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Lebanese Arabic

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Lebanese Arabic

Lebanese Arabic
North-Central Levantine Arabic
Native to Lebanon
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
Arabic alphabet, Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Lebanese Arabic or Lebanese 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. Due to multilingualism within Lebanon (some of the Lebanese people are trilingual - Lebanese Arabic, French, English), it is not uncommon for Lebanese people to mix Lebanese Arabic, French, English, and other languages into their daily speech.

Lebanese Arabic is a North-Central Levantine Arabic dialect which is a subdialect of the North Levantine Arabic dialect. Ethnologue specifies the code apc for North Levantine Arabic.

Differences from Standard Arabic

Lebanese Arabic shares many features with other so-called modern varieties of Arabic. Lebanese Arabic, like many other spoken Levantine Arabic varieties, exhibits a very different syllable structure from 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: simpler, without any mood and 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 Ottoman Turkish, French, and Greek, as well as, less significantly, from English.


  • 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 of thumb, 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 and Egyptian Arabic.
  • 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 substituted the /q/ for the [ʔ] (example: "Heart" is /qalb/ in Literary Arabic, becomes [ˈʔaleb] or [ʔalb], which is similar in Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Maltese. 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 [aɪ] and [aʊ]), 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 values.



Lebanese Arabic Consonants
  Labial Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyn-
plain emphatic
Nasal m n              
Stop voiceless (p) t     k     ʔ
voiced b d   ɡ      
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ   χ~x ħ h
voiced (v) z ʒ   ɣ ʕ  
Tap/trill   r              
Approximant   l     j w      
  • ^1 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.
  • ^2 The velar stop [g] occurs in native Lebanese Arabic words but is generally restricted to loanwords. It is realized as [k] by some speakers.

Vowels and diphthongs

The main vowel phonemes in Lebanese Arabic.


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

Lebanese Arabic MSA Southern Central Northern
/æ/ [a] [a] [æ] [ɛ]
/ɑ/ [a] [ɑ] or [ʌ] [ɑ] or [ʌ] [ɔ]
/ɪ/ [i] or [u] [e] [ə] [e] or [o]
/ʊ/ [u] [o] or [ʊ] [o] [o]
/e/ [a] [e] [e] [e]
/ɛ:/ [a:] [a:] [æ:] [e:]
/ɔ:/ [a:] [a:] [ɑ:] [o:]
/e:/ [a:] [a] [e] [e]
/i:/ [i:] [i:] [i:] [i:]
/i~e/ [i:] [i] [i] [i]
/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 dialects, and as [ɑ] in Southern Levantine dialects

Regional Lebanese Arabic dialects

Lebanon's nationalist poet, Said Akl's book Yara and an excerpt from the book in his proposed Lebanese Arabic Latin alphabet), which Fairouz and the Rahbani Brothers had chosen for their song, Yara

Although there is a common Lebanese Arabic dialect mutually understood by all Lebanese people, there are regional distinct variations in various parts of the country with at times unique pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.

Widely used regional dialects 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 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.

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.[1]

Said Akl's orthography

Lebanon has been passing through trials of setting up the Lebanese Arabic Latin alphabet. Lebnaan newspaper in proposed Said Akl alphabet (issue #686)
  • Capitalization and punctuation are used normally the same way they are used in 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.
  • 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 stroke
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/

Lebanese Latin Letters System

The Lebanese Latin Letters system (LLL system) was developed by the four Lebanese researchers, Maroun Kassab, Antoine Faddoul, Hicham Bourjaili, and Joseph Khoury in 2006. The developers also designed a Lebanese keyboard for the LLL system in 2007 that is still in use. The philosophy of the LLL system resides in its simplicity. It capitalizes on the 26 letter system that is used in English keyboards with minor modification to two letters. The C is pronounced as "sh", and the x is the "ayn". The additional sounds that are not present in the Latin languages use the closest letters with a dot on top. These letters are:


In 2011, Maroun Kassab developed a Lebanese keyboard for MAC that is still in use.

The LLL system has been used is several books and publications and is proving to be an easy to learn and use system that has tech support from its developers.

Lebanese Arabic verbs

Lebanese Arabic verbs, even though they share root similarities with many Arabic dialects, display unique characteristics that set them apart from Arabic verbs. In his book about Lebanese Arabic verbs, Mr. Maroun Kassab classifies Lebanese Arabic verbs into 68 categories and maintains that these categories can be simplified much further. Any Lebanese Arabic verb belongs to one of these specific categories and conjugate according to the rules that govern it.[2]


  1. ^ Lebanese Language Institute: Lebanese Latin Letters The Lebanese Latin Letters
  2. ^


  • 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.
  •, "Lebanese VS Arabic", Lebanese Language Institute, March 6, 2010.

External links

  • Learn Lebanese Online
  • PC Lebanese Keyboard of the LLL system
  • MAC Lebanese Keyboard of the LLL system
  • Learn Arabic Lebanese Youtube Channel
  • Lebanese Arabic Language Mobile Application
  • Keefak on Facebook
  • Lebanese Language Institute
  • Lebanese Arabic Latin alphabet
  • Manual with grammar of South Lebanese Arabic for the Dutch UNIFIL detachment
  • Manual with grammar of South Lebanese Arabic Spoken samples part 1
  • Manual with grammar of South Lebanese Arabic Spoken samples part 2
  • Abjadiye: a comprehensive online system for learning the Lebanese Arabic spoken language
  • Summary of commonly used conventions of writing the Lebanese Arabic spoken language using Latin alphabet
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