Adonis Diaries

Plausibly, “Arabic” is one of the dialects of the Levant language (Near-East region of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine)

Posted on: January 9, 2018

Plausibly, Arabic is one of the dialects of the Levant language (Near-East region of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine)

No, Lebanese is not a “dialect” of Arabic

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Follow 

It would be an anachronism to assert that Italian is a dialect of Catalan, but safe to say that Italian comes from Latin. But when it comes to Lebanese (more generally NorthWestern Levantine region), the “politically correct” Arabist-think-tank view is that is is derived from Arabic (Lebanese “dialect” of Arabic) to accommodate sensitivities

 Even linguists find arguments to violate the arrow of time to serve the interest of pan Arabism.

In situations where there are similarities between a word used in Lebanese and Arabic, they insist it comes from Arabic not from a common root.

(Most Lebanese are confused by diglossia as one is not supposed to write in the spoken language). Unlike Indo-European languages, Semitic languages have a criss-cross of roots and considerable areal diffusion to assert clean descendancy.

The points are

1) Lebanese (more generally NorthWestern Levantine, neo-Canaanite) is a standalone Semitic dialect (or language) that descends from other languages, including Arabic (which itself was influenced by these predecessors) but has not inherited from it as much as marketed (broken plurals but not its rich verb forms).

2) Its grammar, as we will see below, remains largely non ArabicMany words that are in both Leb and Arabic but not common in Aramaic happen to be in North-Phoenician (Ugaritic). Unlike genetics that has rigorous mathematical formulations and clear-cut flows (haplogroups show direct, vertical, rather than lateral transmission), linguistic categories are fuzzy and, for Semitic languages, monstrously non rigorous.

3) I took a list of the most frequent statistically used words (by Zipf law, > 80% of vocabulary) and looked for words that exist in both Leb and Akkadian, Ugaritic (North Phoenician), and show that very few exist in Arabic but not other Semitic roots (Lamine Souag did the same with a poem by Said Akl, without statistical methodology), hence could have only come from Arabic.

The anachronism shown. The Phyla and Waves Models of Classification by Semiticists is not very scientific. Note that areal diffusion makes transmission arrows very fuzzy.

4) The “Arabization” mission promoted by the American University in Beirut in the 1860s (starting with the translation of the Bible) seems to infect the most low IQ Westerners of the think tank/ State department Arabist types, not locals — most people who disagree with the point and support the orthodoxy don’t speak either Leb or Aramaic, or fail in basic reasoning (many Syriac scholars I’ve spoken to agree with the point)

5) The latin alphabet (actually Phoenician) lends itself better to Lebanese, with such accents as é — but that’s another note.

6) From a scientific standpoint, linguistic claims that Lebanese is a dialect of Arabic (or some conveniently abstract construct called Proto-Arabic) are:

a) totally unrigorous handwaving believed from sheer repetition,

b) fitness to few rules made on the fly (and subject of over-fitting: you pick the rules that makes a language be part of the group you like),

c) with claims of mutual intelligibility between Leb and Arabic (or Proto-Arabic); all of these presented without any attempt to meet minimal standards of scientific evidence.

What do people call “Arabic”?

In a skit an ISIS man goes to a Christian Lebanese village, Zghorta, and shouts in Classical Arabic (“raise your hands!” “ارفع يديك”) to a Zghorta villager, who answers him “speak to me in Arabic!” (7ki ma3é 3arabé).

Likewise, in Saudi Arabia, I once heard a Lebanese fellow asking the hotel manager: “don’t you have Arabic food?” (meaning East Med/Lebanese) as all they had was… Arabic food (Saudi preparations of rice etc.)

The White Mountain (Mount Lebanon) from my window in Amioun

The very etymology of “Arabic” has confused people, since it may mean “Westerner”, that is, non Arab (and homonym with 3araba which might be another root). Speak to me in Arabic may mean “speak to me intelligibly” (3arabé mshabra7) — since 3araab means grammatical and intelligible — and people got confused about what language they were speaking.

Anachronism

The Lebanese have been saying “bét” for at least 3200 years, now they say “bét” but it suddenly said to be from a “dialect” of Arabic. It is foolish to think that a population will speak a language, say Aramaic, then suddenly, tabula rasa, switch to another one for the same words.

Many people who are fluent and Levantine and classical Arabic fail to realize that the distance between the two is greater than between many languages deemed distinct, such as French and Romanian… Slavic “languages” such as Ukranian and Polish are much, much closer to one another than Levantine and Arabic.

Same with Scandinavian and Germanic languages. But there is a bias in believing that whenever a word exists in both Levantine and Arabic, that it is of Arabic origin, never Aramaic or Canaanite-largely because of the typical lack of familiarity with Levantine languages.

So Mar7aba is deemed to be Arabic when it is in fact just Aramaic.

(The IYIs are slowly and reluctantly accepting the Aramaic influence on the Arabic holy book). Also note that if Northern Arabians share vocabulary with Lebs, it is because of Aramaic rather than the reverse.

(If the Lebanese know Arabic, it is from education system and Television, not from speaking it).

