Damascus Arabic
Arabic: اللهجِة الشاميِّة
Native toSyria
Native speakers
1.6 million (2004)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Arabic chat alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3(covered by apc)
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David speaking Syrian Arabic.

Damascus Arabic (llahže ššāmiyye) or Damascus Dialect is a North Levantine Arabic spoken dialect, indigenous to and spoken primarily in Damascus. As the dialect of the capital city of Syria, and due to its use in the Syrian broadcast media, it is prestigious and widely recognized by speakers of other Syrian dialects, as well as in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. Accordingly, in modern times it is sometimes known as Syrian Arabic or the Syrian Dialect; however, the former term may also be used to refer to the group of similar urban sedentary dialects of the Levant, or to mean Levantine Arabic in general.[2][3]



DA, like other Levantine dialects, is influenced by Aramaic.[4]


DA is one of the most represented and researched Arabic dialects;[5] It has been researched or discussed by Grotzfeld,[6] Ambros (1977),[7] Cowell,[3] Cantineau and Helbaoui (1953),[8] Kuhnt (1958),[9] Kassab (1970),[10] Ferguson (1961),[11] Bloch (1964)[12] and (1965),[13] Bergsträsser (1924),[14] which also contains around fifty-pages worth of transcribed DA, and the twelve-volume course written by the US Defense Language Institute (1983).[15][5]

Of its dictionaries which focus on the old varieties of DA, there are Strowasser's (English-DA Arabic),[16] Ṭīb al-Kalām (Arabic-DA Arabic)[17] and the long-awaited Salamé and Lentin's (French-DA Arabic).[18] A dictionary of idioms has been released by Borhan Ahmad.[19]

Modern usage


DA most influential position is in media, where it is the de facto official Syrian dialect/accent in the media when MSA is not used and is the most influential dialect in Arabic drama. It has been said that DA is taking the traditional place of Egyptian Arabic there.[20] The most influential Syrian series that is used almost only in DA, Bab Al-Hara, acquired a staggering 50 million view per episode in its peaks[21] and the success of some Turkish shows in the Arab world has been attributed to dubs in DA.[22]


It is not common for DA to be written in literature, as MSA is usually used in this genre instead. It has however made its way to al-turath al-sha'bi in several pieces of literature, like Siham Turjuman's Yā māl al-Shām (only dialogues), Munīr Kayāl's Ḥikāyāt dimašqiyya (only dialogues) and Institut Francais du Proche-Orient's fifteen-volume Sirat Al-Malik Al-Zahir Baibars Hsab Al-Riwaya Al-Shamiyya (scattered).[23]



DA Consonants [2][3]
  Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic plain emphatic
Nasal m n          
Stop voiceless (p) t () k (q)   ʔ
voiced b d () (ɡ)    
Fricative voiceless f (θ) s ʃ x ħ h
voiced (v) (ð) z ʒ ɣ ʕ  
Tap/trill   r          
Approximant   l  j w    


DA typically contains at most eleven different phonemic vowels with six of them (including schwa) being short vowels[5] or at least eight phonemic vowels.[28][3]

Vowel Value DA example English example
/i:/ [iː] /fi:d/ (do something useful!) feed monophthong
/e:/ [eː] /ze:d/ (male first name) Scottish English: face
/a:/ [aː] /ha:d/ (this one) NZE bra
/o:/ [oː] /xo:d/ (take!) RP: North
/u:/ [uː] /hu:d/ (Islamic prophet name) mood monophthong
/i/ [ɪ] /hidd/ (destroy) kit monophthong
/e/ [ɛ] /na:hed/ (male first name) Traditional RP: bet
/a/ [æ] /had/ (he destroyed) Contemporary RP: cat
/o/ [o] /hidhod/ (hoopoe) Scottish English go
/u/ [ʊ] /huda/ (female first name) Scottish English: foot


One of the most distinctive features of typical DA, which is most pronounced in the old quarters, is the lengthening of the last vowel of interrogative and exclamative sentences.[29] This peculiar intonation has a 'sing-songy' feeling which leads some to call it as 'singing' rather than speaking when compared to Egyptian Arabic.[30]

The actor of 'Moataz' in Bab al-Hara is quite famous for this during fights. This can be mocked by non-DA speakers.[31]


MSA influence

Due to Syria's education in MSA and global communication, DA is experiencing changes towards classicalism, pseudo-classicalism, neologisms and journalese; local characteristics are rapidly being abandoned in favour of such uses.[3] For example, the traditional zōzi (my husband) is being replaced by žōzi and the new semi-classical variant zōži emerged.[24] This rapid influence can be considered the main difference between the traditional and contemporary DA versions.[32]


Velarisation tends to be more pronounced in Christian quarters.[33]

Jews in Iskenderun and Antakya used to speak with dialects quite close to Damascus and Aleppo urban dialects due to their interaction with the Jews there, which differentiated them from people living there. Syrian Jews also used to pronounce Hebrew loanwords containing ח, ע, צ‬ and ט‎ with their biblical Hebrew and Arabic equivalents.[34][35]

Traditional and new quarters

Velarisation tends to be more pronounced in old quarters, like in al-Mīdān.[33]


