Since I began this blog with the hope that it becomes a useful resource for students of Arabic , I should mention other websites that I myself have found helpful in my own learning process, particularly for learning dialect, for which there are very few educational materials.

1. Arabic Learning Resources

Any list of educational websites for learning Arabic dialect(s) would be incomplete without this one. The author himself is a highly advanced learner who has focused mainly on the Egyptian dialect. But it’s useful even if you’re learning a dialect other than Egyptian, since many of the changes that exist in Egyptian happen in other dialects as well. Also there’s a gargantuan list of Arabic learning links.

2. Arabic Song Lyrics and Translation

A large collection of songs in Arabic, of various dialects as well as Modern Standard Arabic, with transcriptions of lyrics plus translations.

3. The Arabic Student

A good blog if you want to learn Levantine Arabic. This guy gives transcriptions of short video clips, mostly from TV shows, along with helpful explanations. This is very helpful considering the fact that transcriptions are hard to come by even for materials in Fuṣħā, and pretty much non-existent for dialects.

4. LangMedia

A large collection of videos of native Arabic speakers from several dialects speaking about a bunch of different topics. It’s very helpful because it has complete transcriptions, although its usefulness is limited due to the fact that the language isn’t exactly natural, i.e. 1-on-1 taped interviews are not the most likely form of language that you’ll encounter in daily life.

5. Aratools

A great online dictionary. It gives concise and accurate translations, not the information overload of Hans Wehr, nor the randomness of Google Translate. It also presents Arabic words with all the vowel markings, which is critical for learning new vocab. And if you have an iPhone or an iPad you can download the app and have a fast and reliable Arabic dictionary with you wherever you go.

يا زمان

The song in this lesson is by Mike Massi, a Lebanese musician I’ve only recently found out about. He’s basically a classically-trained hipster who can play piano and has a nice voice. Not exactly remarkable from a Western perspective, but for music in Arabic it’s pretty unique.

The song is غير لون عيونك or “Change the Color of Your Eyes.” It’s way too saccharine for my taste, but the words are relatively easy and it makes for a useful lesson.

Step 1: Match Arabic words on the right with English translations on the left.

1. breathiness   a. حكي ħakī
2. be harsh   b. جنون jnūn
3. craziness   c. وصل يوصل wiṣil yūṣal
4. news   d. هم ج. هموم hamm pl. hmūm
5. talk (n.)   e. اخبار axbār
6. concern (n.)   f. بحة baħħa
7. arrive   g. صار يصير ṣār yiṣīr
8. become, happen   h. قسي يقسى qisī yiqsā

.

Answers: 1f 2h 3b 4e 5a 6d 7c 8g

Step 2: Listen to song (without reading lyrics)

Step 3: Listen to song (while reading lyrics)

صارو شي شهرين وكم يوم انا وياك

 ما عم نقدر نوصل على ولا شي

بعرف انو صار لازم انساك

بس لون عيونك بيذكرني فيك

غير لون عيونك

اخبارك حكيك وجنونك

بحة صوتك بتذكرني فيك

بلكي بنسى همي وفكر فيك

كل ما بتذكر قصتنا انا وياك

بفكر دايما حالي اني نسيت

برجع بتذكر هاك الأيام

وبذكر وقتها انو انا ما قسيت

Step 4: Check my translation (not word-for-word)

It’s been 2 months and some days of me and you,

And we can’t get anywhere.

I know I’ve got to forget you,

But the color of your eyes reminds me of you.

Change the color of your eyes,

Your news, your talk, your craziness.

The breathiness of your voice reminds me of you.

Maybe I’ll forget my concerns and think of you.

Every time I remember our story, me and you,

I always think that I’ve forgotten.

I come back and remember those days,

And remember that I wasn’t harsh then.

Direct object pronouns are attached to the ends of verbs in dialectal Arabic, just as they do in Classical:

اكلت الخبز akalt il-xibᵉz

“I ate the bread.”