Levantine uses the French é sound (the diacritical rboso) where Arabic has an “i” (kasra) or long i. (batyté, Ghassén, etc.) (Zré2 is arabized as Zurayq at the American University of Beirut. Someone should tell them.)

The Lebanese army march (one-two-three) is in Syriac “7ad, Tr(n)en, Tlete, Arb3a” (not Wa7ad, Etnen, …).

Mim-noon: mim in Arabic (beytohom) become noun in Aramaic and North Levantine (beyton, beytkon). Even Ibrahim becomes Brohin.

Ma: The classifiers claim that of Semitic languages, a marker of Arabic is the negative “ma” for “la/o” in Canaanite.

1) “Ma” is a negation in Indo-European languages, so it came to the area to affect all languages,

2) “ma” is found in Bibilical Heb. (Kings, 12:16).

Verb-Subject Agreement: The grammatical stucture of Leb is somewhat similar to Aramaic. For instance, we use the plural form for a verb before a plural subject; in Arabic the verb is singular.

SVO Arabic has necessarily an VSO structure: Verb-Subject-Object (zahaba el waladu ila il bayt vs lwalad ra7 3al bét), Lebanese not necessarily so (varies).

Roots and distanceUsing the Arabic innovation of a non Arabic root (2rdh for 2rtz) should not allow one to classify the term for scientific (informational) and cultural purposes as “derived from” Arabic, even if it makes sense from a linguistic standpoint in a refined toolkit.

So if someone has been saying lb for years (for heart) for a few thousand years, then added an aleph (2a) to make it ‘lb (2lb, 2alb), is is to be treated the same as someone saying corre or schmorglub for heart, now saying ‘lb? It is not the same distance!

This is what linguists fail to get about their classification heuristics. Minor adaptations such as “al” for “ha” or “han” should not be a basis for calling a change of language.

It is no different for Hebrew where Ashkenazis use a Germanic pronunciation for gutturals, which doesn’t make them speak a variety German. Linguistic classifications are a mess!

Colinearity doesn’t allow strong categorization: Traditional linguistics categorizes languages as independent variables, failing to take into account co-linearity, i.e., if Y= a_1 X_1+a_2 X_2 + \eta (noise), the effect will show loading in a_1 or a_2, not both.

So if Levantine resembles Arabic, and Arabic resembles Aramaic, and Aramaic resembles Canaanite/Phoenician/Hebrew, and to make things worse, Arabic also resembles Canaanite, the tendency is to believe that Levantine comes from one (the a_1 with the highest load) not another.

Accordingly, simplified linguistics fail with Semitic languages because of confounding, much more consequential with Semitic tongues than Indo-European ones. In English we know that what comes from Latin has no co-linearity with Northern European sources, except for remote roots.

So if someone claims: Leb is a dialect of (Arabic/Aramaic/Zorgluz…) it is a weaker statement than Italian is a dialect of Latin. We should say: Leb is a dialect of Semitic.

The only remedy is to do, as in genetics, PCAs (orthogonal variables that are abstract) hence show that Levantine in x% from Arabic, y% from Phoenician, etc. (or, more rigorously, Semitic languages represented as dots on a 2–3D map). This is not done by Semiticists and I consider the linguistic critiques to this piece invalid and highly unscientific (not even at the level to be wrong).

Areal Influence: If there is a continuum of dialects through the area, from the Levant to the fertile crescent, it can be due to areal features rather than genetic ones. In other words, lateral influences rather than vertical ones.

Verbs forms: Arabic has 15 forms; Levantine and Aramaic have the same 4–6 forms (depending on regions).

The definite article: the “Al” in Arabic doesn’t exist as a prefix in Aramaic (it is suffixed), but does in Phoenician as ha 2a, and proto-Canaanite as hal and “l”. And it is not clear that old Lebanese distinguishes between lunar and solar, as Arabic does.

So it looks after deeper investigation that in fact except for broken plurals, and a few other words, what resembles Arabic is what is in both Aramaic and Arabic, or in both Arabic and Canaanite. (Note that broken plurals represent very little of a vocabulary, again, by Zipf’s law).

The Phyla and Waves Model used by Semiticists is not very convincing: we are not dealing with the clarity of genetics; “evidence” is not stochastically elaborated.

Ana bi-Amioun is Levantine for “I am in Amioun”. In Aramaic-Syriac (most versions) it would be “Ana bi-Amioun”. In Arabic “Innani fi-Amioun” (sometimes, but rarely, “bi”). Same with words that have hamze, i.e. Mayy in Levantine is water (as in Aramaic), Ma2 in Arabicetc. But the “y” in Arabic can become olafYaduhu in Arabic is ido (Yad->Iyd) in both Syriac and Levantine.

Cannanite and Phenician shift: In Northern Lebanon, “Allah” becomes “Alloh”, “Taleb” is pronounced “Toleb”, even the y becomes “oy” (lésh in Beirut, loish in Bsharré. My first name is prounounced “Nsoym”). But unlike Eastern Aramaic where Sarah is “Saro” while for us it is “Sora”. (Incidentally, Toleb is present in Ugaritic/Phoenician).

