Most people in Lebanon speak either the Standard or North Levantine dialects of Arabic. What’s the difference between the two…?

Standard Arabic is a modern variant of Classical Arabic, which was the language of the Qu’ran. Arabs all over the world use essentially the same Standard Arabic in their literature, political speeches and television broadcasts, a fact that helps build a global Pan-Arabic unity. The Lebanese/Levantine version of Arabic developed from the Syrian dialect of Arabic with some influence from Aramaic, which was a main language in the area before Arabic arrived. Lebanese Arabic has a lot in common with the Arabic spoken by Syrians,
Jordanians and Palestinians, a fact that helps Arabs from those countries feel especially connected to one another.

Like other non-Standard versions of Arabic, Levantine Arabic is mainly a spoken language and rarely appears in written form. The parallel existence of both a spoken “street” language and a more formal written language may sound odd, but there are many examples of a similar system existing close to home. For instance, if you live in South Boston and you and your friends speak with a strong local accent, you’ll all be able to understand the pronunciations, the slang and the many idioms of your common language when you’re talking together on the street corner, but you won’t read articles written in Boston newspapers or see newscasts on Boston TV that use South Boston syntax and expressions.

By the way, if you’re a well-educated Lebanese citizen or work in international relations (which includes driving a cab and picking up tourists in Beirut) you will likely be proficient in French and possibly proficient in English too. Most government documents are in both Arabic and French, while business documents may well be in English. Many Lebanese authors even write their novels in French, even if in their daily lives they speak Arabic.

In class let’s say hello and goodbye informally in Levantine Arabic:
Hello: Ahlan Wasahlan (“what’s up?”)
Goodbye: Yalla (“Come on”)

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