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Levantine Arabic vocabulary

Levantine Arabic vocabulary is the vocabulary of Levantine Arabic, the variety of Arabic spoken in the Levant.[a][1][2]


The lexicon of Levantine is overwhelmingly Arabic.[3] Many words, such as verbal nouns (also called gerunds or masdar[4]) are derived from a verb root. For instance ‏مدرسةmadrase 'school', from ‏‏درسdaras 'to study, to learn'.[5]

However, it also includes layers of ancient indigenous languages: Aramaic (particularly Western Aramaic), classical Hebrew (Biblical and Mishnaic), Canaanite, Persian, Greek, and Latin.[6] Since the early modern period, Levantine has borrowed from Turkish (due to the region's long history under the Ottoman Empire) as well as European languages, mainly English (notably in the fields of science and technology) and French (in Syria and Lebanon due to the French mandate), but also German, and Italian.[6] With the establishment of Israel in 1948, there has also been a significant influence of Modern Hebrew on the Palestinian dialect spoken by Arab Israelis.[6] Loanwords are gradually replaced with words of Arabic root. For instance, borrowings from Ottoman Turkish that were common in the 20th century have been largely replaced by Arabic words after the end of Ottoman Syria.[3]

Lexical distance from MSA

An analysis of the spoken lexicon of five-year-old native Palestinian speakers concluded that:

  • 40% of the words were unique to Palestinian and not present in MSA;
  • 40% of the spoken Palestinian words were related to terms in MSA but were different in between 1 and 6 phonological parameters (sound change, addition, or deletion);
  • 20% of the words were identical in Palestinian and MSA.[7][8]

Levantine words coming from Classical Arabic have undergone three common phonological processes:

  • Regressive vowel harmony: The first vowel /a/ has changed to /u/ in harmony with the following vowel /u/,
  • Final vowel deletion: The final vowel /u/ is deleted, and
  • Initial consonant addition: A voiced bilabial consonant is often added before present verb prefixes. It is /b/ in all forms except 1st person plural, where it is /m/.[citation needed]

Despite these differences, three scientific papers concluded, using various natural language processing techniques, that Levantine dialects (and especially Palestinian) were the closest colloquial varieties, in terms of lexical similarity, to MSA: one compared MSA to two Algerian dialects, Tunisian, Palestinian, and Syrian and found 38% of common words between Syrian and MSA and 52% between Palestinian and MSA;[9] another compared MSA to Egyptian, Levantine, Gulf, and North African Arabic;[10] and the other compared MSA to Algerian, Tunisian, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian and found that Levantine dialects were very similar to each other and between 0.4 and 0.5 similarity between MSA and Palestinian.[11]

Aramaic substrate

Aramaic influence is significant, especially in rural areas. Aramaic words underwent morphophonemic adaptation when they entered Levantine; over time, it has become difficult to identify them. They belong to different fields of everyday life such as seasonal agriculture, housekeeping, tools and utensils, and Christian religious terms.[6][12] Aramaic is still spoken in the Syrian villages of Maaloula, al-Sarkha, and Jubb'adin;[13] near them, Aramaic borrowings are more frequent.[14][15]

Examples of words of Aramaic origin include: ‏شوبšōb 'heat'; ‏شلحšalaḥ 'to undress'; ‏بسّطbassaṭ 'to stretch'.[14] Aramaic also influenced the syntax of Levantine dialects. For instance, the usage of li- as a direct object marker is a typically Aramaic construction: ʼeltillo la-ebno 'I told his son', šeft(u) l-xayyak 'I saw your brother', ʻammo la-flān 'the brother of somebody'.[16][17]


Learned borrowings from MSA

Levantine often borrows learned words from MSA, particularly in more formal settings.[citation needed] In modern and religious borrowings from MSA the original MSA pronunciation is usually preserved. For instance, قرآن (Quran) is only pronounced /qurʾān/.[18]

From English

Contacts between Levantine and English started during the nineteenth century when the British ran academic and religious institutions in the Levant. More influence of English occurred during the British protectorate over Jordan and the British Mandate for Palestine. However, the borrowing process was low at the time as the number of British personnel was very small.[19] Over the last few decades, English contact with Levantine has gained increasing momentum, leading to the introduction of many loanwords, particularly in the contexts of technology and entertainment.[20][21]

From French

Many French loanwords exist in Levantine, especially in Lebanese and to a lesser extent Syria due to the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon.[22]

