The Arabic language is considered to be one of the most widely spoken languages, with nearly 25 Arab speaking countries that claim Arabic as their official language. With that in mind, no wonder the Arabic language has many varieties and dialects.
Arabic has two main forms: Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Colloquial Arabic. MSA is standardized and used in Arabic countries in formal settings and mainly in writing. However, Colloquial Arabic is used most frequently in every day-to-day life, and has different varieties like Egyptian, Gulf, Levantine, Maghrebi, etc…
What is Levantine Arabic?
Levantine Arabic (اللهجة الشامية) is the Arabic dialects spoken within the Levant with over 20 million speakers. The Levant in Arabic is called (bilad il sham - بلاد الشام). It is a region in the eastern Mediterranean and is roofed by Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine in the modern world. The term "Levant" was borrowed from the French term “Levant” meaning “rising-to rise” implying the rising of the sun from the East, and springs from the Latin word “Levare” meaning “rise.”
Levantine Arabic, like several Arabic dialects, is merely used as a spoken dialect while sticking to MSA in writing. It should be noted that Levantine Arabic does not only vary from different countries within the Levant, but also regions, and you can spot variations between urban cities and rural villages. The differences are mainly in pronunciation and vocabulary but are considered minimal, knowing one variation will allow you to understand any speaker from the Levant.
We can divide Levantine Arabic into two categories:
- Northern Levantine: spoken in Lebanon and Syria.
- Southern Levantine: spoken in Jordan and Palestine.
Meaning despite the similarity in regional dialect, the Lebanese dialect mostly bears a resemblance to the Syrian dialect, and the same goes for Jordanian and Palestinian dialects.
This distinction can be explained through what happened after World War 1, where the Levant region was divided between the French and British rule. This left a distinguished mark especially in Lebanon where the French language is widely spoken.