Levantine Arabic
Levantine Arabic is a broad variety
Varieties of Arabic
The Arabic language is a Semitic language characterized by a wide number of linguistic varieties within its five regional forms. The largest divisions occur between the spoken languages of different regions. The Arabic of North Africa, for example, is often incomprehensible to an Arabic speaker...

 of Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 spoken in the 100 to 200 km-wide Eastern Mediterranean
Eastern Mediterranean
The Eastern Mediterranean is a term that denotes the countries geographically to the east of the Mediterranean Sea. This region is also known as Greater Syria or the Levant....

 coastal strip. It is considered one of the five major varieties of Arabic
In the frame of the general diglossia
In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety , a second, highly codified variety is used in certain situations such as literature, formal...

 status of the Arab world, Levantine Arabic is used for daily oral use, while most of the written and official documents and media use Modern Standard Arabic.

On the basis of the criterion of mutual intelligibility, Levantine Arabic may be considered as a self standing language (with different variant or dialects as explained below), and opposed to other Arabic languages such as Cairene Arabic, Maghreb Arabic or Peninisular arabic, in the same kind of relation as French, Spanish or Romanian among latine languages.


Levantine Arabic is spoken in the fertile strip on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. To the East, in the Desert, one finds North Arabian Bedouin varieties. The transition to Egyptian Arabic
Egyptian Arabic
Egyptian Arabic is the language spoken by contemporary Egyptians.It is more commonly known locally as the Egyptian colloquial language or Egyptian dialect ....

 in the South via the Sinai desert where Bedouin varieties are spoken, was proposed by de Jong in 1999. In the North, between Aleppo and Euphrates valley, there may be a transition zone towards North Mesopotamian qeltu varieties (to be confirmed, since the Raqqah variety in the Syrian Euphrates valley still seems to be quite close to South Iraqi and Bedouin varieties.).

Main features

The most distinctive feature of Levantine Arabic is probably its stress pattern, which remains closest to the classical Arabic
Classical Arabic
Classical Arabic , also known as Qur'anic or Koranic Arabic, is the form of the Arabic language used in literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times . It is based on the Medieval dialects of Arab tribes...

 among all varieties. It ignores the gahawa syndrome ('qahwa > ga'hawa) typical of the Mesopotamian and Peninsula Arabic, it does not limit stress to penultimate syllable as Egyptian Arabic (['madrasa] > [mad'rasa]) and is foreign to North-African stress shift to last syllable ([baħr] > [bħar], ['marʔa] > [mra]). Another distinctive feature is the use of a prefixed b- in the imperfect to distinguish indicative mood (with b-) from subjunctive mood (without b-) e.g. ['btɪʃɾɑb] 'you drink' vs. ['tɪʃɾɑb] 'that you drink'.

As in most Arabic speaking areas, the spoken language differs significantly between urban, rural and nomad populations.
  • In the Levant, nomads trace to various Peninsula tribes, and their dialect is consequently close to Peninsular arabic
    Peninsular arabic
    - Generalities :Peninsular Arabic or arabian arabic is the set of Arabic dialects spoken throughout the Arabian Peninsula. This includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, as well as large parts of Iraq, Syria and Jordan....

     (Najdi). Note that although claiming a Bedouin ancestry sounds prestigious in the Levant, the Bedouin influence on the area should not be overestimated.
  • The rural language is the one that changes more, and as in every old sedentary area, the changes are gradual, with more marked forms in extremal or isolated areas (e.g. general shift of /k/ to [tʃ] in rural Palestinian, or conservation of [aɪ] and [aʊ] diphthongs in the Lebanese mountains).
  • The urban language spoken in the major cities is remarkably homogeneous, with a few markers only to distinguish the various cities (e.g. the way to translate "now", or the 3rd person imperfect conjugation). This homogeneity was probably due to the trading network among cities in the Ottoman Empire
    Ottoman Empire
    The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

    . There is a current trend to diverge from this unity, the language of the cities taking on some of the features of their neighboring villages (e.g. Jerusalem used to say as Damascus ['nɪħna] (we) and ['hʊnne] (they) at the beginning of the 20th century, and this has moved to the more rural ['ɪħna] and ['hʊmme] nowadays.)

