I always think one of the hardest things when it comes to speaking in Levantine Arabic dialect is getting the accent down pat.
Lord knows I had trouble getting it, and sometimes still do.
When you’re used to speaking and hearing Fus-ha in a certain way, trying to get accustomed to how words are pronounced in Levantine dialect can be frustratingly awkward and foreign on your tongue.
However, there are a couple pronunciation tricks that I’ve picked up that differentiates Levantine dialect pronunciation from Fus-ha pronunciation that you won’t really find explained in textbooks.
Pirate-isation of Words
One of the most distinctive things I’ve found about the Levantine Arabic accent is the way they pronounce the ending of particular words with an -ey ending instead of a traditionally Fusha -a ending.
I call this the pirate-isation, for no other reason than the constant -ey endings remind me of a pirate saying aye.
(I know, that might have sounded slightly lame, but you have to admit it works on some level.)
When does this happen? Firstly…
It tends to happen with nouns that end with a taa marbuuta, like رحلة , عائلة , غابة .
Now in Fus-ha Arabic, all words that end with a taa marbuuta will have an -a ending. For example:
|Meaning||Word in Fusha||Pronunciation in Fusha|
In Levantine Arabic, however, the ‘a ending at the end will be replaced by a -ey ending instead, even though you’re using the same word. Using the same table as above,
|Meaning||Word||Pronunciation in Fusha||Pronunciation in Dialect|
However, please note that this does not work in an idaafa construction, for example when you’re saying رحلة السيارة. In cases like these, the taa marbuuta is sounded out so the construction is pronounced riH-let alsayaarah and not riH-ley alsayaarah.
Seeing it in Practice
To prove my point, take a look at this video from a Jordanian comedy channel on Youtube called N2O comedy.
(On a slightly separate note, I personally love / adore/ am a huge fan of this series because it’s hilarious, well-produced and taught me a ton of what I know about Levantine Arabic today.)
In this video, the cast are basically talking about the problems with رحلات علئلية / riHlaat ‘aa2liyyeh, or family trips.
They will keep using pronouncing the word رحلة as riH-leh instead of riHla.
What he said:
البَني آدَم الي يِطْلَع مَع الرحْلة , اذا نَقّد عَليك / albani aadam ili yiTla’ ma’a riHley, idha naqqed ‘aleik…
The member of the tribe of Adam that goes on a trip, if he criticized you…
At this point I should probably explain that البَني آدَم is a common Arabic expression for a person or someone.
When he pronounces عائلة / family as ‘ay-leh instead of the more Fus-ha sounding ‘aa-i-lah, like in the clip below.
What he said:
باحِب رِحْلات العائِلِة اِنها رِحْلات خصَة لِلاجل النَقْد / baHibb riH-lat aley-ley innha riH-laat khussat lil-ajl an-naqd
I love that the family trip is especially a trip for criticism.
When he uses the word غابة pronounced gha-bey instead of gha-ba.
الغابة للبنت هي عبارة عن طبيعة. عبارة عن شجرة شجرة شجرة / alghabey lal banat hiye ‘ibara ‘an Tabee’a. ‘ibara ‘an shajara shajara shajara
The forest for women it consists of nature. It consists of a tree, a tree, a tree…
الغابة بالنسبة الشاب عبارة عن حمام حمام حمام / alghabey bi annisbah alshaab bi ‘ibarah ‘n Hamam Hamam Hamam
The forest for the guys, it consists of a toilet, a toilet, a toilet…
Does this happen to all words ending with taa marbuuta?
The tricky answer to is no, it doesn’t. Certain words that end with a taa marbuuta like سيارة , مدينة and سياسية retain their -a ending, similar to how they sound in Fus-ha.
The only way to go about knowing when to use the -ey ending instead of the -a ending is through repeated listening and experience.
It also happens when..
Now that we’ve seen how pirate-isation happens to specific nouns, another pattern I’ve realised in Levantine Arabic dialect is that whenever صفات / characteristics or adjectives are attached to an اسم / noun, it also takes the -ey ending.
For example, take a look at the table below:
||Pronunciation in Fusha||Pronunciation in Dialect|
|secret competition||مسابقة سرية||musabaqa sirriyyah||musabaqa sirri-yey|
|specific situations||حالات معينة||Halaat mu’aiyyanah||Halaat mu’aiyyaney|
Example #4: When he says مسابقة سرية / musabaqa sirriyy-ey (secret competition) instead of musabaqa sirriyyah.
What he said:
قسم النسوان بكون في صار اشيين / qism alniswan bikuun fe Sar ishy-ein
In the section of the women, two things are happening.
في مسابقة سرية / fe musabaqa sirriyey
There is a secret competition…
When he says حالات معينة / specific situations as Halaat mu’aiyya-ney instead of the more Fus-ha sounding Halaat mu’aiyyanah.
What he said:
انا برائي نصيحتي صراحتاً جداً عم باحكي حتى حالات معينة / ana bira2i naSeeHati SaraaHatan jiddan ‘am baHki Hatta Halaat mu’aiyyaney
I, in my opinion, my advice, really I’m now speaking frankly, even in specific situations…
Again, does this happen all the time?
And I’m afraid, the answer is again no. I’d safely bet it happens a good 70-80 % of the time, but as with many rules with language, there are bound to be exceptions.
But as long as you are aware of this pirate-isation in Levantine Arabic and that it happens with specific nouns and when adjectives are attached, I’d say that puts you a long way towards achieving a legitimate Levant Arabic accent.
If you’d like to see the video in its entirety for its full effect, here it is:
What are some of the tricks and tips that help to cultivate an authentic-sounding Levantine Arabic accent? Are there more instances of pirate-isation in Levantine Arabic that we’ve missed out? What other curious aspects of Levantine Arabic can you think of? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.