  1. ^ Lentin, Jérôme (2006). Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics. Foreign Language Study. ISBN 9789004177024.
  2. ^ a b Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. pp. v1.492, v1.546, v1.604, v4.403–409. ISBN 9004144730.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cowell, Mark W. (2005). A Reference Grammar of Syrian Arabic (based on the Dialect of Damascus). Georgetown University Press. pp. xv, xvii. ISBN 1589010515 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. p. v4. p.403. ISBN 9004144730.
  5. ^ a b c Klimiuk, Maciej (2013). "Vowels". Phonetics and Phonology of Damascus Arabic. Warsaw: Katedra Arabistyki i Islamistyki, Uniwersytet Warszawski. pp. 65–72. ISBN 9788390318851.
  6. ^ Grotzfeld, Heinz (2006). Syrisch-arabische grammatik: dialekt von damaskus. Eisenbrauns. ISBN 3447006919.
  7. ^ Ambros, Arne (1977). Damascus Arabic. Undena Publications. ISBN 9780890030097.,
  8. ^ Helbaoui, Youssef; Cantineau, Jean (1953). Manuel élémentaire d'arabe oriental : Parler de Damas. ASIN B001820C8O.
  9. ^ Kuhnt, Eberhard (1958). Syrisch-arabischer Sprachführer. ASIN B0000BKLAS.
  10. ^ Kassab, Jean (2006). Manuel du parler arabe moderne au Moyen-Orient. Tome premier, Cours élémentaire (2e éd ed.). P. Geuthner. ISBN 270530455X.
  11. ^ Ferguson, Charles; et al. Damascus Arabic. 1974: Centre for Applied Linguistics. ISBN 0872810240.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link)
  12. ^ Grotzfeld, Heinz; Bloch, Ariel (1964). Damaszenisch-arabische Texte: Mit Übersetzung, Anmerkungen und Glossar. ISBN 978-3447049429.
  13. ^ Bloch, Ariel. Die Hypotaxe im Damaszenisch-Arabischen mit Vergleichen zur Hypotaxe im Klassisch-Arabischen. ISBN 978-3935556040.
  14. ^ Bergsträsser, Gotthelf (1924). Zum arabischen Dialekt von Damaskus. I. Phonetik. Georg Olm Verlagsbuchhandlung, Hildesheim.
  15. ^ Arabic Syrian Course. Defense language institute: Foreign Language Center. 1983.
  16. ^ Stowasser, Karl; Moukhtar, Ani (1964). A dictionary of Syrian Arabic : English-Arabic. Georgetown University Press. ISBN 1589011058.
  17. ^ al-Zaʿīm, Wafīq. Ṭīb al-kalām : [bi-lahjat ahl al-Shām : muʿjam] (1st ed.). Dār al-Fikr. ISBN 978-9933-10-217-3.
  18. ^ Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. p. vol 1–546. ISBN 9004144730.
  19. ^ Ahmad, Borhan (2018). The Dictionary of Levantine Idioms: +300 Idioms of Everyday Syrian Dialect. ASIN B07GJN38ZB.
  20. ^ Uthman, Ahmad. "Ahmad Maher: Damascus Arabic is a real threat to Egyptian drama". www.eremnews.com (in Arabic). Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  21. ^ "Does Syrian star Jihad Abdo turned pizza delivery boy still have a shot at Hollywood fame?". www.albawaba.com. 5 January 2017. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  22. ^ Rizvi, Anam. "Arab viewers get taste of different cultures with translated TV shows in the UAE". The National. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
  23. ^ Bohas, Georges; Hassan, Iyas. Sīrat al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Baybarṣ : ḥasab al-riwāyah al-Shāmīyah (11 ed.). Institut Français du Proche-Orient. ISBN 978-2-901315-59-9.
  24. ^ a b Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. p. v1. p.548. ISBN 9004144730.
  25. ^ Omar, Margaret (1976). Levantine & Egyptian Arabic : comparative study. University of California Libraries. ISBN 978-1125382011.
  26. ^ Albirini, Abdulkafi (September 11, 2015). Modern Arabic sociolinguistics : diglossia, variation, codeswitching, attitudes and identity (1 ed.). Routledge. p. 196. ISBN 978-0415707473.
  27. ^ Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. p. 548 v.1. ISBN 9004144730.
  28. ^ Almbark, Rana; Hellmuth, Sam. "Acoustic analysis of the Syrian Arabic vowel system" (PDF). University of York. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  29. ^ a b Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. p. 547 v.1. ISBN 9004144730.
  30. ^ Kulk, Friso; Odé, Cecilia; Manfred, Woidich. "The Intonation of Colloquial Damascene Arabic: a pilot study" (PDF). www.fon.hum.uva.nl. University of Amsterdam, Institute of Phonetic Sciences. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  31. ^ Belnap, Kirk; Haeri, Niloofar (August 1, 1997). Structuralist studies in Arabic linguistics : Charles A. Ferguson's papers, 1954-1994. E.J. Brill. p. 104. ISBN 9004105115.
  32. ^ Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. p. v4. 408. ISBN 9004144730.
  33. ^ a b Versteegh, Kees. Encyclopedia of Arabic language and linguistics. Brill. p. v1. p.547. ISBN 9004144730.
  34. ^ Arnold, Werner (24 June 2013). "Judeo-Arabic, Syria, Hebrew Component in". Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  35. ^ Kahn, Lily; Rubin, Aaron (October 30, 2015). Handbook of Jewish languages. Brill Academic Pub. p. 43. ISBN 978-9004217331.