اكلتو akaltu

“I ate it.”

But there are some verbs and phrases where it appears difficult to attach an object pronoun. Take, for example, the verbal phrase biddak “you (m.) want.” How would you add an object pronoun? The ending -ak is already in its place. In cases like this, Levantine Arabic uses the structure [yā + object pronoun] to squeeze in another object pronoun.

بدك القهوة biddak il-qahwe

“Do you want the coffee?”

بدك ياها biddak yāhā

“Do you want it?”

Here is a clip from the Lebanese e-series Shankaboot, which not only is an interesting series but it also makes good listening practice. In this clip we hear the character Ruwaida sing in a shady nightclub. The lyrics are very simple, and they’re written below:

Start this video at 1 minute 45 seconds.

في عندي شي بعرف بدك ياه
يلي بدك ياه انا عندي ياه

fī ʕindī ʃī baʕrif baddak yāh

yallī baddak yāh ana ʕindī yāh

I’ve got something, I know you want it.

What you want [it], I’ve got it.

The first thing to notice is that the Arabic often keeps object pronouns in places where English drops them, hence “yalli baddak yāh” vs. “what you want [it].” Also notice that the Lebanese dialect uses yallī instead of the more common illī for the relative pronoun. It also prefers badd- instead of bidd- for “want.”

Match the Arabic sentences on the left with their translations on the right:

1. عطيني ياها A. “This is what we want.”
2. هاد الي بدنا ياه B. “Don’t you have them?”
3. ما عندك ياهن C. “I gave it (m.) to you a long time ago.”
4. عطيتك ياه من زمان D. “Give it (f.) to me.”
5. فرجيني ياها E. “Show it (f.) to me.”


Answers: 1D   2A   3B   4C   5E

So I’ve decided to do song-based Arabic lessons, and here is the first one! I have yet to come across such a thing whether online or in printed material. Sometimes you can find song lyrics with translations or explanations, such as at Arabic Song Lyrics and Translation or The Arabic Student. But posting lyrics and translation is not the same as preparing a full listening exercise and lesson.

In general I intend to showcase some of the Arabic music you’re less likely to hear. Today’s lesson is from a song by Tania Saleh, who sings in Lebanese Arabic in a kind of alternative rock style.

Step 1—Blocking Vocab:

Match the words on the left with their translations or synonyms on the right. Answers are located beneath the table (don’t cheat!):

 1. مَحَلّ maħall  A. threatening (noun)
 2. تِهْدِيد tihdīd  B. crying (noun)
 3. لَحْظة laħa  C. be useful
 4. بِكي bikī  D. moment
 5. نَفَع، ينفَع nafaʕ, yinfaʕ  E. مكان (place)
 6. مَطْرَح maṭraħ  F. بدا (begin)
 7. بلّش ballaʃ
 G. مكان (place)
 8. باقي bāqī  H. remaining
 9. دولاب dūlāb  I. trace
 10. أَثَر ʔaθar / ʔasar  J. tire (for a car)

(Answers: 1E  2A  3D  4B  5C  6G  7F  8H  9J  10I)

Note that the plural of دولاب is دواليب dawālīb.

Step 2—Gist Listening

While listening to the song for the first time, have this question in mind:

Q. Does the singer seem upset that “love has gone,” or does she seem relieved?

Step 3—Detailed Listening

Listen to the song again, and fill in the blanks for the incomplete lyrics below:

راح الحبّ، راح ______ بعيد
ما رح ينفع لا البكي ولا التهديد
راح الحبّ، راح ______ بعيد
صار لازم ______ من جديد
راح الحبّ، راح _______ تاني
كان إلو قلب بلحظة ينساني
راح الحبّ، راح _______ تاني
وعلى شو عم ببكي وزعلانه
ما كان بدّو يروح بسّ راح…
_____ راح الحبّ، مش باقيلو
في شي انتهى في شي خلص انكسر
_____ راح الحبّ، مش باقيلو
بحكايتنا بدّو يعيد النّظر
ما كان بدّو يروح بسّ راح…
_____ راح الحبّ، الله مع
_____ راح الحبّ، ما في شي بيرجع
… ما كان بدّو يروح بسّ

