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What are the Different Types of Arabic and What is Lebanese Arabic?

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

What are the three types of Arabic?

What is Spoken Arabic and how is it different from Classical or Standard Arabic?

What is Lebanese Arabic?

First, sign up at the spoken Arabic page on the platform to get your free special welcome Lebanese Spoken Arabic Conversation and phrasebook startup (in Arabic and English Letters!). This way you can have your own eBook to keep for self-study and future reference. The book includes the following:

  • Basic self-introduction and greetings.

  • Some important cultural tips.

  • Personal pronouns in Lebanese.

  • Important phrases (Please go ahead, ok, perfect, excellent, I didn't get it...)

  • Conversational: What do you do for a living?

  • Counting 1 to 10.

  • Parts of the day.

  • Days of the week.



Now, let's dive into the three main branches in Arabic.

Classical Arabic (7th century and throughout the Middle Ages- 15th century)

  • Uses older and more archaic vocabulary and sentence structure, as obviously the name "classical" suggests, pretty much like Shakesperean English to modern English. To put it into practical terms, even native speakers will need the help of a dictionary to understand some of the terms used in ancient literature, in addition the help of "tafseer" or trusted interpretation for understanding the Quran.

  • This type of Arabic is basically the oldest taught form Arabic which was standardized during the seventh century by Arabic grammarians in an initiative to preserve the language of the Quran as more people joined Islam through conquest, pilgrimage and missionaries, thus becoming the liturgical language of Islam.

  • The first description of this Arabic was the Arabic grammarian Sibawayh's "al-Kitāb" or "The Book", which was a collection of surviving ancient poetic texts, as well as the Quran and Bedouin informants whom he considered to be reliable and eloquent speakers of the language.

  • It uses a synthetic system derived from ancient spoken vernaculars and a relatively uniform intertribal "poetic koine" that was used in the region, focusing on case endings, and romanticizing of the purity of Arabic spoken by Bedouin desert dwellers versus what was thought to be "corrupted" city dialects.

  • Some linguists believe that spoken dialects then were very different from this superior classical literary form, while others believe that the differences were not much.

  • Is no longer what we consider a spoken language, but a classic language primarily used for religious purposes, hence also called: Quranic Arabic.

  • Is not easy to understand for common Arabs and necessitates reading and studying a lot of classical texts, typically done by Islamic scholars and students at Islamic universities like Al-Azhar or by highly talented select poets, writers or journalists.

Modern Standard Arabic

  • Is the direct descendant of classical Arabic which is used today throughout the Arab world as a unified formal method of reading and writing Arabic as well as formal communication. This includes for example the news, radio and TV broadcasts, written articles and formal letters, street and shop signs, conferences, and generally speaking non-entertainment related content.

  • It's the formal standard form Arabic that Arabs study in school and university, and which is the same across all Arab countries.

  • The lexis and stylistics of Modern Standard Arabic are different from Classical Arabic, the morphology and syntax is basically the same. That's why there is no distinction between both for native Arabic speakers. They would refer to both Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic as al-fuşḩā (الفصحى) meaning in Arabic 'the most eloquent'.

  • In practical terms Modern Standard Arabic contains the more modern selection of vocabulary and sentence structure used today by Arabs.

  • Note that despite being so similar, most speakers of Modern Standard Arabic tend to drop case endings, as it can be daunting to figure them all out correctly and spontaneously, so it's easier to silence most of the endings for practicality.

  • Modern Standard Arabic is generally what is being taught to non-Arabic speakers and most textbooks and courses are based on it.

  • It's suitable for those wanting to read and write Arabic, especially who need Arabic for legal, diplomatic, or political purposes, as well as to read formal texts and literature (formal communication).

  • It's suitable for students learning Arabic for religious purposes as well.

  • Learning Modern Standard Arabic gives the learner access to classical Arabic being so similar, although more effort would be required.

Spoken Arabic

  • Is different to the two prior formal forms of Arabic and is actually what people use to converse in daily life in Arabic speaking countries.

  • It's basically a fusion of Arabic native to these countries or brought to them through Islamic conquests, mixed with local vernaculars and prior local dialects as well as foreign languages due to colonization and globalism.

  • So each country will have its own dialect, and within the same country you will have slight variations depending on the region.

  • Arabic speakers from different Arabic speaking countries will understand each others' dialects depending on geographic proximity, as well as exposure to the other dialect through media and pop culture, like songs, cinema and TV. For example, as a Lebanese native, I perfectly understand neighboring countries' dialects, such as Syrian Jordanian and Palestinian. I grew up watching a lot of Egyptian films and listening to Egyptian songs, so I am very familiar with Egyptian as well. I am less familiar with Moroccan, Tunisian or Algerian, due to limited exposure. Due to having been in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and watching their media content as well, I am now familiar with their dialect as well as other neighboring gulf Arabic dialects. However, when it wasn't very clear or easy to me at the beginning.

  • When speaking, a native Arab will use his own country's dialect. When texting as well on the mobile phone or using social media informally, he will his own dialect and not Modern Standard or Classical Arabic.

  • Arabs from different countries when speaking to each other or on media, such as TV or a YouTube video, with the aim of reaching the largest possible Arabic speaking audience, will sometimes use what is called a "white dialect" لهجة بيضاء , which means a neutral dialect, avoiding very local terms or jargon and resorting to common vocabulary when possible, sometimes also mixing with Modern Standard Arabic for more a more eloquent feel and further outreach.

  • Is suitable for students who want to converse in Arabic and have informal daily life communication, such as travel or working in an Arabic country, or conversing with Arabic family members, as well as enjoying songs and informal social media posts.

  • Note there is no standard way of reading and writing colloquial tongues or dialects, and this varies according to the language school or tutor. The study of spoken dialects is also often aided by transliteration for simplification.

Lebanese Spoken Arabic

  • Is a descendant of the Arabic dialects brought into the Levant region of the Middle East and to Lebanon in the 7th century AD through Islamic conquests, which slowly replaced the various local Northwest Semitic languages, mainly Aramaic and Syriac to become the regional lingua franca. In addition to Arabic, Lebanese is influenced as well by the Ottoman Turkish, English, and French languages.

  • Is considered a variety of Levantine Arabic, an umbrella term used to refer to the following languages: Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, and Palestinian.

  • Lebanese Arabic is thus very similar to these other Levantine languages and mutually intelligible with them due to geographic proximity.

  • Has no grammatical moods or case endings like Modern Standard Arabic.

  • Has fewer personal pronouns than Modern Standard Arabic. The dual pronouns are not in use as well as plural feminine pronouns, hence easier for conjugation and speaking.

  • Is generally less complicated grammatically than Modern Standard Arabic.

  • Is considered to be the softest Arabic dialect and generally speaking the most pleasant, especially due to media exposure through TV, songs and the internet and having been the Paris of the Middle East and center of education, commerce and medicine for Arabs before the civil war erupted in the seventies.

  • For courses and books in Levantine Lebanese Spoken or colloquial Arabic, visit this link for more information: https://www.learningarabicwithangela.com/levantine-spoken-arabic





Watch this video for detailed information about:

  • The four Skills of language learning

  • Level of difficulty of Arabic

  • Number of hours for each level

  • My complete program in spoken Lebanese Arabic

  • Importance of consistency in learning





I hope this post was useful



 

To book a course or lessons with me check out:


Free and paid courses in Modern Standard Arabic:

For spoken or colloquial Lebanese Arabic dialect:





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