It should be noted that Levantine Arabic is commonly understood to be the urban sub-variety. Teaching manuals for foreigners introduce systematically to this sub-variety, as it would sound very strange for a for a foreigner to speak a marked rural dialect, raising immediately questions on unexpected family links for instance.


The area where Levantine Arabic is spoken used to speak Canaanite
Canaanite may refer to:*Canaan and Canaanite people, a historical/Biblical region and people in the area of the present-day Gaza Strip, Israel, West Bank, and Lebanon.*Canaanite languages*Canaanite religion...

 languages (Eblaite, Ugaritic, and then Hebrew-Phoenician, characterized by shift of semitic /ā/ to /ō/ and /θ/ to /š/). It had then adopted the more eastern Aramaic in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, generalized as official language by the Persian Empire. Alexander the Great conquered the area, which was then taken by the Romans. Just before arabization,the region certainly counted a significant number of Greek speakers as a part of the Byzantine empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...


Since Roman times, Arabic was a neighbor language, spoken in the desert immediately east of this area (Nabataeans in Petra
Petra is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma'an that is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited...

). The Ghassanid kingdom established in the first centuries AD in the Hauran
Hauran, , also spelled Hawran or Houran, is a volcanic plateau, a geographic area and a people located in southwestern Syria and extending into the northwestern corner of Jordan. It gets its name from the Aramaic Hawran, meaning "cave land." In geographic and geomorphic terms, its boundaries...

 mountains was the first (Christian) Arab authority on the sedentary area. In the first years of the Islamic conquest, the Levant was taken to the Byzantine empire, and the first Caliphate
The term caliphate, "dominion of a caliph " , refers to the first system of government established in Islam and represented the political unity of the Muslim Ummah...

 established in Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

. Arabic entered deeper in the population by then. It should be however considered that the language was adopted gradually (as well as Islam, that the new rulers would have kept as an elite religion in the first place, so as to maximize the amount of taxes on non-muslim "dhimmis"). The persistence of a spoken Aramaic dialect in a few villages in the north of Damascus is the last trace of this slow conversion. It is interesting to note that this Aramaic dialect share feature with rural Palestinian Arabic (e.g. /q/ > /k/).

It may thus be considered that Levantine Arabic results of the adoption of Arabic by speakers with a marked Aramaic substrate. The state of affairs in Aramaic before adoption is widely unknown, but it could have shown dialect variations linked to the language Aramaic replaced, and this might have left traces in the subsequent Arabic dialect. See e.g. the similarity of central palestinian plural suffix pronouns (-kem, -ken, hem, -hen) with their Hebrew counterpart, or the variant of the same pronouns in the Nusairiyyah mountains (-ko:n, -ke:n, -ho:n, -he:n) compared to identical forms in Aramaic.

It is likely that the Arabic they adopted is a Hijazi
Hijazi script, also Hejazi; , literally "Hejazi writing", is the collective name for a number of early Arabic scripts that developed in the Hejaz region of the Arabian peninsula, which includes the cities of Mecca and Medina. As the name suggests, it is associated with the Hejaz region of Arabia....

 (as opposed to Najdi
Najdi! is a search engine specialized in Republic of Macedonia media content. Unlike most search engines, it does not utilize a spider to gather the content it indexes, but interfaces directly with the websites it covers through RSS or other XML, in combination with the SWISH-E open-source...

 spoken by Bedouins) variety of Arabic (as shows e.g. the treatment of internal hamza as semi vowels).

Sub dialects

It can be divided into three "mutually intelligible
Mutual intelligibility
In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is recognized as a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related languages can readily understand each other without intentional study or extraordinary effort...

" sub-dialects
  • Northern Levantine Arabic, spoken in Syrian in the region of Aleppo
    Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

    , in An-Nusayriyah Mountains and the region of Tripoli, Lebanon
    Tripoli, Lebanon
    Tripoli is the largest city in northern Lebanon and the second-largest city in Lebanon. Situated 85 km north of the capital Beirut, Tripoli is the capital of the North Governorate and the Tripoli District. Geographically located on the east of the Mediterranean, the city's history dates back...

     in northern Lebanon. It is characterized by
  • a strong tendency to pronounce /ā/ as [ɛː] ([imala]) in front phonemic context or [oː] ([tafkhim]) in back phonemic context.
  • first and third imperfect persons /baqūl/ (I say) and /biqūl/ (he says).
  • /q/ remains [q] or changes to [ʔ], and /ğ/ is pronounced [dʒ]