Step 4—Lyrics and Translation

راح الحبّ، راح عمحلّ بعيد

ما رح ينفع لا البكي ولا التهديد

راح الحبّ، راح عمحلّ بعيد

صار لازم بلّش من جديد

راح الحبّ، راح عمطرح تاني

كان إلو قلب بلحظة ينساني

راح الحبّ، راح عمطرح تاني

وعلى شو عم ببكي وزعلانه

ما كان بدّو يروح بسّ راح…

راح الحبّ، مش باقيلو أثر

في شي انتهى في شي خلص انكسر

راح الحبّ، مش باقيلو أثر

بحكايتنا بدّو يعيد النّظر

ما كان بدّو يروح بسّ راح…

راح الحبّ، الله مع دواليبو

راح الحبّ، ما في شي بيرجع بيجيبو

ما كان بدّو يروح بسّ…

Love has gone, gone to a faraway placeIt’s no use crying or threatening

Love has gone, gone to a faraway place

I’ve got to start anew now

Love has gone, gone to another place

It had a heart, but forgot me in an instant

Love has gone, gone to another place

Why am I crying and upset?

It wasn’t going to go, but it’s gone

Love has gone, not a trace of it left

Something ended, something broke

Love has gone, not a trace of it left

In our story it wants to take another look

It wasn’t going to go, but it’s gone

Love has gone, good riddance!

Love has gone, nothing’ll go and get it

It wasn’t going to go, but it’s…

 

Step 5—Some Explaining

A couple things you may have noticed include:

1. Dialect doesn’t use إلى for the preposition “to” but instead it uses على which is sometimes shortened to just َع.

2. “Why” is usually ليش \ ليه (lēʃ / lēh) although in this song على شو (ʕalā ʃū) is also used.

3. The letter ث is pronounced like ت in basilect words (e.g. تاني = ثاني), but it’s pronounced like س in Classicisms (e.g. أسر = أثر).

4. The phrase الله مع دواليبو (allāh maʕ dawālību) literally means “God be with its tires.” This is based on the phrase الله معك (allāh maʕak) meaning “goodbye.” It’s basically a way of saying “good riddance” or “get out of here.”

5. The participle عَم (ʕam) is used for the present continuous, e.g. عم ببكي (ʕam bibkī) is “I’m crying.”

Levantine Dialect often distinguishes between verbs that express action and those that express state. Action verbs are conjugated normally, while static verbs are based on the active pronoun (اسم فاعل).

بهاديك الفترة كنت عارف انو رح انجح bhādīk il-fatra kinʕārif innu raħ injaħ

“In that time I knew I was going to succeed.”

بهاديك اللحظة عرفت مين هو القاتل bhādīk il-laħẓa ʕrifᵉt mīn huwwe il-qātil

“In that moment I found out who the killer was.”

امبارح كنت لابس قميص ازرق imbāriħ kinᵉt lābis qamīṣ azraq

“Yesterday I was wearing a blue shirt.”

اليوم الصبح فقت ولبست تيابي il-yōm iṣ-ṣubħ lbist ᵉtyābī

“This morning I woke up and put on my clothes.”

As can be seen in the examples, English uses different words to differentiate action and state, while Arabic does so in the grammar. Note that this doesn’t apply to all verbs, but it is something to look out for.

Ṣār as a verb:

The word صار، يصير ṣār, yiṣīr is one of the most commonly used verbs in Levantine Arabic. It’s basic meaning is “to become” or “to happen.” In these cases it conjugates normally as a “hollow” verb.

شو صار معك امبارح ʃū ṣār maʕak imbāriħ?

“What happened to you yesterday?”

البنت صارت مرة ᵊl-binᵊt ṣārit mara

“The girl has become a woman.”

