigenous national identity, and in spite of what the 300 corrupt politicians might say about Lebanon's "official language", Lebanon remains non-Arab. Lebanon, again, is Lebanese sui generis; it does not require a label to define it. My mother never told me "kayfa Haaluka l-yawmaa ya bunayya", but "kifak l-yom ya mama".

I will take this argument one step further and submit to you that not only are historical and social affinities the cardinal points in the development of the Lebanese identity, but that, in our case, the Lebanese language (a spontaneous, self-contained and indigenous Lebanese generation, and NOT an Arabic lahja) is today our only national nimbus.

Lebanon is the principal Middle Eastern country to witness (since its inception) a systematized blossoming of its local dialectal variant; call it Lahja if it's soothes arab sensibilities, but one must note that Sati' al-Husri, the father of the linguistically based "Arab nationalism" conceded in his 1979 introduction to Anis Freyha's al-Lugha el-3arabiyya wa usluubu diraasatiha that "we are no longer allowed to refer to the various Arabic Lahjas as dialectal or vulgar variants of the classical language." In Husri's estimation, Lebanese had already become an autonomous linguistic competency, and any attempts to bring back formal "Arabic" from the burial vaults of time were mere exercises in futility, analogous to re-instituting Latin as the spoken language of France, Romania, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc...

The spoken language of Lebanon has grace, malleability and an amazing capacity for neologisms and other evolutionary trends that formal Arabic (for liturgical and dogmatic reasons) is no longer able to attain.

Lebanese, NOT Arabic, is the native language if Lebanon. Nevertheless, the Lebanese consider themselves fairly proficient in English, French, and Arabic. However, Arabic is the only language that requires one to think in an alternative language (usually our maternal tongue, Lebanese) before one is able to utter one word of Arabic or write one meaningful Arabic sentence.

This is not a natural process! it is most artificial, and it is called diglossia in the discourse of linguists. It is a dualism that most bilinguals suffer from. Consequently, I submit that our natural, maternal and native language IS Lebanese, and I hope that one day the rest of our Lebanese brethren will gather up the courage and integrity that goaded Sati' al-Husri to admit this self-evident truth, and reach the same conclusion themselves.

Lebanese, NOT Arabic, is also OUR native language, and it is the ONLY element of unity that Lebanese have in common. So why not capitalize on our linguistic Lebanonism and use it as the corner-stone of our "Lebanese" identity. It should be very clear by now (as evidenced by 14 centuries of struggles) that political Islam will never be able to mould us Christians into its image, just as political maronitism was unable to mould Muslims into its image. We each have our own sources that feed our self-image and national vigour, and we may never reconcile our differences without a clear and resolute physical separation if we persist in denying each other's specificity.

The two people that first pointed out Lebanon's linguistic specificity, and consequently instigated our linguistic Lebanonism in the late 1940's were MUSLIMS not Christians; Nagib Jamaaleddine, a Shi’ite, and Kamaal Charaabi, a Sunni. Jamaaleddine was a brilliant lawyer who will forever remain in the annals of modern Lebanese history as the author of the first "Lebanese" counsel's address to be delivered extemporaneously at a Lebanese tribunal. Jamaaleddine was also the translator of Imam Ali's Nahju l-balaaghati into Lebanese (titled "Che'af mne n-nahj). Charaabi and Jamaaleddine became two of the principal and closest advisors of Said Akl in the 1950s.., and who knows, perhaps even influenced his thought.

This then is the most coherent early illustration of the blossoming of the Lebanese language and its movement from its traditional popular-social-cultural position to reach a literary-intellectual status. Thanks to Charaabi and Jamaaleddine, our Lebanese language is making great impression today on all aspects of artistic expression that are bound up with popular life (radio, movies, TV, newscasts, theatre) and on all aspects of religious, intellectual and political expression that are bound up in "official" life (parliament, newsprint and other media...)

