Last time we dealt with some sound changes that are shared by nearly all Arabic dialects. Now we will talk about some changes in pronunciation that are particular to the Levantine dialect group. Keep in mind that Levantine Arabic itself is not a monolithic unit, and there are many variations within this cluster of dialects.

Remember again the distinction between basilect words, which are original to the dialects and which usually refer to day-to-day simple things, and classicisms, which are recent additions derived from Classical Arabic and which usually express more complex ideas.

1. Pronunciation of jīm (ج)

• The letter jīm is most commonly pronounced as a fricative /ʒ/ sound, as in version. Some speakers, typically rural but also from some urban areas, pronounce it as an affricate /dʒ/, as in virgin. For others, the two sounds are in free variation. It is never pronounced /g/ as it is in the Egyptian dialect.

Levantine: جاهز jāhiz

2. Pronunciation of qāf (ق)

• The letter qāf has many different pronunciations depending on the dialect of the speaker, and the register of the word in question. For classicisms, the original /q/ sound is always preserved, even when one is speaking in dialect.

Classicism: استقال istaqāl

• For basilect words, there is considerable variation in the pronunciation of qāf, roughly following an urban/rural divide. Urban speakers usually pronounce it as a glottal stop, i.e. identical to the hamza sound in uh oh. Rural speakers typically pronounce it as /g/. There are also other realizations of this letter, but these two are the most common.

Urban Levantine: دقيقة daʔīʔa

Rural Levantine: دقيقة dagīga

3. Interdental fricatives (ث and ذ)

• The interdental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/, as in the words think and this respectively, vary widely in pronunciation depending on the sub-dialect of the speaker. The chart below shows how the letter thā’ (ث) is pronounced in various sub-dialects of Levantine, according to whether the word is basilect or a classicism.

Bedouin and some rural dialects Urban dialects of south Levant Urban dialects of north Levant
Basilect words    /θ/    /t/    /t/
Classicisms    /θ/    /θ/    /s/

Key: /θ/ – think        /t/ – tank       /s/ – sink

And here is how the letter dhāl (ذ) is pronounced:

Bedouin and some rural dialects Urban dialects of south Levant Urban dialects of north Levant
Basilect words    /ð/    /d/    /d/
Classicisms    /ð/    /ð/ or /z/    /z/

Key: /ð/ – this        /d/ – dance        /z/ – zebra

Here are sample words, both basilect and classicisms.

Basilect: ثالث

Basilect: ذهب

Classicism: ثورة

Classicism: جاذبية

These are the words pronounced by a southern Levantine urbanite.

This is myself pronouncing them as would northern Levantine urbanite.

4. Pronunciation of tāʔ marbūṭa (ة)

• The tāʔ marbūṭa, which is pronounced -ah or –at in Classical Arabic, is generally realized as -e or –et in Levantine.

Classical: مدينة madīnah

Levantine: مدينة madīne

• In certain environments (after the letters ص ض ط ظ ع ح ق) the tā’ marbūṭa is pronounced -a or –at.

Levantine: ساعة sāʕa