ابني بدو يصير دكتور ibnī biddu yiṣīr duktōr

“My son wants to become a doctor.”

Ṣār as a particle:

This word can also be paired with certain verbal phrases to indicate a change from one state to another. In these cases it does not conjugate; it remains صار ṣār regardless of the number or gender of the subject.

صار بدي نام ṣār biddī nām

“Now I want to sleep.” (… but before I didn’t want to)

صار عندي سيارة ṣār ʕindī sayyāra

“I got a car” (I have a car now, but previously I didn’t)

صار لازم نطلع ṣār lāzim niṭlaʕ

“We’ve got to go now.”

The previous post was about present tense verbs. This post is about past tense verbs. Conceptually there’s not much new here, since it’s basically the same system as Classical Arabic. There are just some changes in the voweling of verbs.

Tip: final short vowels are either removed or lengthened

So for example qāla becomes qālkataba becomes katab, and so on. But katabti becomes katabtī.

Form I verbs with vowel -a-:

 

انا كتبت ana katabᵊt

 

نحنا كتبنا niħnā katabnā

 

انت كتبت inte katabᵊt

 

انتو كتبتو intu katabtū

 

انتي كتبتي inti katabtī

 
 

هو كتب huwwe katab

 

هن كتبو hinne katabū

 

هي كتبت hiyye katbit

 

 

There may be some ambiguity between the 1st person singular (“I”) and the 2nd person singular masculine (“you”), but context or an explicit pronoun will usually make that clear. Also notice the epenthetic vowel in katabᵊt. I talked about epenthetic vowels in this post. Basically think of it as a removable vowel. So for example you remove it in katabt il-waraʔa “I wrote the paper” because the word is immediately followed by another vowel.

Form I verbs with vowel -i-:

 

انا شربت ana ʃribᵊt

 

نحنا شربنا niħnā ʃribnā

 

انت شربت inte ʃribᵊt

 

انتو شربتو intu ʃribtū

 

انتي شربتي inti ʃribtī

 
 

هو شرب huwwe ʃirib

 

هن شربو hinne ʃirbū

 

هي شربت hiyye ʃirbit

 

 

Hey all! Apologies for the hiatus, but now I’m back with a new post. Up till now I’ve focused on phonology and pronunciation, but now I’m going to switch gears and talk about some grammar in Levantine Arabic.

If you’ve had any exposure to Levantine or Egyptian Arabic you may have noticed that verbs often tend to have the letter stuck on the front. It can be a little confusing since Classical Arabic doesn’t do this. But once you know the rules of when to use it, it’s not so bad.

First of all, the b is only stuck on present tense verbs. Past tense verbs can’t receive this b. Second, only indicative verbs take the b, while subjunctive verbs lack it. Modern English no longer has an indicative/subjunctive contrast for verbs, but perhaps it’s more easily understood as “independent” and “dependent” verbs. For example:

بشرب كاسة حليب كل صبح biʃrab kāsit ħalīb kil ṣubᵊħ

“I drink a glass of milk every morning.”

بدي اشرب كاسة حليب biddī ʔiʃrab kāsit ħalīb

“I want to drink a glass of milk.”

In the first sentence, the verb “to drink” is the main verb of the sentence, so it’s independent / indicative and takes a b. But in the second sentence it’s subordinate to “I want” and so it’s dependent / subjunctive and doesn’t take a b.

There are some situations where a main verb won’t take a b. For example:

اعطيك الورقة هلق ولا بعدين؟ ʔaʕṭīk il-waraʔa hallaʔ walā baʕdēn?

“Should I give you the paper now or later?”

In this sentence, the verb “I give” is not really a declaration of fact, but more like an idea or a suggestion. So even though it’s a main verb, it’s considered subjunctive and it doesn’t have a at the start.

Let’s look at some present tense verb conjugations.

