The main idea behind this questions is that I have some difficulty to accept that a certain language can be a dialect of another one by simply basing that argument on the similarity of the vocabulary only.

What about the grammatical rules? What about phonology?

The story: I lived in Lebanon for quite a long time and the spoken language in general doesn’t have even a close phonology to the proto-arabic that is shared among the arabic speaking nations. Now, after many decades of Arabism and colonialism, the Lebanese spoken language acquired arabic words in a huge quantity, however the phonology was changed drastically and kept the original phonology that is present in Syriac and Aramaic languages (also some Semitic similarities). Moreover the grammar kept its structure from the Syro-Aramaic ancestry. TLDR the current Lebanese spoken language is:

1- Vocabulary: half-half between Arabic and Syro-Aramaic and Semitic.

2- Grammar: nothing shared with Arabic basics. Strong Syro-Aramaic.

3- Phonology: in Europe, when I speak Lebanese, they think I’m Israeli. Which somehow proves the point that phonology is as well important to appropriate a language source.

So my questions are:

1- Can i say that the Lebanese language is a version of Arabic seen that phonology and Grammar aren’t shared but only some part of the vocabulary.

2- Shouldn’t we examine language appropriation by probabilistic measures of syllabes that determine the accent? I.e. the similarity between the Lebanese spoken language with today’s Hebrew and Syriac accent.

Appreciate any clarification on that.

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    Useful concepts for you in your quest: lexical overlap, philogenetic relatedness, substrate, superstrate, adstrate, fusion language, diglossia. Obviously English is not a Romance language but by vocabulary alone it may appear to be. The Levantine vs Arabic case is blurred by the fact that they are both Semitic languages, one is somewhat moribund, and of course the extreme politicisation you mention, culminating in the use of literary Arabic as the written language, before the advent of SMS anyway. Jan 4, 2018 at 9:26
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    (I don't know if you've seen this already, but I'll link in any case to provide context for others as well.) The linguist Lameen Souag has several blog posts presenting the argument for Lebanese being a variety of Arabic; see the recent lughat.blogspot.com/2018/01/… which links back to the older posts Jan 4, 2018 at 18:50
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    I am not sure that there is something such as a "dialect of a language". Is Venetian (or Calabrian, or Sardinian) a "dialect of Italian"? Or are they just languages that do not have (due to political reasons) a standard register, and are therefore called "dialects"? Jan 10, 2018 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


There are a number of speech-form clusters in the world, that is, genetically related languages which are so structurally similar that they are said to be "dialects" of a language – e.g. Saami, Shona, Somali, Luhya, Chinese, Arabic, Kurdish, Quechua and Mongolian. You might say that the various Saami languages are versions of Saami, or they are dialects of Saami, but there is no standard reference form that one could actually write down (likewise Quechua, Luhya and Kurdish). Because of the writing system, there is a standard thing that can be identified as Chinese – and nobody speaks that language (it's a written form, not a spoken form).

If by "Arabic" you mean either "Modern Standard Arabic" or "Classical Arabic", which is not a first language anymore, then it is a stretch to say that any modern spoken dialect is a "version" of the classical language, just as it is a stretch to say that any modern Chinese dialect is a "version" of classical Chinese or Khalkha Mongolian is a "version" of Classical Mongolian (idem classical Tibetan and modern Tibetan, and so on). The "Arabic versions" of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and so on have a clear historical connection to Classical Arabic that is similar to the connection between the individual Romance languages and Latin, or the various Chinese dialects and an earlier common version of Chinese. They all derive historically from a common language, just as the North Germanic, Saami and Mongolian languages do. The primary reason that most "versions of Arabic" are called Arabic is political (and the reason why Maltese is not generally called Arabic is likewise political, though it is clearly not as similar to Classical Arabic as Spoken Levantine Arabic is). In other words, saying that Lebanese is "a version of Arabic" does not clarify anything, and you can't decide whether it is "a version", unless you have a clear and well-justified terminological alternative. (If you were speaking of Chaldean Neo-Aramaic in Iraq, that could not be considered a "version" of Arabic). It is sensible to ask about the relationship between two genetically-related languages, it's just that "version" does not impart any clarity to the discussion.

