History

March 6th, 2010

Introduction:

Lebanese is the native language of the people of Lebanon. In addition to daily conversations, Lebanese is used in an extensive body of popular poetry, play production, popular music, television shows, and much more. Due to the huge media production in Lebanese, the language became instrumental in understanding the rest of the languages and dialects spoken in Palestine, and parts of  Syria and Jordan.

The Lebanese Language belongs to the West and Central Semitic family of languages that includes Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic. Other forms of this spoken language include the Palestinian dialects, the Coastal and Central Syrian Dialects and some dialects of Jordanian to a lesser extent. The Lebanese language is an amalgamation of various languages that passed over Lebanon. It is a result of centuries of cumulative linguistic assimilation, thus is the state of every living language today.

Historical Development:

The oldest recorded spoken language in Lebanon was Phoenician, originally called the Canaanite language. The Phoenician language was spoken in Lebanon for an unidentified period of time. It is a branch of the West Semitic family of languages. Some linguists refer to it as an ancient form of Aramaic.

The Hebrew and the Syro-Aramaic are closely related to the Phoenician that some linguists consider them dialects of the same tongue. The current Lebanese language still maintains some of the sentence structure of the Phoenician, and much (albeit transformed) vocabulary from the Phoenician. When the Aramaic language became the Lingua Franca of the whole of the Middle East, it naturally assimilated into the spoken dialect of the Phoenician language.

Being a close relative to the Phoenician language, the effects of the Aramaic were somewhat minimal in transforming the spoken dialect. Aramaic started to lose grounds to the Syriac language [Also Syro-Aramiac] beginning the 2nd Century A.D. onward. Aramaic, as well as Canaanite is a part of the West Semitic group of languages that includes also the Hebrew and Arabic. In contrast, Syriac is part of the Eastern Semitic development of Aramaic. Syriac is often referred to as Eastern Aramaic in simple terms. Syriac became the official language in the region of the whole Middle East until around 900 AD. The Syriac dominated the language of Lebanon, and contaminated much of its speech. Changes in alphabet and pronunciation included dropping the “P” in favor of the “F”, and introducing new sounds like the “Ḱ”.

Around the eighth and the ninth century, and with the advent of the Islamic conquests, the Arabic language was introduced as the language of the institutions in the whole region instead of Syriac. Arabic language infiltrated the language of Lebanon, added to its lexicon, and modified parts of its speech. Since the Arabic language itself was developed from Aramaic, it was easy to adapt much of the vocabulary from Arabic, especially since 40% of the Arabic vocabulary is of Aramaic origin. However, the people of Lebanon kept most of their grammar structure as is. Around 1100-1200, people in Lebanon were speaking several dialects of Aramaic especially in the mountains and North Lebanon, while some Arabic dialects were introduced in some coastal cities. Eventually, the people of Lebanon blended their Aramaic with Arabic which gave what some refer to as Neo-Aramaic, Arabo-Canaanite, or West Levantine languages. It was at that time that Lebanon, (within it’s modern borders) began to develop a regional language of its own distinction.

From the 17th to 20th centuries, some of the Turkish language vocabulary was incorporated into Lebanese. The shaping of Lebanese language continued until the present where some French and English were introduced. As all living languages emerge, they can take two paths. One path will be its continuous use and development, and the other will be its death. The Lebanese chose the path to develop and sustain their language until reaching the modern Lebanese spoken today.

One common mistake is confusing the Lebanese language as a dialect of Arabic. The Lebanese language has developed throughout the ages alongside the Arabic language, and it cannot be understood just as a branch of Arabic. Lebanese shares a lot with Arabic, but its grammar and Lexicon differ greatly from the Arabic language. Lebanese Language and Arabic Language share roots and are offshoots of the original Semitic Language. The best comparison example for how close, yet different, Lebanese is from Arabic today, is by comparing the Spanish and Italian languages.

In conclusion, the Lebanese language is a very distinctive and unique language that is spoken by millions of Lebanese in Lebanon and the world. The people of Lebanon have been updating their language until this very day, enriching it with vocabulary while preserving most of its ancient grammar. The Lebanese Language Institute’s main goal is to preserve this rich linguistic heritage, and develop its framework.

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