This particular reflection of national self-consciousness (expressed in the Lebanese linguistic nimbus) might still throw religious and conservative diehards, (protective of the classical language of Islam) into a bloc opposed to the efflorescence of the Lebanese language. But I am not holding my breath. It is society that decides the evolutionary course of its language, not individuals, and certainly not religious zealots stuck in a time-lag.

"Haana lana ann na'kula" is an octo-syllabic Arabic sentence; it is shackled by declensions; it requires 6 grammatical rules (or sarf wa naHw) to conform it to the purists' (ie: Qoranic) conception of what constitutes propper Arabic; it is consequently (according to linguists) a DEAD Language for all intents and purposes.

Conversely, "Hallna n.e.kol" is Lebanese; it is formed by 4 syllables (brevity is a form of eloquence), it does NOT contain declensions, and it requires ONLY one grammatical rule to be produced correctly! Lebanese is therefore a vibrant and dynamic language of life.

The difference between the 2 locutions above, is a difference of nature not degree. It is hypocritical and mendacious to pretend that the first sentence is Arabic, and the second one is an Arabic "lahja" (accent.) This would be analogous to saying that Latin is a "language" and French is a Latin "lahja" (accent.) The difference between the two is, again, one of nature NOT degree.

"Wa inni wa in kuntu jamiilu zamaanihi" IS one Arabic lahja (accent), and "wa innii wa in kuntchuu djamiiluu zamaanihii" is ANOTHER Arabic lahja. THIS, is a difference of degree not nature. The lahja pertains to timber and inflections, it has NOTHING to do with structure and syntax.

For instance, the negating particles in Lebanese (like in French) flank the verb (ma ba3refch, or aba3refch., again, 3 syllables, and, declensions, and a remnant of Aramaic) whereas in Arabic, the negating particle can ONLY precede the verb (laa a3rifu.. 4 syllables, and four different declensions within ONE verb.)

The average Lebanese "jerdeh" can extemporaneously describe what's under the hood of his car IN Lebanese without missing a single beat. Conversely, Taha Hussein, one of our times' most distinguished princes of the Arabic language, admits with much frustration that he would sit in his Sorbonne flat, grope for words, and fail to describe his own furniture in Arabic. Therefore, the Lebanese "jerdeh" speaks a vibrant language of life, while Taha Hussein spoke a dead language (out of a prepared text, never impulsively!!!) (And YES, achikmonn, duburyaage, direction and sobbaab ARE Lebanese words in spite of what Arabs might think)

Thus, to say that the Lebanese speak Arabic is analogous to saying that the Haitians speak French (an unscrupulous and simplistic statement from a linguistic point of view, and an ideologically loaded one, from a political point of view.) The Haitians speak Haitian (creole) which might have some genetic similarities to French, but which nevertheless remains an autochtonous and autonomous Haitian linguistic competence specific to Haiti (despite the Jeremiads of archeologists!!)

Similarly, the Lebanese language is a spontaneous Lebanese creation and a Lebanese impulse sui generis. It is society that instigates and propels the evolution of language, NOT lamentations, wishful thinking, linguistic policies, or demagogic agendas. Rome with all its might, vigor, and intellectual pedigree was unable to prevent the bursting-out, dispersal and ultimate DEATH of its language. I wonder how the so-called Arabs intend to resuscitate THEIR dead and buried "language".

Thus, if the best criterion for Lebanon's "Arabness" is language, the preceding should set the record straight and sap the already atrophied theory that considers "Arabic" a language. In the words of the father of the spirit of our Lebanese nation, "language is what comes out of the mouth, NOT what is ossified in books."

Nevertheless, there are other more meaningful criteria for corporate identity and group loyalty, and they are legion; and NOWHERE does language figure in them (that's the answer one persists in the puerile obduracy of considering Arabic a language). Go tell an Irishman that he's a Briton simply because he speaks the language of his conqueror and oppressor. I'll be standing here, hopping on one leg, anxiously awaiting the answer!! If the Irishman accepts your twisted logic, then consider me the newest convert to Arabism. And I'll do it with the zeal, conviction and verve of a neophyte.