There is a significant similarity between Classical Arabic and Spoken Lebanese Arabic in the realm of grammar, and a huge similarity between Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian and so on. For example, the patterns of verb inflection in the modern languages are extremely similar, and recognizable related to Classical Arabic – though there are a number of things in Classical Arabic that have disappeared (for instance, jussive and subjunctive inflections). I think the 1sg perfective suffix is /t/ in all modern Arabic varieties, clearly related to Classical /tu/.

The way that phonologists think about "the phonology" of a language, phonology is primarily about the rules which manipulate roots and affixes, so that in some dialects, /katabt/ is pronounced [katábit] (or, elsewhere, /katab/ it pronounced [kítab]). This system of rules is complex enough to be an area of significant interest for linguists and has been reasonably well studied. I would agree that there is not much similarity between Classical Arabic and the modern dialects, but it is easy to see how the phonologies of the modern dialects arose historically. For instance, in Classical Arabic the roots /dʕw/ and /rmy/ end with different underlying glides; in the modern languages, the glide is gone and instead you get epenthetic e:, i:; the inflection of roots like /mdd/ has changes drastically so that madadtu ~ maddat gave way to madde:t ~ maddat. It would be a wonderful project to line up the relevant properties and compose a model of relatedness based on such shared changes from the classical language: this has been done somewhat, and research on the topic will continue for many years.

If some other Arabic speakers think you are Israeli, that probably reflects the fact that the varieties of Arabic spoken along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean are extremely similar. It would be interesting, but quite impractical, to conduct a well-controlled and extensive survey of perceived similarity among varieties of Arabic. Factoring in language-external comparisons such as Aramaic-Arabic, Berber-Arabic is just that much more difficult: not impossible, but difficult. Please note that this just looks at large-scale subjective judgments of "similarity"; another approach is to develop a metric of objective grammatical and lexical similarity.

  • First, thank you & second, my idea is that if Levantine was arabic as everybody’s claiming then why the phonology and grammar stayed largely related to Semitic and Aramaic. Don’t u personally think that phonology is a 1st order to decide which language belongs to what origin?
    – Leb_Broth
    Jan 4, 2018 at 18:55
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    Isn't Arabic the name of a clade in Semitic? Maybe this is controversial, but that interpretation seems more likely to me than your interpretation of a statement like "Lebanese is a version of Arabic" as meaning "Lebanese is version of Modern Standard Arabic" or "Lebanse is a version of Classical Arabic". The Wikipedia article on "Semitic languages" indicates in the "Classification" section that Central Semitic can be divided into Northwest Semitic (which would include Syriac) and Arabic... Jan 4, 2018 at 18:55
  • (which is supposed to include various languages, not just MSA or Classical). Jan 4, 2018 at 18:59
  • I'm not clear on the difference between a language, dialect, clade, and macrolanguage. I admit, "clade" is a new term that I haven't had to deal with, so I don't know the defining lines, if any.
    – user6726
    Jan 4, 2018 at 19:12
  • Hmm, I’m not sure it’s a valid linguistic term, I just imported it from biology. I just mean something like a family that is, roughly speaking, composed of all and only all languages/varieties/dialects descended from some common ancestor Jan 4, 2018 at 19:23

No, Lebanese Arabic is not some mislabeled version of Hebrew or Aramaic, and no Nassim-Taleb-style statistical mumbo jumbo will change this, sorry.

Lebanese Arabic is a fairly typical and unremarkable variety of Eastern Arabic urban dialect. Its grammar is almost the same as Cairene Arabic, to say nothing of the urban dialects of Syria and Palestine. All “Neo-Arabic” dialects have a similar grammar, which is analytic rather than synthetic as with Classical Arabic, but the morphological system is more or less intact from Old Arabic. Nothing special about Lebanese Arabic in this respect.

The phonology is also nearly identical with other Eastern dialects (including Egypt). Vowel variation between Lebanese and neighboring dialects (and within Lebanon itself) is no greater than what you would observe in English.

Lebanese Arabic vocabulary is not very distinctive either among Arabic dialects.

You speak Arabic.

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