Example of common French loanwords in Lebanese[23]
French original word French pronunciation French meaning Lebanese meaning Lebanese
abat-jour /ʒuʁ/ lampshade /ɑ.bɑ.ʒuɾ/ ‏أباجور
antenne /ɑ̃.tɛn/ antenna /ɑn.tˤen/
baffle /bafl/ speaker /bɑfl/
bonjour /bɔ̃.ʒuʁ/ good morning /bon.ʒuɾ/ ‏بونجور
chauffeur /ʃo.fœʁ/ driver /ʃu.feɾ/ ‏شوفير
douche /duʃ/ shower /duʃ/ ‏دوش
échappement /e.ʃap.mɑ̃/ exhaust pipe /æ.ʃɘk.mɑn/ ‏أشكمون
garçon /ɡaʁ.sɔ̃/ waiter /ɡɑɾ.sˤon/ ‏جرسون
maillot / swimsuit /mæ ‏مايو
mayonnaise /ma.jɔ.nɛz/ mayonnaise /mæ ‏مايونيز
mécanicien /ɛ̃/ mechanic /mɘ.kæ.nɘs.jen/-
numéro /nymeʁo/ number license plate /nom.ɾɑ/
pantalon /pɑ̃.ta.lɔ̃/ pants /bɑn.tˤɑ.lon/ ‏بانتالون
pharmacie /faʁ pharmacy /fæɾ.mæ.ʃi.jæ/ ‏فرمشيَّا
porno /pɔʁ.nɔ/ porn movie /poɾ.no/

Other loanwords include ascenseur (elevator) and chaise longue (any reclining chair, such as a sun lounger).

From Ottoman Turkish

The vast majority of Turkish loans in Levantine date from the Ottoman Empire, which dominated the Levant and a large part of the Arab world for about four hundred years. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire resulted in a rapid and drastic decrease in Turkish words due to the Arabization of the language and the negative perception of the Ottoman era among Arabs.[3] However, Arabic-speaking minorities in Turkey (mainly in the Hatay Province) are still influenced by Turkish. Many Western words entered Arabic through Ottoman Turkish as Turkish was the main language for transmitting Western ideas into the Arab world. There are about 3,000 Turkish borrowings in Syrian Arabic, mostly in administration and government, army and war, crafts and tools, house and household, dress, and food and dishes.[24][25]

Example of Levantine terms derived from Ottoman Turkish[24]
Ottoman Turkish Modern Turkish Meaning Levantine
قازمه kazma kazma pick, mattock قزمةqazma
طبانجه tabanca tabanca pistol طبنجةṭabanje
طوغری doğrı doğru straight ahead دغريduḡri
تپسی tepsi tepsi tray, ashtray تبسيةtəbsiyye / ‏تبسةtəbse
اوطه oda oda room أوضةʾōḍa
باشلامق başlamak başlamak to begin بلّشballaš

From Modern Hebrew

Palestinian Israelis use many Modern Hebrew loanwords.[26] Modern Hebrew is now the main source of innovation in Palestinian Arabic in Israel, including for words originally derived from English. Most of the borrowed items are nouns and many are borrowed without any change.[27] Hebrew loanwords can be written in Hebrew, Arabic, or Latin script, depending on the speaker and the context. Code-switching between Levantine and Hebrew is frequent. In one study, 2.7% of all words in conversations on WhatsApp and Viber were Hebrew borrowings, mostly nouns from the domains of education, technology, and employment.[28]

Example of common Hebrew borrowed words in Palestinian Israeli dialect[28]
Palestinian (Arabic script) Palestinian pronunciation (IPA) Original Hebrew word Hebrew transliteration English meaning
الكورس [alkors] קורס kurs the course
لسمستر [lasimister] סמסטר seméster for semester
ترجول [tirgo:l] תרגול tirgúl practice
ھودعوت [hodaʕo:t] הודעה hoda'á SMS
كلیتاه [klitah] קליטה klitá mobile reception
بلفون [bilifon] פלאפון pélefon mobile phone (Genericized trademark of Pelephone)
السدور [ilsido:r] סידור sidúr the work schedule
حوفش [ћofiʃ] חופש khófesh break from work
عیسیك [ʕesik] עסק 'ések business
بجروت [bigro:t] בגרות bagrút comprehensive high school final exam (Bagrut certificate)
ھرتسآه [hartsaˀah] הרצאה hartsa'á lecture
ھشتلموت [hiʃtalmo:t] השתלמות hishtalmút extension of study
مزجان [mazga:n] מזגן mazgán air conditioner
شوئیف [ʃuˀev] שואב sho'ev vacuum cleaner
شلاط [ʃala:tˁ] שלט shalát remote control
رأیون [riˀajo:n] ריאיון re'ayon interview
المعسیك [ilmaʕsik] מעסיק ma'asik employer
بتسوییم [bitsuj:m] פיצויים pitsúyim compensation payment