Abstract:

It is a common practice for people to use “Arabic language” terminology to identify all of the Semitic languages of the Middle East that use Arabic letters for writing. The Lebanese who were raised in Lebanon master both the Lebanese language and the Arabic Language. Refraining from distinguishing between the two languages has begun to have negative effects on people who want to learn Lebanese in Diaspora. The only way to speak Lebanese is to learn the “Lebanese Language”. Learning Arabic will not allow people to speak or understand Lebanese, on the contrary if you try to Learn Arabic before you can speak Lebanese, it may make Lebanese seem tougher to learn. Furthermore, calling both of the languages Arabic would confuse those outside Lebanon. They will think that we speak Arabic in Lebanon, and they will be driven to learn the Arabic language. Eventually, when they go to Lebanon they will not understand what the Lebanese speak nor what they broadcast on Lebanese television and radio.

The Gospel of Saint John in Lebanese language translated by the author of this site and transcribed specifically in Latin (English) script for readers of western scripts.

A major project of translating the whole Bible into Lebanese by Salim Khalaf.

 

Below are several samples of commonly used sentences for those interested in learning conversational Lebanese.

 
In fact, 527 A.D. the Melkites translated the Greek scriptures and other writings into the local Aramaic dialect — Western Aramaic/Syriac — which the people of the area were still speaking in the 6th century. In fact, even later in 969 A.D. when Antioch became a centre for the Melkite Christians, Aramaic continued to be their language.
 

Lebanese language and Arabic Language:

Lebanese is one of the most understandable languages among the Arab States*. In the past fifty years, thousands of songs, poems and books, and hundreds of plays and screenplays have been written in Lebanese. The Egyptian language has also been growing in popularity in the past century due to its tremendous media productions in the region.

Watching and listening to Lebanese entertainment programs and songs have spread the Lebanese language further among audiences from Arab countries*. If you pick a random mix of 10 songs produced in the Arabic states* an average of 4 songs will be in Lebanese, 4 in Egyptian while the rest will be from the rest of the languages. On the other hand, the songs written in Arabic language do not form more than 1% (one percent) of the song production of all of the countries that use Arabic as their official language.

Lebanese is a Semitic language that was derived from the Aramaic language. Aramaic replaced the Canaanite language that was spoken by the Phoenicians in the region until around the days of Jesus Christ. Aramaic was spoken in the whole region until about 900 AD. Later, the people in Lebanon were speaking several dialects of Aramaic especially in the mountains of Lebanon. Syriac-Aramaic was the dominant dialect in the mountains and North Lebanon, while some Arabic dialects were spoken in some costal cities and South Lebanon by the 13th century. By the 17th Century, a large population had moved from the Lebanese mountains to the costal cities. The people of Lebanon blended their Aramaic with Arabic utilizing Arabic words in their spoken Aramaic, and from the 17th to 20th centuries, some of the Turkish language was incorporated. The Lebanese language kept developing and some French was introduced in the 20th century. During the past couple decades, some English terms became part of the Lebanese daily conversation.

Arabic is a formal language that is not spoken today in any of the countries that use it as their official language. It is often used for documenting, publishing, formal speeches and some religious rituals. It has merely changed (evolved) since it was spoken in parts of the Arabian Peninsula some 1,500 years ago. Nowadays, there is not a nation in the world with Arabic being its native language. One cannot learn Arabic by living with Lebanese, Egyptian or even Saudi Families; the only way to learn Arabic is to study it. For example, Kuwaiti, Lebanese or Egyptian television stations hardly have 5-10% of their programs in Arabic.

Most of the Lebanese in Lebanon today know Arabic along with their native Lebanese. That is because they learn Lebanese from their parents and their daily life, while studying Arabic Language and Literature in schools.