  • Central Levantine Arabic, spoken in central southern Lebanon, north of Galilee, and between Damascus and Hama in Syria, with
  • a weaker tendency to imala and tafkhim - yet final /ā/ is consistently uttered [e], e.g. /šitā/ is [ʃəte] rain.
  • first and third imperfect persons /bqūl/ (I say) and /bəqūl/ (he says).
  • imperative has long vowels /'uktub/ > [ktoːb]
  • /q/ changes to [ʔ], and /ğ/ is pronounced [ʒ] or [dʒ]

  • South Levantine Arabic, spoken in Palestine/Israel between Nazareth and Bethlehem, in the Syrian Hauran mountains, and in western Jordan.
  • Tafkhim is there unexistent, and imala affects only the feminine ending /-ah/ > [e] after front consonnants, while /šitā/ is [ʃɪta]
  • first and third imperfect persons /baqūl/ (I say) and /biqūl/ (he says).
  • In rural speech, /q/ changes to [k], k changes to [tʃ], interdentals are conserved, and /ğ/ is pronounced [dʒ], while urban speech is as Central Levantine Arabic.

To these typical, widespread subdialects, one could add marginal varieties such as
  • Outer south Levantine, spoken in the Beersheva-Hebron area in Palestine-Israel, as well as in cities east of the Dead Sea in Jordan (Karak, Tafilah), which differ from south Levantine Arabic by bedouin features such as the realisation of /q/ as [ɡ].
  • Bedouin dialects, which are closely related to the Northern dialects of the Peninsular arabic
    Peninsular arabic
    - Generalities :Peninsular Arabic or arabian arabic is the set of Arabic dialects spoken throughout the Arabian Peninsula. This includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, as well as large parts of Iraq, Syria and Jordan....



The table below shows the correspondance between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) phonemes, and their counterpart realization in Levantine Arabic. The Urban speech is taken as reference, the variations are given relative to it.
MSA phoneme Common realisation Variants
/b/ [b]
/t/ [t]
/ṯ/ [t] [θ] in rural Southern Levantine
/ğ/ [ʒ] [s] in some words, [dʒ] in Northern Levantine and rural Palestinian
/ḥ/ [ħ]
/d/ [d]
/ḏ/ [d] [z] in some words, [ð] in rural Southern Levantine
/r/ [ɾ]
/z/ [z]
/s/ [s]
/š/ [ʃ]
/ṣ/ [sˤ]
/ḍ/ [dˤ]
/ṭ/ [tˤ]
/ẓ/ [zˤ] [dˤ] in some words, [ðˤ] in rural Southern Levantine
/ʿ/ [ʕ]
/ġ/ [ɣ]
/f/ [f]
/q/ [ʔ] [q] in the Druze and rural Lebanese speech, [kˤ] in rural Palestinian, [g] in outer southern Levantine
/k/ [k] [tʃ] in rural Palestinian (except Galilee)
/l/ [l]
/m/ [m]
/n/ [n]
/h/ [h]
/w/ [w]
/y/ [y]

NB. Hamza has a special treatment. At the end of a close syllable, it vanishes, giving more length to the preceeding vowel e.g /ra's/ > [ra:s]. If followed by i, it turns into [j], /nā'im/ > [na:jɪm]. These evolutions plead for a Hijazi origin of Levantine Arabic. Word initially, hamza is often changed to [h] in Southern Levantine.

Vowels and diphthongs

The table below shows the correspondance between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) phonemes, and their counterpart realization in Levantine Arabic.
Phoneme Southern Lebanese Central Northern
/a/ [ɑ] or [ʌ] [æ] [ɑ] or [ʌ] [ɔ] or [ɛ]
/i/ [e] [ɪ] [ə] (stressed) or [ɪ] (unstressed) [e]
/u/ [o] or [ʊ] [ɪ] (stressed) or [ʊ] (unstressed) [ə] (stressed) or [o] (unstressed) [o]
-aʰ [ɑ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants [ʌ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants [ʌ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants [ʌ] after back consonants, [e] after front consonants
/ā/ [a:], final [a] [ɛ:] (front context) or [ɔ:] (back context), final [e:] [ɑ:] (back context) or [æ:] (front context), final [e] [o:] (back context) or [e:] (front context), final [e]
/ī/ [i:], final [i] [i:], final [i] [i:], final [i] [i:], final [i]
/ū/ [u:], final [u] [u:], final [u] [u:], final [u] [u:], final [u]
/ay/ [e:] [eɪ] [e:] [e:]
/aw/ [o:] [oʊ] [o:] [o:]

