Differences from Standard Arabic
Lebanese Arabic shares many features with other modern varieties of Arabic. Lebanese Arabic, like many other spoken Levantine Arabic varieties, has a syllable structure very different from that of Modern Standard Arabic. While Standard Arabic can have only one consonant at the beginning of a syllable, after which a vowel must follow, Lebanese Arabic commonly has two consonants in the onset.
- Morphology: simpler, without any mood and case markings.
- Number: verbal agreement regarding number and gender is required for all subjects, whether already mentioned or not.
- Vocabulary: many borrowings from other languages; most prominently Syriac-Aramaic, Western-Aramaic, Phoenician-Ugaritic, Ottoman Turkish, French, as well as, less significantly, from English.
- Some authors, such as Nassim Nicholas Taleb, believe that a significant part of the Lebanese grammatical structure is due to Aramaic influences.
An interview with Lebanese singer Maya Diab
; she speaks in Lebanese Arabic.
- The following example demonstrates two differences between Standard Arabic (Literary Arabic) and Spoken Lebanese Arabic: Coffee (قهوة), Literary Arabic: /ˈqahwa/; Lebanese Arabic: [ˈʔahwe]. The voiceless uvular plosive /q/ corresponds to a glottal stop [ʔ], and the final vowel ([æ~a~ɐ]) commonly written with tāʾ marbūtah (ة) is raised to [e].
- As a general rule of thumb, the voiceless uvular plosive /q/ is replaced with glottal stop [ʔ], e.g. /daqiːqa/ "minute" becomes [dʔiːʔa]. This debuccalization of /q/ is a feature shared with Syrian Arabic, Palestinian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, and Maltese.
- The exception for this general rule is the Druze of Lebanon who, like the Druze of Syria and Israel, have retained the pronunciation of /q/ in the centre of direct neighbours who have substituted the /q/ for the [ʔ] (example: "Heart" is /qalb/ in Literary Arabic, becomes [ˈʔaleb] or [ʔalb], which is similar in Syrian, Palestinian, Egyptian and Maltese. The use of /q/ by Druze is particularly prominent in the mountains and less so in urban areas.
- Unlike most other varieties of Arabic, a few dialects of Lebanese Arabic have retained the classical diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ (pronounced in Lebanese Arabic as [aɪ] and [aʊ]), which were monophthongised into [eː] and [oː] elsewhere, although the majority of Lebanese Arabic dialects realize them as [oʊ] and [eɪ]. In urban dialects (i.e. Beiruti) [eː] has replaced /aj/ and sometimes medial /aː/, and [e] has replaced final /i/ making it indistinguishable with tāʾ marbūtah (ة). Also, [oː] has replaced /aw/; [o] replacing some short /u/s. In singing, the /aj/, /aw/ and medial /aː/ are usually maintained for artistic values.
- The /θ/ sound from Modern Standard Arabic is sometimes replaced with /t/ in words from MSA like /θa:nija/, (second as in the number) when it becomes /tənjə/. Other times, it may be replaced with /s/ in words like /θa:nija/ (second as in the time measurement) when it becomes /sənjə/. It is assumed that this is to maintain an audible difference between the two words which were originally homophones. In some dialects, the /θ/ sound is replaced with /t/ for both words.
Several non-linguist commentators, including Nassim Taleb, have claimed that the Lebanese vernacular is not in fact a variety of Arabic at all, but rather a separate Central Semitic language, descended from Aramaic with the many Arabic and Turkish loanwords and use of the Arabic alphabet disguising the language's true nature. Taleb recommended that the language be called Northwestern Levantine or neo-Canaanite. This classification is not widely accepted by linguists.
In contemporary times, Lebanese with pan-Phoenician and pan-Arab views (although certainly not restricted to each group) in Lebanon usually have quite conflicting opinions about the state of Lebanese Arabic; while pan-Arabs emphasise its Arabic influence and some might claim a near resemblance to MSA, pan-Phoenicians emphasise its Aramaic influence and some might claim that it is an Aramaic language in reality.