Calling Lebanese a dialect of Arabic is another dilemma that would hurt the intention of teaching Lebanese in Diaspora. The people of Lebanon may have spoken dialects of Arabic at some costal cities a thousand years ago, but the language spoken now in Lebanon is much more different considering the Aramaic mix and the Turkish influence, not to forget the several centuries of development. In other words, if people learned Arabic a thousand years ago, they would have been able to communicate with some people in Lebanon that time. If people learn Arabic now, they will not be able to communicate with the people in Lebanon today.

Confusing Lebanese with Arabic:

AklLebanese Font is one of this site's typefaces designed after master Said Akl's adaptation of the Latin alphabet to write Lebanese & Arabic without using the Arabic script.
For an alternative to using the de facto Latin character usage to write Lebanese which has become popular for Internet communications, herewith is AklLebanese Font. This typeface was designed by the author of this website and it is © Copyrighted. You may download and use it for personal purposes but you may not sell, buy or trade it for any reason whatsoever.  

While Lebanese and Arabic are two different languages, the Lebanese (in Lebanon) do not worry, or may not care, for the difference between the two languages. They both come from Semitic roots, and have many common words and grammar.

The Lebanese more than likely wanted to distinguish the language they speak from French (a Latin language) that is widely used in schools and normal life, from English (a Germanic Language) that is growing in education and business life, and from Armenian (an Indo-European Language) that is used by some Lebanese in education and business. Dealing with all these languages descending from different linguistic branches probably made it easier for people in Lebanon to refer to the language by the roots or by the script (the letters) they use to write it with. Since Lebanese in general use Arabic script to write Lebanese, they often refer to the Lebanese language as Arabic language.

Add to that that the Turks who occupied the region for four centuries used to call all the Semitic languages other than Hebrew – “Arabic”, since they did not differentiate between the spoken Lebanese, Egyptian or Arabic then.

Some people tried to reach a compromise by claiming that the Lebanese people speak Lebanese but write Arabic. This incorrect statement often used by people in Lebanon who confuse the use of Arabic script to write, with the language itself. The Lebanese use Arabic script to write both Lebanese and Arabic; They write, read and speak Lebanese for their songs, poems, television production and letters, while they write, read, and speak Arabic in Arabic Literature, courts and some formal religious rituals. This is not different from the people utilizing Latin letters to write both English and Spanish languages.

Since the languages that the Lebanese (in Lebanon) are familiar with are from different roots except for Arabic and Lebanese, they think that there are no two languages closer to each other than Arabic to Lebanese. Also, since the Lebanese are raised learning Lebanese and Arabic side by side, while the other languages they learn are form different roots they missed the opportunity to compare apples-to-apples such in comparing Italian to Spanish for example.

Linguists here, especially those who were not raised learning these two languages, can point out the difference. Professor Wheeler Thackston of Harvard pushes this analogy a bit further and argues that "the languages the 'Arabs' grow up speaking at home, are as different from each other and from Arabic itself, as Latin is different from English."

Results of not distinguishing Arabic language from Lebanese language:

Very little effort was done to distinguish Lebanese from Arabic language, while some refer to it as “Spoken Lebanese”, “Spoken Arabic”, “Arabic Lebanese”, “Lebanese Dialect”, “Aramaic Lebanese”, “Lebanese Language” or just “Lebanese”, most of the Lebanese did not care to use any differentiating terms.

If people around the world had the chance to learn both Lebanese and Arabic languages, there would not be a need to distinguish Lebanese language from Arabic Language. However, the problems of claming that Lebanese and Arabic are the same language, or that Lebanese is just a dialect of Arabic started to emerge on the surface in the twentieth century.

Due to the events that were taking place in Lebanon and the region since 1850’s, many Lebanese had to leave their country. Unofficial estimates show that there is approximately 15 million Lebanese living out side Lebanon while only 3 million Lebanese live in Lebanon today. Some Lebanese descendents in Diaspora kept speaking Lebanese with their kids while others have not followed up with doing so. Not to mention the Lebanese married non-Lebanese descents, which made it even harder to pass the language to the next generation.

