Writing an Arabic dialect

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Writing an Arabic dialect

Postby Woods » 2016-12-10, 19:00

I got this book from the library today:


My purpose is, of course, to learn some Arabic, and since I’m currently residing at a place with six people from Syria, I chose to start with the Levantine dialect rather than the standard version.

However, I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that absolutely no Arabic script is used throughout the book, and there is only a six-page appendix at the end called “Arabic Script for Beginners,” which does not even show all three or four varieties of a given letter, but only one of them. All the example sentences are given in Latin letters, which is, in my opinion, so damn stupid!

So my question is, to all of you who speak a given Arabic dialect, when you write it, you still use the Arabic script, don’t you? Or is it that local dialect speech is never written, and you use the official, pan-Arabic language when you write? Or do you write the pan-Arabic word, but read the local one? How exactly does it work?

One of the first things I need to do, I think, is to learn to read and write the alphabet. And after I do that, I would like to rewrite all the examples given throughout the book in the Arabic script, so that when I read through them I can memorise not only the sounds but also the letters. Do you think that’s the right way to go?

I’m a complete beginner in Arabic – so far I’ve got no knowledge at all :)


Re: Writing an Arabic dialect

Postby iodalach93 » 2016-12-22, 21:04

Hi Woods!

I understand how you feel, I'm in a similar situation.

I've been studying Lebanese Arabic (i.e. Levantine Arabic spoken in Lebanon) for 3 years, on my own. It seems that, at least on the Internet, people tend to use the Arabic alphabet as much as the Latin alphabet. But the problem is: none of the two is standardized.

Levantine Arabic (and so, Lebanese Arabic as well) has developped its own sound inventory through natural evolution from Classical Arabic: as a result, both the Arabic and the Latin alphabets can't convey in a precise manner its sounds. You will find people using the Arabic alphabet who stick as much as possible to the way Modern Standard Arabic spells words, while you will also found people using very unconventional spellings (but reflecting the actual pronunciation of words). On the other hand, you will find people who use the Latin alphabet but spell words the English or the French way (depending on which language one is most familiar with), or people who use an alphanumeric version of the Latin alphabet (with numbers representing Arabic sounds for which there's no letter in the Latin alphabet).

I know Leslie McLoughlin's book, I would say it is good if you're not familiar with Modern Standard Arabic. Yet, he uses a confusing transliteration method (consistent in its own way, but nowhere to be found outside the book) and he does not even present regional variants, which might confuse the beginner. I mean: his book about Levantine Arabic is perfect if you're going to interact with native speakers from Israel, Palestine or Jordan, not as much if they're from Syria or Lebanon.

Now, my two cents: back in time, 2-3 years ago, I preferred to learn things through the Latin alphabet, because it's more exhaustive when it comes to representing vowels and diphthongs. Now that I am familiar with grammar and syntax, I prefer to work a lot with the Arabic alphabet (also because Lebanon seems to be very keen on using it, both on TV shows and commercials).

I'd recommend you go for the alphabet that suits your situation the most. If you are going to speak it, more than writing it, McLoughlin's book is great. If you're going to write it, you will need to get to know more about the habits of those whom you're going to write to (i.e. do they prefer to communicate using Modern Standard Arabic? or are they used to writing in Levantine Arabic? do they prefer the Arabic or the Latin alphabet?).

Please, ask again in case I did not reply exhaustively. I'm very interested in this topic, too.

Good luck,


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Re: Writing an Arabic dialect

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-03-05, 0:52

I feel weird about learning an Arabic dialect using Romanization instead of Arabic script, too. It makes it that much less recognizable and wouldn't seem to make much sense given the diglossia in the Arab World. I think the Syrian Colloquial Arabic course does a pretty good job of teaching a dialect (Damascene) using Arabic script (and audio recordings) instead of relying exclusively on Romanization.

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