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By , April 18, 2007 5:59 am

Canaanite.org was developed by Maroun Ghassan Kassab, and it is the fruit of several years of research into the Canaanite culture and language. The main intent is to introduce the readers, and the researchers into the Canaanite (Phoenician) language and eventually culture. Its main target audience is the Lebanese people, so that they can discover their own culture and their own language, but its larger target is everyone interested in human language and culture, because we are all at the end, united in our humanity.

The Lebanese language is a hybrid language with the Canaanite tongue at its base. From the Lebanese language, we can begin to understand the Canaanite, and what we discover in the Canaanite language, illuminates our everyday Lebanese speech.

A language is a dialect institutionalized. In effect, as Max Weinreich puts it: ‘A language is a dialect with an army and a navy’. This institutionalization does not invalidate the importance of a dialect. Sometimes, a dialect is more important than a language. In both cases, a dialect could be referred to as a language in the simplest term, as long as it is used by individuals to open up their world to other individuals. It is true that we have always understood language to be a medium of communication. If two people are conversing together, they are seen as transmitting information from the mind of the first subject, to the mind of the second through Language. Therefore, language has always been looked at as the object or tool of communication. But today, we are beginning to understand that language goes beyond the Subject/Object dichotomy. Instead of looking at language as a mere tool, we are beginning to understand that it actually governs the way we think. We are raised within language. When we argue, we argue within language, when we think, we think within the boundaries of language. When we debate the validity of these propositions, we are doing it within the framework of language. Therefore, language governs thought.

Each of the human languages has its own specificity, and none can replace the other. Every culture is determined by the language it speaks and this language defines its framework of thought. Therefore, it becomes of extreme importance to understand the language we speak, in order to understand the manner in which we think. In Lebanon, as well as in the larger Arab world, there is a lack in this domain. Some might find this statement strange, given the amount of scholars of the Arabic language, and the amount of books written on the subject. Yet, we have to realize here that there are actually two misconceptions at hand:

1- When people speak of the Arabic language, they are generally putting aside a very important aspect of this language. The Arabic language is not a spoken language. It is the literary language in the entire Arab world. In no single culture is the Arabic language a spoken language. It is the language of books and magazines. It is never the language that we use to open up our view of the world on a daily basis, and definitely, it is not the language through which we think. I could hardly imagine that someone who is going to a grocery shop would think to herself  “سوف اذهب الى الدكان”, whether this person is Lebanese or Saudi, Syrian or Iraqi.

2- The second misconception is that we in Lebanon speak Arabic. Now, I must admit that the nature of this argument has had its share of political connotations in Lebanon, especially that some Lebanese political groups have used it to distance themselves from the larger Arabic world and culture. As a result, other opposing Lebanese political groups that identify with the Arab world and culture have rejected this notion of language, and this subject became an extremely sensitive subject that everyone tries to avoid. My own conception of this matter is that this subject should be taken out of the political arena, and put back in its proper context, which is the scientific and linguistic context. I do not believe that Lebanese politicians have any right or the proper knowledge of the subject matter to make any determination on this issue. Now, the reason that I said that there is such a misconception in the beginning is due to the fact that the everyday Lebanese that we speak seems to share a lot of vocabulary with the Arabic language. But here we have to remember, that the Arabic Language and the Phoenician language are both Semitic languages and share a lot of common words. Browsing through the dictionary will give the reader an understanding of the extent that these terms are shared. Yet, the mere fact remains that the sentence structure of the everyday Lebanese is closer to the sentence structure of the Phoenician than that of the Arabic Language. Therefore, in Lebanon we can make neither the assumption nor the assertion that we speak Arabic. Neither can we on the other hand say that we speak Phoenician for that matter. We simply speak Lebanese, a very unique & hybrid language. We have our traditional poetry recited in this language, we raise our children within this language and we ask for a drink of water when we are thirsty in this language.

Having said this, it becomes clear that we have to strive to understand the language we speak in Lebanon, in order to better understand the way we think, the way we live, and the way we interact with each other. Yet, we cannot do so, before setting up the proper frame work for understanding. We must go back to the language of our ancestors, the original language that was spoken on these shores, and which still survives in our language structure, our dialect and our vocabulary. It has been transformed much since then, but a deconstruction of our Lebanese language will help to reconstruct our understanding of it. This means that research has to be done on this subject and disseminated to the public, as well as the scientific community, so that we can start to reconstruct the various elements of our language and thought. That is why one of my major concerns was to make this information available as an open source.

Maroun G. Kassab 2007

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