As for the people who were born in the United States and Canada, those who can speak Lebanese learned it solely from speaking it at home and within Lebanese communities. On the other hand, many people who tried to teach their kids or friends Lebanese, tried to use Arabic language books. Those who tried to learn Lebanese using Arabic teaching books experienced unpleasant result; it was like trying to teach someone Italian using Spanish language books. The kids and adults were not able to learn neither Arabic nor Lebanese. Furthermore, most of them became convinced that Lebanese is a very tough language to learn; therefore losing the desire to learn it while in fact it is one of the easiest languages to learn from that region.

Those who learned Lebanese abroad do not understand Arabic. This is natural since, as previously stated, they are two different languages, and despite the similarities between the two languages it is a must to differentiate between them. In the case of the people who learned Arabic (whether they were of Lebanese or non-Lebanese origins), they do not understand Egyptian or Lebanese except for few common words or phrases. The same exists for Egyptians or Kuwaiti language for example. The people who learned Lebanese abroad cannot understand Egyptian and visa versa.

Native Lebanese, who know Lebanese and Arabic, find it will easy to pick much of the Egyptian language due to the large Egyptian production in radio and television, and because of the Arabic, Aramaic and Turkish mix in the Egyptian language. On the other hand, they can hardly understand some words from Saudi or Moroccan languages.

The necessity of distinguishing Lebanese language from Arabic language:

Hence, it is important for the people who are first generation Lebanese to understand the need to differentiate and distinguish between Lebanese and Arabic Languages. Being able to master both Lebanese and Arabic was a privilege for those who were raised in Lebanon. However, this does not help their children abroad since they do not have the chance or the atmosphere to learn two Semitic languages at the same time. Dealing with the Lebanese language and Arabic as one language has caused numerous amount of Lebanese descendents a failure in learning Lebanese.

Furthermore, some books and teaching material that claim to teach Arabic or “spoken Arabic” actually teach Egyptian, while some teach Lebanese and others teach Saudi. The results of such methods are drastic since those who learn Egyptian will not be able to understand Lebanese nor Arabic. This is just a small example of how uncontrollable the situation has become and will continue to be when people consider all the languages Arabic.

The effect is not limited to the Lebanese who try to learn their mother language; it furthermore reaches the governmental and diplomatic affairs for countries. Most of the diplomats and the people who travel to Lebanon (or other Arabic states*) fall to the myth that people there speak Arabic or a dialect of Arabic. So they learn Arabic language only to later reach Lebanon and find out that they have learned a different language. In most of the cases they will end up not able to communicate On the other hand, the Lebanese would understand them since they studied Arabic at school. But this will not do them any good in daily communication because of the limited use of classic Arabic in daily conversations. It is not unusual that most of the people who learned Arabic and went to Lebanon ended up communicating with the Lebanese in English or French.

Conclusion:

To conclude, the Lebanese and Arabic languages are two different languages yet of same Semitic roots. Calling the language we speak in Lebanon, Arabic or a dialect of Arabic has proved to more confuse those who want to learn Lebanese by pushing them to learn a different language than their intended one. Arabic is a rich language for literature, culture and religious cleric. It is acquired in Lebanon and the Arabic states* at schools as a second language. First generations in Diaspora have a responsibility to clarify the difference between the two languages, and to be responsible for what their children are learning. It is advisable that people do not get involved in any other language-learning processes whether Arabic, Egyptian or Saudi until they master their native Lebanese language. The normal procedure is to follow what the people in Lebanon do; first, learn their native Lebanese language and after mastering Lebanese, they can then study Arabic or if they choose to add another language to their vocabulary.

For more information, please refer to Frequently Asked Questions at www.LGIC.org, Lebanese Language Center.