Independent pronouns

The following pronouns are used as subject, for progressive constructions or copulas.
Person Common form variants
1 p. sing. I 'ana 'ane (Nablus Samaritans)
2 p. sing. masc thou" 'ɪnte ɪnᵊt (rural Palestinian, Lebanese)
2 p. sing. fem. 'ɪnti ɪnᵊt (rural Palestinian, Lebanese)
3 p. sing. masc. 'huwwe hu:we (Syrian, Lebanese), hu: (rural palestinian, Hauran), hu (as short, unstressed form)
3 p. sing. fem. 'hiyye hi:ye (Syrian, Lebanese), hi: (rural palestinian, Hauran), hi (as short, unstressed form)
1 p. plur. 'nɪħna 'ɪħna (West Bank, Gaza, Jaffa, Jordan, Syrian Hauran), 'nɪħne (Nablus Samaritans)
2 p. plur. masc. 'ɪntu
2 p. plur. fem. 'ɪntɪn 'ɪntu (in most cities)
3 p. plur. masc. 'hʊmme 'hɪnne (Lebanon), 'hənne (Damascus), 'hʊm (Hauran, West Bank)
3 p. plur. fem. 'hɪnne 'hʊmme (Jerusalem, Jaffa, Amman), 'hənne (Damascus), 'hɪn (Hauran, West Bank)

The trend in the most evolutive variants (i.e. urban) is to lose the distinction between masculine and feminine in the plural. The result is an alignment on the masculine for both genders, but the feminine variant remains understood.

Suffix pronouns

The following pronouns are used as object or possessive pronouns.
Person Common form variants
1 p. sing. I -i / -iyye (-ni after verbs)
2 p. sing. masc thou" -ak / -k -ek (Lebanese)
2 p. sing. fem. -ɪk / -ki
3 p. sing. masc. -ʰʊ / -ʰ -ʰa / -ʰ (Central West Bank)
3 p. sing. fem. -ʰa / -ha -he (Nablus Samaritans)
1 p. plur. -na / -na -ne (Nablus Samaritans)
2 p. plur. masc. -kʊm -kʊn (Syrian, Lebanese), -ku (Galilee, Hebron), -kɪm (West Bank)
2 p. plur. fem. -kɪn -kʊm (Jerusalem, Jaffa), -ku (Galilee, Hebron), -kʊn (Syrian, Lebanese)
3 p. plur. masc. -ʰʊm / -hʊm -ʰʊn / -hʊn (Lebanese, Syrian), -ʰɪn/-hɪn (Galilee)
3 p. plur. fem. -ʰɪn/-hɪn -ʰʊm / -hʊm (Jerusalem, Jaffa, Amman), -ʰʊn / -hʊn (Lebanese, Syrian)

See more

For more information, see
  • Lebanese Arabic
    Lebanese Arabic
    Lebanese or Lebanese Arabic is a variety of 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...

  • Jordanian Arabic
    Jordanian Arabic
    Jordanian Arabic is a set of dialects of Levantine Arabic that are originated in the Jordanian Kingdom and are spoken by Jordanians. Jordanian Arabic has a Semitic language structure, with lexical influence of English, Turkish and French. It is spoken by more than 6 million people, and understood...

  • Palestinian Arabic
    Palestinian Arabic
    Palestinian Arabic is a Levantine Arabic dialect subgroup spoken by Palestinians and the majority of Arab-Israelis. Rural varieties of this dialect exhibit several distinctive features; particularly the pronunciation of qaf as kaf, which distinguish them from other Arabic varieties...

  • Syrian Arabic
    Syrian Arabic
    Syrian Arabic is a variety of Arabic spoken in Syria.-History:Syrian Arabic proper is a form of Levantine Arabic, and may be divided into South Syrian Arabic, spoken in the cities of Damascus, Homs and Hama, and North Syrian Arabic, spoken in the region of Aleppo. Allied dialects are spoken in...

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