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Monday, August 29, 2011

Say it right: When did the Lebanese (and arabs) forget their own alphabet ?

I've always been fascinated by the Lebanese people's pronunciation of French and English. No scratch that. Let me rephrase..
I've always been fascinated by the Lebanese people's pronunciation of French and English. No scratch that. Let me rephrase: I've always been fascinated by the Lebanese people's Mispronunciation of French and English.

I get it, languages are hard. Anyone who's heard me stuttering in Swedish knows what I mean. Although with the Lebanese things are different. We choose to mispronounce the things we should be able to pronounce properly, and amazingly don't mess up the things we should, and this goes for most of the population, including those who have a perfect command of either language's grammar.

To help illustrate my point, consider this sentence, followed by how you're likely to hear it in Lebanon:
Originally: "I'm coming with you"
In Lebanon: "I'm coming wiz you" (with a z)

Now here's what stumps me. In Arabic, which happens to be our (written) mother tongue, the sound "th" in "with" is in our actual alphabet, and it's written like this: ذ. The sound "z" in "wiz" is also in the alphabet, and it's written like this: ز. Surely you would think an entire nation would be able to differentiate between the sounds of two letters in its own alphabet.. Apparently not.

Then there's always my favorite mispronunciation, this time in French:
Originally: "Tu veux parler ?" (the r here forms the sound "gh" for non-frenchies)
In Lebanon: "Tu veux parrrler ?" (roll that r like you mean it)

The stumper: The Arabic alphabet contains no sounds similar to "p", "v", or the french "u", and yet the Lebanese pronounce them perfectly. On occasion you could stumble upon a Lebanese who might switch a "p" with a "b", but that's quite uncommon. However, the Lebanese (and pretty much all Arabs in this case) can't seem to pronounce the French "r" (read "gh") to save their own lives, and instead always use the rolled "r" (let's call it "rrr").

Fun facts:
The sound for the rolled r ("rrr") in Arabic is denoted by the letter ر.
The sound for the french-like r ("gh") in Arabic is denoted by the letter غ.

But it's not all bad, and to make it up to the Lebanese, I have something that will cheer you up. If you're one of those Lebanese who suffer from Lebanese-Mispronunciatitis (just made that one up, and coining it!), next time some foreigner gives you a hard time about your pronunciation, I suggest you politely offer to teach them any Arabic sentence, preferably containing an abundance of "ح" (Arabic hard h), "خ" (pronounced "kh"), and watch them squirm trying to get it right. Cheers !

Recommended Media: Ziad Rahbani - Chez nous (Lebanese jazz song, with intentional mispronunciations)


August 29, 2011 at 12:52 PM Sareen

I was having the same discussion with someone in my office. I was telling them, it's not Happy BIRZDAY. I told them they have no excuse especially since arabic has TH and ZH. Their response? Since they're french educated, then this excuses them. Seriously???

August 30, 2011 at 3:24 PM Anonymous

Just an observation, we Lebanese (and some other Arabs) try to avoid pronouncing some letters, like the "th" (ذ) and "th" (ث) (confusing, no? :P). So, we say "Senyeh" instead of "Thenyeh" (for the word "second"), "Dakar" instead of "Thakar" (for the word "male"), and "Betzakkar" instead of "bet-thakkar" (for the verb "remember").
And I'd say that Lebanese is my mother tongue, not Arabic ;)
So I guess it's natural that people misspell some phonetics. Not that I do.

August 30, 2011 at 4:43 PM Fadi

@Anonymous you make a valid point, although if you look at the actual replacements you realize they are not consistent. When speaking in Lebanese we substitute "th" (like in "with") with "d" not "z": Think "thahab" (gold) pronounced "dehab".

Also we use the "gh" sound plentifully in Lebanese: e.g. "ghayyir jaw" (change the mood). Why we don't carry that sound over to other languages is beyond me.

Oh and one more thing: Lebanese is a dialect of Arabic, so technically Arabic is our mother tongue. Sure we don't use it in its formal form all that much, but we do learn it in school as our first language.

Thanks for stopping by :)
Cheers !

August 31, 2011 at 7:41 AM Anonymous

I never said replacements were consistent, as I gave 2 examples where the letter "th" (like in "with") is prounounced once as a "z" (as in "betzakkar", you're making me go redundant) and the other time as a "d" (as in "dehab").

And I haven't said anything about the French "r", but my personal guess would be that it was inherited, from an early misspell.

And yes, it is true that we learn the Arabic language at school, but we only start learning it at, what? age 5-6?
So after hearing the Lebanese (which is, to be honest, a lot different than Arabic, ask any foreigner who's been taught one and trying to understand the other) for 6 years, speaking your first words in Lebanese, and all the rest of your words, actually in Lebanese, I would insist that Lebanese is my mother tongue.

I always stop by ;)

September 3, 2011 at 11:15 AM ginger beirut

I've always wondered why some letters in Arabic words are pronounced in several different ways in Lebanese, like the (ث) becoming 't' in come words but 'z' in others. As for pronouncing Arabic as a foreigner, for me its the 'ain with a kasra or dhamma which is the hardest!
Unfortunately, I have to confess that I have started speaking French with a slight Lebanese accent even though I lived in France before knowing any Lebanese people - so I can't really criticise Lebanese speaking English with a French accent (Zat is so cool)!

September 8, 2011 at 4:08 PM gab

different muscles are used while speaking and these muscles differ from one language to another.
you have surely noticed that french needs much more articulation than lebanese ( i will differentiate here between lebanese and arabic and will consider lebanese as a language). when talking in lebanese the jaw, cheeks and lips are much more at rest than when u speak in french.. that's why we try to "relieve" the stress we are making on our muscles by mispronounciating some of the letters that need more articulation..
while arabic needs probably more articulation than french, the news anchors should speak perfect french!! :p

October 25, 2011 at 2:11 PM Hala

the Lebanese slang is in a mess like you said because the Lebanese don't want to speak Arabic that is all , if they are not so ashamed of it then they would have made an effort and spoke proper language rather then mixing 3 languages in 1 sentence which is dreadful and not really to be proud of...
as Lebanese we have the opportunity since childhood to acquire a second language and as teens we end up with 3 ,actually it is just brilliant.....
Lebanese or any arabic speaking country have a problem with "th" and "p" well the non-arabic speaking person would have a huge problem with " ح ع غ ص ض ط ظ خ " a total of 8 of our alphabet so at the end , we are the greatest :)

November 1, 2011 at 1:12 AM Anonymous

regarding spelling, try these 7 consonants: n-g-s-t-s-c-h-r in angstschreeuw after each other. Pretty horrific no :)

May 4, 2017 at 1:10 AM Christian Rahi

Almost all the lebanese pronounce the p in the right way. And also all the lebanese are avel to pronounce the "r" sound in french as it supposed to be spelled but they roll mainly because one is considered a "snob" or sometimes like a "gay" or girlish when pronouncing the r in its french way.

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