Regular Form I verbs:

 

انا بشرب \ اشرب ana biʃrab / iʃrab

 

نحنا منشرب \ نشرب niħnā mniʃrab / niʃrab

 

انت بتشرب \ تشرب inte btiʃrab / tiʃrab

 

انتو بتشربو \ تشربو intu btiʃrabū / tiʃrabū

 

انتي بتشربي \ تشربي inti btiʃrabī / tiʃrabī

 

هو بيشرب \ يشرب huwwe byiʃrab / yiʃrab 

 

هن بيشربو \ يشربو hinne byiʃrabū / yiʃrabū

 

هي بتشرب \ تشربي hiyye btiʃrab / tiʃrab

Notice that the changes to in the 1st person plural “we,” e.g. منشرب mniʃrab This is because the neighboring nasalizes the sound. This feature only exists in Syrian, Lebanese, and some northern Palestinian dialects. Other dialects don’t do this, hence Palestinian بنشرب bniʃrab.

If you’ve studied the previous post about word stress, then be ready to take this quiz! Answers are in the comment section.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

In linguistics, “stress” is when one syllable is pronounced with more emphasis than other syllables around it. English has a stress accent, as in the following two examples:

produce /’proʊdus/

produce /prǝ’dus/

This example shows that stress can potentially change the meaning of a word in English. This is what linguists call “phonemic stress.” Arabic has a stress accent, but it’s typically not phonemic, i.e. it can’t change the meaning of a word. Although in some dialects it can be considered marginally phonemic. Before we can understand the rules of stress placement in Arabic, we need to understand something about syllable structures.

Syllable structure

Syllabes are ways to break up bits of language in time. The word pro.duce has two syllables, pro.duc.tion has three, and pro.duc.ti.vi.ty has five. Syllables can also be broken up into smaller parts. The word dig has one syllable, with /d/ as the onset, the vowel /i/ as the nucleus, and /g/ as the coda.

Arabic syllables must always have both an onset and a nucleus. Codas are optional. So if we take the Classical Arabic utterance شربت الماء الحارة (“I drank the hot water”), we can break it into syllables as follows:

ʃaribt ul-māʔ al-ħārrah

ʃa.rib.tul.mā.ʔal.ħār.rah

Some of these syllables have short vowels, others have long vowels. Some have codas, others lack codas. Both of these factors determine the “weight” of the syllable. Arabic has 3 weights for syllables:

Light Syllable—a syllable that has (short vowel – coda)

Heavy Syllable—a syllable that has (short vowel + coda) OR (long vowel – coda)

Superheavy Syllable–a syllable that has (long vowel + coda)

Based on these definitions we can color-code the above utterance according to syllable weight. Light syllables are green, heavy syllables are blue, and superheavy syllables are red.

ʃa.rib.tul..ʔal.ħār.rah


Placement of stress in Levantine Arabic

Levantine Arabic has a pattern of stress placement similar to that of Latin. Some terminology: final syllables are those at the end of the word, penultimate syllables are second to last, and antepenults are third to last. In transcriptions below, bold text indicates that a syllable is stressed. Here are the rules.

1) Words that have only one syllable put the stress on that syllable, unsurprisingly.

bēt       بيت “house”

2) Words that have two syllables put the stress on the penultimate syllable, unless the final syllable is superheavy in which case it takes stress.

ka.tab      كتب “he wrote”

ba.nāt      بنات “girls”

3) Words that have three or more syllables follow a set of rules based on these conditions:

A) If the final syllable is superheavy then it takes the stress.


da.ra.jāt        درجات “degrees”

B) If A is not true , then if the penultimate syllable is heavy or superheavy, it
takes the stress.


ħa.rār.tu حرارتو “his temperature”

ma..tib       مكاتب “offices”

mad.ras.ti    مدرستي “my school”

C) If neither A or B are true, then stress falls by default on the antepenult
syllable.


mad.ra.se     مدرسة “school”

ka.ta.bū        كتبو “they wrote”

D) Stress may go back no further than the antepenult.


