Lebanese Arabic: Sub-dialects, Vernaculars & Sociolects

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by lillebror, Apr 25, 2013.

  1. lillebror Member

    I have several specific questions but it'd be really interesting to hear any thoughts, facts and opinions on the current situation with the Lebanese Arabic in general, on its grammatical peculiarities, similarities and differences from the other Levantine sub-dialects and MSA.

    First, the questions:

    - What is the most common and widely-spread vernacular spoken in Lebanon?
    (I know it's mostly the so called sub-dialects of Central Levantine Arabic and a bit of Nusayrieh Levantine Arabic in the North but I'd like to go deeper than that because as far as I know Central Levantine includes not only Beiruti Arabic but also the vernacular of Damascus, and these two are close but still have their differences so that they cannot really be called identical.)
    - What I mean to ask precisely is which is the most common identical vernacular spoken in Lebanon?

    - Beside MSA what is the most widely understood, accepted and/or prestigious vernacular in Lebanon? Is it the the generalized Beiruti speech or is there really such a thing as a city district vernacular (e.g. Ashrafieh etc)?

    - How strong are the differences in the Arabic speech of the various ethnic and social groups in Lebanon (the Druzes, Christians, Sunnis, Shia etc)?

    - What does the everyday colloquial speech of today's young Lebanese city population look like? Is it really the melange of Arabic, French and English?

    - Who do you think might make the best and most savvy native teacher of real everyday colloquial city Lebanese Arabic? (Age, gender, education, origin, ethnicity, etc)

    Thanks in advance for anything you can share.
  2. barkoosh Senior Member


    I can't say that there is a most common vernacular spoken in Lebanon. You can categorize Lebanese vernaculars according to regions. It's easy for some to tell that a person is from region X based on some of the words they use, and also on accent. Accents can differ a lot, even in the same region, and sometimes between neighboring villages.

    The most widely understood, accepted vernacular in Lebanon is the modern Beiruti (different from the old Beiruti which is still used by some in some parts of Beirut). Modern Beiruti is the Lebanese you hear on TV (except in the news in which MSA is used). It's spoken in Beirut and most of the regions around Beirut. Ashrafieh is part of Beirut where people speak modern Beiruti. I can't say that it has its own vernacular of Beiruti; you won't tell that a Beiruti person is from Ashrafieh unless he/she uses a lot of French.

    Some of today's young Lebanese city population use a lot of French or English in their speech, but not in all cities of Lebanon. It's generally related to schooling.

    The best teacher of real everyday colloquial city Lebanese Arabic? The best teacher is anybody who speaks it. The most important way to learn any language (and vernacular) is to expose oneself to it. I recommend TV :)
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2013
  3. lillebror Member

    Thanks a lot, Barkoosh.

    What TV shows would you recommend? Could you please name several specific ones.
  4. barkoosh Senior Member

    Any Lebanese TV show. They're all in modern Beiruti. Morning shows with interviews are also in modern Beiruti.
  5. lillebror Member

    I'll have to make do with that I guess :) but thanks, really!

    Could you please write a little about the most characteristic features of Beiruti speech that distinguish it from the Damascus vernacular and other city vernaculars within the Central Levantine Arabic?
  6. tounsi51 Senior Member

    What is old beiruti?
  7. barkoosh Senior Member

    What I meant by "old beiruti" is the Lebanese vernacular spoken by the traditional families of Beirut. It still can be heard in some areas there. Go to youtube and search for "أبو رياض". The old man's accent is different from modern Beiruti.
    Well, the most obvious distinction is the accent, esp. with the sound of فتحة or ألف in most of the words. While it has the sound of "ä" as in "car" in Damascus vernacular, it's generally pronounced as the French "é" or "è" in modern Beiruti, except with certain consonants. Also, words ending with possessive ي have the sound of "e" in "me" in Damascus vernacular, while they sound more like "é" in modern Beiruti. For example, بابي (my door) is pronounced "bäbi" in Damascus vernacular, it's pronounced "bébé" in modern Beiruti (bold here stands for long vowels). ما in ما بعرف sounds like "mä" in Damascus vernacular, but like "mè" in modern Beiruti.

    Also, some words are characteristic of Damascus vernacular, such as شلون for "how", while it's كِيف in modern Beiruti.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2013
  8. Schem

    Schem Senior Member

    Najdi Arabic
    I youtube'd أبو رياض and opened the first video that came up, old Beiruti uses ani for ana?

