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Levantine Arabic (Arabic: اللهجة الشامية‎, ʾal-lahǧatu š-šāmiyyah, Levantine Arabic: il-lahže š-šāmiyye) is a broad dialect of Arabic spoken in the 100 to 200 kilometre-wide Eastern Mediterranean coastal strip.[3] It is considered one of the five major varieties of Arabic.[4] 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.

Levantine Arabic
اللهجة الشامية
Native to Levant, Cyprus
Native speakers
(21 million cited 1991–1996)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
apc – North Levantine
ajp – South Levantine
acy – Cypriot Arabic
Glottolog leva1239[2]
Levantine Arabic Map v4.png
Mainland Levantine Arabic[citation needed]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.



Levantine Arabic is most closely related to North Mesopotamian Arabic, Anatolian Arabic, and Cypriot Arabic. These four varieties are a result of a language shift from Aramaic to Arabic, both Semitic languages, that began in the 7th century after the Arab conquest of the Levant; however, according to Professor Aaron Butts, this was "not a replacement of one spoken language by another accomplished by a generation or two, but rather as a gradual and lengthy process, probably with a significant phase of Aramaic-Arabic bilingualism," adding that the language shift "in the Levant has not yet been entirely completed"[5].

Geographical distributionEdit

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 in the South via the Negev and Sinai desert where Bedouin varieties are spoken and then the Egyptian Sharqiyya dialect, was described by de Jong in 1999,.[6] In this direction, the Egyptian city of El Arish is the last one to display proper Levantine features. In a similar manner, the region of el-Karak announces Hijazi Arabic.[7] In the North, the limit between Mesopotamian Gilit dialects starts from the Turkish border near el-Rāʿi, and the lake Jabbul is the north-eastern limit of Levantine Arabic, which includes further south el-Qaryatayn [8] Damascus and the Hauran mountains.


The language shift that occurred in the 7th century in the Levant was not a sudden replacement of one language by another. According to Professor Aaron Butts, "the supplanting language (Arabic) was not left untouched by the supplanted language (Aramaic)," adding that historians agree that Levantine Arabic, exhibit significant substrata of Aramaic[9]. According to Professor Robert Gabriel, 50 percent of the grammatical structure of Lebanese Arabic or Central Levantine Arabic remains from the Syriac language, a dialect of Middle Aramaic[10].

Certain areal features of Central Semitic, like the definite article and the at > ah sound change, radiated out from the central Levant. Their occurrence in Arabic suggests that the language in its earliest stages was geographically contiguous with the Northwest Semitic languages in which these areal features also occur. Arabic would have thus entered the Arabian Peninsula afterwards in a series of pre-Islamic migrations.

The identification of isoglosses that appear in the ancient evidence and the modern Levantine dialects suggests continuity in the Arabic of the Levant from ancient times to the present.[11] Nevertheless, contact between indigenous northern and later southern varieties of Arabic was integral to the development of modern Levantine Arabic.

As an illustrative example of this contact situation, Cypriot Arabic and the 9th century Damascus Psalm Fragment (Psalm 78) both attest to the existence of an ancient Levantine process of pre-tonic /a/ raising: *sallámtu > sillámt. Cypriot Arabic stems in large part from the Arabic spoken by Levantine Maronites during the 12th and 13th centuries and represents a variety of Levantine Arabic that has come under considerably less influence from the imperial idiom and interaction with non-Levantine dialects. Likewise, the Damascus Psalm Fragment was produced, for the most part, before the mass influx of Peninsular Arabic following the advent of Islam and outside the tradition of writing in Classical Arabic. This allophonic a-raising is today restricted to a few rural varieties of Levantine Arabic. Instead, analogically leveled forms appeared to have moved from the east into cities and then radiated outwards, affecting nearby rural dialects later. The urban and oasis dialects of the Levant and Mesopotamia (al-Nabek, Al-Sukhnah, Palmyra, Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad) have come under the most contact with forms of Arabic originating in the Najd and thus reflect centuries of leveling and development. The urban core of modern Levantine Arabic was borne out of this contact situation.


Consonant phonemes of Urban Levantine Arabic (Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem)
Labial Denti-alveolar Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
 plain  emphatic
Nasal mم nن
Occlusive voiceless tت ث ط kك ʔء ق
voiced bب dد ذ ظ ض
Fricative voiceless fف sس ث ص ʃش xخ ħح hه
voiced zز ذ (ظ) ʒج ɣغ ʕع
Trill / Tap rر
Approximant lل (ɫ) jي wو

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ North Levantine at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    South Levantine at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Cypriot Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Levantine Arabic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Versteegh, Kees, The Arabic language, Edinburgh University Press, 2001, p.170
  4. ^ Bassiouney, Reem, Arabic sociolinguistics, Edinburgh University Press, 2009, p.20
  5. ^ Butts, Aaron. Semitic Language in Contact. University of Chicago. ISBN 9004300147. 
  6. ^ Rudolf de Jong, Characteristics of Bedouin dialects in southern Sinai: preliminary observations, in, Manfred Woidich, Martine Haak, Rudolf Erik de Jong,, eds., Approaches to Arabic dialects: a collection of articles presented to Manfred Woidich on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, BRILL, 2004, pp.151-176
  7. ^ Heikki Palva, Sedentary and Bedouin Dialects in Contact: Remarks On Karaki and Salti Dialects in Jordan, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies vol 9 (2008)
  8. ^ Peter Behnstedt, Sprachatlas von Syrien I, Kartenband & Beiheft, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997, 1037 & 242 pages
  9. ^ "You may think you're speaking Lebanese, but some of your words are really Syriac". The Daily Star. Retrieved August 20, 2017. 
  10. ^ "You may think you're speaking Lebanese, but some of your words are really Syriac". The Daily Star. Retrieved August 20, 2017. 
  11. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad. Ancient Levantine Arabic: A Reconstruction Based on the Earliest Sources and the Modern Dialects. ProQuest LLC. ISBN 9781267445070. 


  • A. Barthelemy, Dictionnaire Arabe-Français. Dialectes de Syrie: Alep, Damas, Liban, Jérusalem (Paris, 1935)

External linksEdit