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By , April 18, 2009 6:12 am

The Canaanite Language, also know as Phoenician is a branch of the West Semitic languages that include Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic and others. Where Hebrew and Aramaic are closely related to the Canaanite language in vocabulary and grammar, Arabic is a little further off from grammatical proximity, but still retains much common vocabulary. Canaanite was spoken in Lebanon for thousands of years, and most of its lexicon is retained within the Lebanese colloquial dialect.

The Canaanite language underwent a revolution during the first millennium BC, where it became the official language of the whole Phoenician city states in the land of Canaan, reaching all the way to Cyprus, as well as the Canaanite colonies in Greece, and the respective Canaanite communities there as well.

Canaanite migrated to Carthage with the Tyrian (Tsour) migration to Africa, and with the Queen Elisar. There it survived in the Punic form well into the 4th century AD. It went minor transformations from the original Canaanite tongue, and it even survived the Canaanite language generations after the Aramaic language became the Lingua Franca of the Middle East. Punic migrated back into its dependent colonies in the Mediterranean, and made it all the way back to Cyprus. Some even say that with the destruction of Carthage, many Canaanites migrated back to their home land, which they called “Lebanon”, as opposed to the land of Canaan, which included Lebanon, and all the Canaanite colonies in the Mediterranean, and they brought back with them the Punic language with its modified spelling, such as the “F” instead of the original canaanite “P”. So, many words that were spelled in the Canaanite with a “P”, were spelled in Punic as “F”.

Punic became a serious rival of the Canaanite mother tongue and evolved to become the basis of a serious Canaanite and Hellenistic literary culture. It was spoken by the influential majority such as the emperor Septimius Severus and Saint Augustine of Hippo.

The relationship of the Canaanite, or Phoenician, or Punic to our spoken Lebanese tongue cannot be overlooked. Many of the terms that we use in our daily conversations in Lebanon are derived directly from the Phoenician, such as “MṪXM”, “𐤌𐤈𐤏𐤌”, “مطعوم” , meaning “Plant”, or some of these terms are even used by the whole world at large, and have become incorporated in the international lexicon of humanity, such as “cotton”, “QTN”, “𐤒𐤈𐤍”, “قطن” , “which means “Thin” in Canaanite.

The relationship between our spoken language in Lebanon and Canaanite could be analyzed on 2 fronts:

1- Grammar
2- Vocabulary

Before we go into detail how these 2 elements define our spoken language, we need to understand two fundamental facts:

1- The Arabic language is NOT the oldest of the Semitic languages.
2- The Arabic language was one of many dialects spoken in the Arabian Peninsula.

Now, if we examine our spoken language, we will find that we can separate its constituent vocabulary into 3 main categories:

1- Words derived from the Phoenician language (Refer to the Phoenician Online Dictionary)
2- Words derived from Aramaic and Syriac languages
3- Words derived from Arabic Language
4- Words derived from other various languages (Turkish, Greek, etc…)

The amount of words derived from the Arabic language is actually negligible compared to the words derived from the Phoenician, Aramaic and Syriac languages. A quick browse through the Phoenician Dictionary will give the reader a preliminary understanding of the extent that the Phoenician vocabulary is still alive and well in our spoken dialect.

Therefore, on the level of vocabulary, the Lebanese language does not qualify as “Arabic”.

On the level of grammar, it also does not. The sentence structure of the everyday Lebanese is closer to the Aramaic and Phoenician than it is to Arabic. Yet, it is neither totally any of the above. Let me give you an example of a Phoenician statement and how close it is in grammatical structure to spoken Lebanese.

For example:

This is a Phoenician text that was found at an excavation:

𐤀  𐤍𐤇𐤍 𐤀𐤔 𐤁𐤍𐤍 𐤁𐤕 𐤋 𐤀𐤔𐤌𐤍 𐤋 𐤒𐤃𐤔 𐤁 𐤏𐤍 𐤉𐤃𐤋𐤋

You read this from right to left like this

Pronounced in Lebanese Latin Letters

Eh Niḣna icci bnina bayt L Acmon L Qoddoc B xayn Yidlol

Pronounced in Arabic letters

ئ نحنا إششي بنينا بيت لأشمون لقدوش بعين يدلول


In Lebanese Latin Letters (1):

‘ niḣna ‘illi bnina bayt L Acmon L Qoddoos B xayn Yidlol

In Lebanese Arabic script:

ئ نحنا يللي بنينا بيت لأشمون القدوس بعين يدلول

In English:

It was us who build a Temple for the Holy Ashmoon in Ain Yidlol

In Arabic:

نحن هم اللذين بنوا بيتا لأشمون المقدس في عين يدلول

As you can see, most of the words are almost identical to their Lebanese counterpart.

The sentence structure on the other hand is identical term for term. You can also see how different it is from the Arabic translation.

Therefore, if the Lebanese spoken language does not qualify as “Arabic” on either the levels of vocabulary or grammar, then we cannot call it Arabic. It is simply a misconception that have gained power by the force of continuity. It has never been challenged or analyzed, therefore, it exists in its current form. Yet, to understand what we speak, we must analyze the form of the spoken language.

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