    I remembered
    seeing the guy in some show when I was younger but I didn't really care about categorizing dialects then. :)
  9. lillebror Member

    Great, thanks! So generally Damascene and Beiruti are really close and the difference is mostly phonological, is that right? What other words can you think of that are different in the two vernaculars?

    Could you please also write how often, how and why do Beirutis use MSA in real life (especially since, as you say, even on TV only the newscasts are in MSA)?
  10. barkoosh Senior Member

    I can't think of many terms; I don't watch Turkish series with Syrian Arabic dubbing :) But I know that مُو is used for "not", while مِش (sometimes ما) is used in modern Beiruti. Also, مَشْفَى is used in Syria for "hospital"; مستشفى is used in Lebanon.

    MSA is never used in everyday life unless you're reading something.
  11. lillebror Member

    Good to know. Thanks! :thumbsup:

    Don't even the politicians use MSA? What language do the teachers use at schools then? What about TV commercials?

    Are there printed texts in the Lebanese vernacular in newspapers or magazines, or in written advertisements?

    And one more thing, what Lebanese TV series and TV shows are popular now in Beirut? Please do name a few speciic titles.

    Hope that's not too many questions. I really appreciate your first-hand expert answers.
  12. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
  13. barkoosh Senior Member

    Some of them do use MSA when interviewed. But most of them don't.
    Spoken Lebanese.
    Spoken Lebanese is used in most of them. You can reach your audience better with the spoken language.
    No vernacular is used in newspapers and magazines, only MSA. However, the vernacular is used sometimes in the text of advertisements.
    I really don't know. I don't watch series. No time. I'm a news addict :)
  14. lillebror Member

    Thanks really.

    Spoken Lebanese even at schools, something I didn't expect.
  15. tounsi51 Senior Member

    I have one question to barkoosh, what does "kefo laish" mean? is it kef (how) o laish (why)?
  16. barkoosh Senior Member

    It should be "keef w laish", that is, 'how and why' as you said.
  17. Schem

    Schem Senior Member

    Najdi Arabic
    Thanks! :)

    I think this goes for every Arab country. MSA wasn't used for direct communication even during Arabic grammar classes when we actually studied the rules of the language.
  18. lillebror Member

    I didn't know that. It makes sense but they write everywhere that MSA is the language of instruction in all Arabic countries ...
  19. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    It is, but MSA is not usually spoken in informal situations. So the teacher might say something formally in MSA then explain it in some common dialect.
  20. gintoxic New Member

    Hello, I do have a question to you. How does one learn best the Lebanese in Beirut or surroundings? It seems like that 99% able to speak French or English. Even the signs, SMS, E mail and advertisements are in Latin writings.
    I would like to hear for about 3 months only Lebanese. Does somebody have an idea??
  21. barkoosh Senior Member

    Hello gintoxic

    Ask your friends not to use French or English when talking to you or in your presence (although it's going to be hard to make them keep on doing it. So you'll have to insist).

    Watch TV and listen to people talking Beiruti. But don't overdo it if you can't understand a thing; you'll get bored.

    Make sure you use whatever you learn in your daily life before you forget it.

    If you know nothing at all, you need someone who can help you in some basic things.

    Most of all, have a strong motivation to help you keep going. A friend of mine, a Swede, was asked by an English-speaking guy: "How hard is it to learn Swedish?" He said to him: "That depends on how beautiful she is". (Of course, you can have other good reasons :))
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  22. gintoxic New Member

    "How hard is it to learn Swedish?" He said to him: "That depends on how beautiful she is". :D I do learn with pleasure interesting languages. Lebanese it is very interesting. Dear Barkoosh. Many thanks for this tips. Is there any TV in LIbanese with English subtitle ? Youtube chanel or something else? LEBANESE into language and English, French, German or Russian subtitles?
  23. barkoosh Senior Member

    As far as I know, there are no Lebanese TV programs with subtitles.

    As for youtube, all I know is that there's a web series called Shankaboot with English cc. But the spoken language is a bit difficult to understand for a non-native.
  24. AndyRoo Senior Member

    Another nice youtube series in Lebanese with English subtitles is Beirut I Love You. But it's very difficult to understand even with the subtitles.
  25. gintoxic New Member

    Thank you both for that Support. Will test it the next weeks and Keep you informed. I do hope they are good :p

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