The 3ayn shift: An argument (Louag) is that the dhad in Canaanite became a 3ayn (Eretz in Hebrew became Ar3a in Aramaic), not in Leb hence we got it from the Arabs. There was a shift that stayed in Aramaic and Levantine use the Arabic dhad that does not have the shift (which is believed to imply that we did not get these words from Aramaic).

But note that Arabs did not pronounce the dhad as modified tzadeh ( which shows that past pronounciations were not necessarily as current). Note that in North Leb people may conflate ar3a with al3a, for ardh, as in Amioun. It may have come from Arabic, but odds are it did not, as we will see next.

Strong a “2”: Lebanese has an emphatic silent “a”, known as “Basta” accent (“shu b22ello?”) but also in other parts for other words “ya 22alla” in Amioun (Oh Allah). (I’ve heard it sometimes in Syriac when they say “22aloho”).

Roger Maklouf’s idea is that that the Arabic strong “ص”, “ض”, “ط” etc. are just consonants followed by emphatic 2a: “t22aleb”, “d22arab”, “shu s22ar?”. Hence, in the presence of the 22a, which does not exist in Arabic, we don’t need these letters. Roger surmises that if we don’t have them, it is because Phoenician letters didn’t have them; we just never used them (by Brownian bridge: neither then nor now). This explains the absence of 3ayin switch into Lebanese.

Write in Lebanese!

Regardless of its origin, there is no point insisting on degrading the spoken language.

It remains that that Arabic sounds so foreign (especially to people who didn’t study in it), which explains why people send notes in French or English, not Lebanese. (data point: I sold 97% of my books in French and English in Lebanon, 3% in Arabic. I don’t know any Leb my generation and younger who reads Arabic except for legal docs. I have never received a letter/email in Arabic from another Lebanese.)

More examples:
“Zammar 3a l’kou3” Levantine (Horned at the curve)
“Zammar 3a kou3” Aramaic
“Inshud 3al mun3atif” Arabic

For A***le:
“Bu5sh tizo” Levantine
“Bu5sh tizo” Aramaic
“Thaqb iliatihi” Arabic (or mu2a55ara)

Grammar

ARABIC vs LEVANTINE( Beirut, Amioun)

1s Ana Ana, ana
2ms Anta inta, int
2fs Anti inte, int
3ms Huwa huwwe, hu
3fs Hiya hiyye, hi
2d Antuma into, ont
3md Huma hinne, hinn
3fd huma hinne, hinn
1p Na7nu ne7na, ne7no
2mp Antum into
2fp Antunna into
3mp Hum hinne, hinn
3fp Hunna hinne, hinn

ARABIC vs LEVANTINE
(long a, 2) long eh
1s 2akl 3am bekol [3am means “in the process of “ in Syriac] (food I’m eating)
2ms ta2kol 3am btekol
2fs ta2kulina 3am tekle
3ms yakulu 3am yekol
3fs takul 3am tekol
2d ta2kulani 3am bteklo
3md yakulani 3am byeklo
3fd na2kul 3amnekol
1p takuluna 3amteklo
2mp takuluna 3amteklo
2fp takulna 3am teklo
3mp yakuluna 3ambyeklo
3fp yakulna 3ambyeklo

ARABIC vs Amioun vs Beirut

Akaltu Kilt Akalt
Akalta Kilt Akalt
Akalti Kilte Akalte
Akala Akol Akal
Akalat Aklet Akalet
Akaltuma kelto Akalto
Akalat eklo Akalo
Akalata Aklo Akalo
Akalna kelna Akalna
Akaltum Kelto Akalto
Akaltunna Kelto Akalto
Akaltu eklo Akalto
Akalna eklo Akalo

Note the difference: mim in Arabic (beytohom) become noun in Aramaic and North Levantine (beyton, beytkon). Even Ibrahim becomes Brohin.

Vocabulary

(using the list from Bennett. The orthography is not fully standardized. Lameen Souag has been nitpicking my list based on g->j, s<-> sh, k->kh, etc. pronounciations, which, again, don’t make it part of a language group.

For we say Yesou3 for Yeshou3 (Jesus) which comes from Aramaic (Arabic is 3issa), Juwwa from Aramaic bgaw, etc. The “j” can be easily Persian. It would be classifying Mod. Hebrew as Germanic because w->v, 7->ch, p->ph.)

2 Responses to "Plausibly, “Arabic” is one of the dialects of the Levant language (Near-East region of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine)"

There is a reason why linguists don’t invite Taleb to conferences: he’s not a linguist. Everything he discusses has already been answered a dozen times over, including as replies to his shallow rants on Twitter. He just chooses to ignore them because it doesn’t fit his lazy narrative. Please stop wasting your time with charlatans, especially those like him who promote racist theories of our species on social media because no serious journal would publish them

These articles are valuable because not many dare to write about these subjects. It is up to the “linguists” in this region to share their research, without narrow narratives. Complex subjects warrant series of articles to clarify certain aspects.

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