© Copyright © 2003-2005, www.LGIC.org
Lebanese Language Center
Reproduced as is without permission


Maps showing possible representation of language divisions in the Eastern Mediterranean

Eastern Mediterranean according to LINGUIST & GMI
Lebanese & Eastern Mediterranean Language Group per Phoenicia.org

Pronunciation key to characters
used in Lebanese but are not
available in the English/Latin
script. Left are the glyphs used
& explanations & right are
mp3 files. Click the sound
files to hear what the
characters sound like.

 
MS Office® (Word®) users may download Lebanese language custom spell-checker, 120 K including installation instructions, for Windows and Mac by clicking the link, herewith.
Glyphs used & explanations
Sounds: Click to hear
   
7 = Heh, palatal sound as in 7ayyé -- snake sound file
Click
hear
   
3 = Aiyn, glottal sound as in 3aiyn -- eye sound file
Click
hear
   
2 = Hamzé palatal short & broken sound as in the beginning of "Air" in English sound file
Click
hear
   
kh = Khe as in the Greek X for XRISTOS -- Christ.

sound file
Click
hear

 

   
gh = ghe as in the use of R in Parisian French sound file
Click
hear
   

Sample of Commonly Used Expression in Lebanese

The following translation from English to Lebanese uses the my hometown's accent which may vary slightly from other Lebanese accents.   I am indebted to Peter Chalhoub, of Lebanese origin, from Canada who asked me to produce this list in his attempt to learn Lebanese.

The numbers 2, 7, 3 are used in Lebanese to represent sounds which are not available in English.   There are other sounds that are represented by combinations of letters such as KH and GH that are also sounds not available in English. Please refer to the chart (right) that has MP3 audio files to demonstrate what the various numbers and combination of characters sound like. (Back to the top)

What is your last name?

  • sho 2ism 3ayltak? (male singular)

  • sho 2ism 3ayltik? (female singular)

  • sho 2asaamé 3aylaatkun? (plural)

Where do you live?

  • waiyn saakin? (male singular)

  • waiyn saakné? (female singular)

  • waiyn saakneen? (plural )

How many brothers do you have?

  • kam khay 3indak? (male singular)

  • kam khay 3indik? (female singular)

  • kam khay 3indkun? (plural)

How many sisters do you have?

  • kam 2ukht 3indak? (male singular)

  • kam 2ukht 3indik? (female singular)

  • kam 2ukht 3indkun? (plural)

How many brothers & sisters do you have?

  • kam khay woo 2ukht 3indak? (male singular)

  • kam khay woo 2ukht 3indik? (female singular)

  • kam khay woo 2ukht 3indkun? (plural)

How old are you?

  • 2addaysh 3umark? (male singular)

  • 2addaysh 3umirk? (female singular)

  • 2addaysh 3maarkun? (plural)

What is your favorite food? (literal translation “which food do you like best”)

  • 2ayya 2akil bit 7ibb aktar she? (male singular)

  • 2ayya 2akil bit 7ibbé aktar she? (female singular)

  • 2ayya 2akil bit 7ibbo aktar she? (plural)

How kids do you have?

  • 2addaysh 3indak wlaad? (male singular)

  • 2addaysh 3indik wlaad? (female singular)

  • 2addaysh 3indkun wlaad? (plural)

What time do you have to be home?

  • 2ayya saa3a lazim tkoon bil bayt? (male singular)

  • 2ayya saa3a lazim tkooné bil bayt? (female singular)

  • 2ayya saa3a lazim tkoono bil bayt? (plural)

Where are you guys going tonight?

  • wayn raay7een el laylé? (plural) or

  • wayn suhhraaneen el laylé? (plural) – spending the evening.

What would you like to eat?

  • sho baddak taakul? (male singular)

  • sho baddik taaklé? (female singular)

  • sho baddkun taaklo (plural)

What would you like to drink?

  • sho baddak tushrab? (male singular)

  • sho baddik tushrabé? (female singular)

  • sho baddkun tushrabo? (plural)

Why are you so late from work?