Things that move stress around

In English, adding morphological endings to a word can change the placement of stress.

pho.to.graph

pho.to.gra.pher

Similarly in Arabic, some morphological endings can change where stress is placed.


.yib             جايب “bringing”

jā.yib.lak     جايبلك “bringing for you”

In the first word, the final syllable yib isn’t superheavy so the one before it takes the stress. But in the second word yib has now become the penult and it’s heavy, so it takes the stress. Here’s another example:


ka.ta.bū          كتبوا “they wrote”

ka.ta.bū.hā     كتبوها “they wrote it (f.)”

In the first word, stress defaults on the antepenult (ka) because the final () isn’t superheavy and the penult (ta) isn’t superheavy or heavy. But in the second word, with the addition of another syllable, bū has become the penult and it’s heavy, so by the rules it must now take the stress.

The 3rd person masculine pronoun, when attached to a noun or verb, is usually a final –u, e.g. bētu “his house.” But when the word it’s attached to ends with a long vowel, then instead the pronoun is -h, e.g. fīh “in him.” The addition of this pronoun can affect the placement of stress.


ka.ta.bū            كتبوا “they wrote”

ka.ta.būh          كتبوه “they wrote it (m.)”

In the second example the final syllable has become superheavy, so it takes the stress. However, the vast majority of speakers do not pronounce this final –sound, and so the presence of the 3rd person masculine pronoun is felt only by the change in stress placement.

Things that don’t move stress around

The definite article has no effect on the placement of stress.


ma.ra             مرة “woman”

ʔl.ma.ra       المرة “the woman”

In the second word, neither the final nor the penultimate syllable meet the qualifications to take stress, so you’d expect the antepenult ʔᵉl to take it. But it doesn’t, because it’s the definite article.

We’ve previously seen how Levantine Arabic adds epenthetic vowels when too many consonants get clustered together, especially near the ends of words. This epenthetic vowel sounds similar to a short /i/ vowel. The epenthetic vowel almost never has an effect on the placement of stress—the language pretends it doesn’t exist when it places stress.


bint or bi.nᵉt (sounds like bi.nit)        بنت “girl”

bi.nᵉt.nā (sounds like bi.nit.nā)          بنتنا “our daughter”

In the second word we might expect nit to take stress because it’s the penult and it’s a heavy syllable. But because the vowel is actually an epenthetic vowel (nᵉt), it doesn’t count, so stress still goes on the antepenult syllable.

There is one exception where the epenthetic vowel does takes stress, and that’s when you have the sequence [past tense verb] + li + [pronoun ending]. Conjugations of verbs like this can put a bunch of consonants next to each other, and so an epenthetic vowel is often needed to break them up.

جبت + لك         jibt + lak

جبتلك                jibtᵉllak            “I brought for you.”

Since combining jibt with lak would normally produce a 3-consonant cluster—which Levantine Arabic rarely tolerates—an epenthetic vowel is inserted to break up the cluster, and the /l/ consonant is doubled. We can analyze the syllables of this word as follows:


jib.tᵉl.lak


Cases like this are the one exception where a consonant with an epenthetic vowel receives stress. But when this occurs, the epenthetic vowel consistently takes the stress.

مين أنا؟

Bernie

Bernie

I'm an English teacher living in Amman, Jordan. I've spent over 2 years living in Syria and Jordan. I studied Classical Languages and Linguistics in university.

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Key to Arabic transliteration

  ʔ   ء
  b   ب
  t   ت
  θ   ث
  j   ج
  ħ   ح
  x   خ
  d   د
  ð   ذ
  r   ر
  z   ز
  ʃ   ش
  s   س
  ṣ   ص
  ḍ   ض
  ṭ   ط
  ẓ   ظ
  ʕ   ع
  ɣ   غ
  f   ف
  q   ق
  k   ك
  l   ل
  m   م
  n   ن
  h   ه
  w   و
  y   ي