  1. ^ Also known as Greater Syria.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b Stowasser 2004, p. xiii.
  2. ^ a b Cowell 1964, pp. vii–x.
  3. ^ a b c Brustad & Zuniga 2019, p. 425
  4. ^ Aldrich 2017, p. ii
  5. ^ Tiedemann 2020, p. xv
  6. ^ a b c d Bassal, Ibrahim (2012). "Hebrew and Aramaic Substrata in Spoken Palestinian Arabic". Mediterranean Language Review. 19. Harrassowitz Verlag: 85–86. JSTOR 10.13173/medilangrevi.19.2012.0085.
  7. ^ Broselow, Ellen (2011). Perspectives on Arabic linguistics : papers from the annual Symposia on Arabic Linguistics. Volume XXII-XXIII, College Park, Maryland, 2008 and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2009. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co. p. 271. ISBN 978-90-272-8412-9. OCLC 774289125.
  8. ^ Saiegh-Haddad, Elinor; Spolsky, Bernard (2014). "Acquiring Literacy in a Diglossic Context: Problems and Prospects". Literacy Studies. Vol. 9. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. pp. 225–240. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-8545-7_10. ISBN 978-94-017-8544-0.
  9. ^ Harrat, Salima; Meftouh, Karima; Abbas, Mourad; Jamoussi, Salma; Saad, Motaz; Smaili, Kamel (2015). "Cross-Dialectal Arabic Processing". Computational Linguistics and Intelligent Text Processing. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Vol. 9041. pp. 620–632. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-18111-0_47. ISBN 978-3-319-18110-3.
  10. ^ El-Haj, Mahmoud; Rayson, Paul; Aboelezz, Mariam (2018). "Arabic Dialect Identification in the Context of Bivalency and Code-Switching". Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC 2018).
  11. ^ Kwaik, Kathrein Abu; Saad, Motaz; Chatzikyriakidis, Stergios; Dobnika, Simon (2018). "A Lexical Distance Study of Arabic Dialects". Procedia Computer Science. 142: 2–13. doi:10.1016/j.procs.2018.10.456. The results are informative and indicate that Levantine dialects are very similar to each other and furthermore, that Palestinian appears to be the closest to MSA.
  12. ^ Bassal, Ibrahim (2015). "Hebrew and Aramaic Element in the Israeli Vernacular Christian-Arabic and in the Written Christian Arabic of Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon". The Levantine Review. 4 (1). Boston College: 86. doi:10.6017/lev.v4i1.8721.
  13. ^ Neishtadt, Mila (2015). "The Lexical Component in the Aramaic Substrate of Palestinian Arabic". Semitic Languages in Contact. pp. 280–310. doi:10.1163/9789004300156_016. ISBN 978-90-04-30015-6.
  14. ^ a b Retsö, Jan (2011-05-30), "Aramaic/Syriac Loanwords", Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, Brill, doi:10.1163/1570-6699_eall_eall_com_0024, retrieved 2021-12-19
  15. ^ Lentin 2018, pp. 199–200.
  16. ^ Behnstedt, Peter. "Syria". In Edzard, Lutz; de Jong, Rudolf (eds.). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. doi:10.1163/1570-6699_eall_EALL_COM_0330.
  17. ^ Procházka, Stephan (2011-05-30), "Prepositions", Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, Brill, doi:10.1163/1570-6699_eall_eall_sim_vol3_0108, retrieved 2021-12-19
  18. ^ Saadane, Houda; Habash, Nizar (2015). "A Conventional Orthography for Algerian Arabic" (PDF). Proceedings of the Second Workshop on Arabic Natural Language Processing. Stroudsburg, PA, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics. pp. 69–79. doi:10.18653/v1/w15-3208.
  19. ^ Abu Guba, Mohammed Nour. Phonological Adaptation of English Loanwords in Ammani Arabic (PDF). OCLC 1063569424.
  20. ^ Alshaar, Seraj (2020-07-09). "English Borrowings in Contemporary Arabic Dialects across the Levant Countries". Jagiellonian University Repository (Bibliographic record).
  21. ^ Atawneh, Ahmad. "English Loanwords". In Edzard, Lutz; de Jong, Rudolf (eds.). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. doi:10.1163/1570-6699_eall_EALL_COM_vol2_0006.
  22. ^ Al-Wer, Enam (2006). "The Arabic-speaking Middle East der arabischsprachige Mittlere Osten". In Ammon, Ulrich; Dittmar, Norbert; Mattheier, Klaus J; Trudgill, Peter (eds.). Sociolinguistics / Soziolinguistik, Part 3. doi:10.1515/9783110184181.3.9.1917. ISBN 978-3-11-019987-1.
  23. ^ Sakr, Georges (2018). A Discussion of Issues from French Loans in Lebanese (PDF) (MSc Linguistics thesis). University of Edinburgh.
  24. ^ a b Procházka, Stephan. "Turkish Loanwords". In Edzard, Lutz; de Jong, Rudolf (eds.). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. doi:10.1163/1570-6699_eall_EALL_COM_0359.
  25. ^ "The Turkish Contribution to the Arabic Lexicon". Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion. 2004. pp. 201–212. doi:10.4324/9780203327715-20. ISBN 978-0-203-32771-5.
  26. ^ Elhija, Duaa Abu (7 September 2017). "Hebrew Loanwords in the Palestinian Israeli Variety of Arabic (Facebook Data)". Journal of Language Contact. 10 (3). Brill: 422–449. doi:10.1163/19552629-01002009.
  27. ^ Amara, Muhammad Hasan. "Ivrit Loanwords". In Edzard, Lutz; de Jong, Rudolf (eds.). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. doi:10.1163/1570-6699_eall_EALL_COM_vol2_0059.
  28. ^ a b Abu Elhija, Duaa (May 2019). A study of loanwords and code switching in spoken and online written Arabic by Palestinian Israelis. ISBN 978-1-392-15264-5. OCLC 1151841166.


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Levantine Arabic vocabulary
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