  • laysh m2akhkhar min el shighil? (male singular)

  • laysh m2akhkhara min el shighil? (female singular)

  • laysh m2akhkhareen min el shighil? (plural)

Which friend are you going to be out with?

  • ma3 2ayya saa7ib ra7 tudhar? (you male with male singular)

  • ma3 2ayya saa7ibé ra7 tudhar? (you male with female singular)

  • ma3 2ayya saa7ibé ra7 tudharé? (you female with female singular)

  • ma3 2ayya saa7ib ra7 tudharé? (you female with male singular)

  • ma3 2ayya saa7ib ra7 tudharo? (you plural with male)

  • ma3 2ayya saa7bé ra7 tudharo? (plural with female)

  • ma3 2ayya 2s7aab ra7 tudharo? (plural with plural)

What time do you have to go catch your plane?

  • 2ayya saa3a lazim troo7 latteyyaara? (male singular)

  • 2ayya saa3a lazim troo7é latteyyaara? (female singular)

  • 2ayya saa3a lazim troo7o latteyyaara? (plural)

Would you like to go watch a movie some time? J

  • baddak nroo7 3al seenama she marra? (male singular – going with you)

  • baddik nroo7 3al seenama she marra? (female singular – going with you)

  • baddak troo7 3al seenama she marra? (male singular – going by himself)

  • baddik troo7é 3al seenama she marra? (female singular – going by herself)

  • baddkon nroo7 3al seenama she marra? (plural – going with you)

  • baddkon troo7o 3al seenama she marra? (plural – going by themselves)

Where did you get your car fixed?

  • wayn salla7t el otombeel? (male singular)

  • wayn salla7té el otombeel? (female singular)

  • wayn salla7to el otombeel? (plural)

What is the name of your mechanic?

  • sho 2ism el mekaneesian taba3ak? ((male singular)

  • sho 2ism el mekaneesian taba3ik? (female singular)

  • sho 2saamé el mekaneesianiyyé taba3ikon? (plural)

What is your favorite color?

  • 2ayya lawn bit7ib aktar she? (male singular)

  • 2ayya lawn bit7ibé aktar she? (female singular)

  • 2ayya lawn bit7ibo aktar she? (plural)

What are you taking in school?

  • sho 3am tidrus bil madrasé? (male singular)

  • sho 3am tidrsé bil madrasé? (female singular)

  • sho 3am tidirso bil madrasé? (plural)

How many more months do you have left in school?

  • kam shahir ba3d 3indak bil madrasé? (male singular)

  • kam shahir ba3d 3indik bil madrasé? (female singular)

  • kam shahir ba3d 3indkon bil madrasé? (plural)

Go bring some water!

  • roo7 jeeb may! (male singular)

  • roo7é jeebé may! (female singular)

  • roo7o jeebo may! (plural)

Get out of my room!

  • dhaar min 2oodté! (male singular)

  • dhaaré min 2oodté! (female singular)

  • dhaaro min 2oodté! (plural)

You are bothering me!

  • 3am tdayi2né! (male singular)

  • 3am tdayi2eené! (female singular)

  • 3am tdayi2ooné! (plural)

Come in please.

  • fooot. (male singular)

  • foooté. (female singular)

  • foooto. (plural)

I was listening to music.

  • 3am 2isma3 musee2a. (neutral singular)

  • 3am nisma3 musee2a.   (plural)

My favorite color is red.

  • 2aktar lawn b7ibbo 2a7mar. (neutral singular)

  • 2aktar lawn min 7ibbo 2a7mar.   (plural)

I live in downtown.

  • 2ana saakin bil balad. (male singular)

  • 2ana saakiné bil balad. (female singular)

  • ni7na saakneen bil balad. (plural)

I am in grade 12 now.

  • 2ana be saff el tna3sh. (neutral singular)

  • ni7na be saff el tna3sh. (plural)

I work out every night.

  • 2ana bitmarran kil laylé. (neutral singular)

  • ni7na mnitmarran kil laylé. (plural)

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Lebanese Language

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