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Palestinian Arabic
اللهجة الفلسطينية
Native toPalestine
Native speakers
4.3 million (2021)[1]
  • Fellahi
    Modern Palestinian Judeo-Arabic
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3(covered by apc)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Palestinian Arabic is a dialect continuum of mutually intelligible varieties of Levantine Arabic spoken by most Palestinians in Palestine, Israel and in the Palestinian diaspora.[2][3]

The Arabic dialects spoken in Palestine and Transjordan are not one more or less homogeneous linguistic unit, but rather a wide diversity of dialects belonging to various typologically diverse groupings due to geographical, historical, and socioeconomic circumstances.[4] In two dialect comparison studies, Palestinian Arabic was found to be the closest Arabic dialect to Modern Standard Arabic,[5] mainly the dialect of the people in Gaza Strip.[6] Further dialects can be distinguished within Palestine, such as spoken in the northern West Bank, that spoken by Palestinians in the Hebron area, which is similar to Arabic spoken by descendants of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan and south-western Syria.[citation needed]

Palestinian dialects contain layers of languages spoken in earlier times in the region, including Canaanite, Hebrew (Biblical and Mishnaic), Aramaic (particularly Western Aramaic), Persian, Greek, and Latin. As a result of the early modern period, Palestinian dialects were also influenced by Turkish and European languages. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, Palestinian dialects have been significantly influenced by Modern Hebrew.[7]


The variations between dialects probably reflect the different historical steps of Arabization of Palestine.

Prior to their adoption of the Arabic language from the seventh century onwards, the inhabitants of Palestine predominantly spoke Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (as witnessed, for example, in Palestinian Jewish and Palestinian Christian literature), as well as Greek (probably in the upper or trader social classes), and some remaining traces of Hebrew. At that time in history, Arabic-speaking people living in the Negev desert or in the Jordan desert beyond Zarqa, Amman or Karak had no significant influence.

Arabic-speaking people such as the Nabataeans tended to adopt Aramaic as a written language as shown in the Nabataean language texts of Petra. Jews and Nabataeans lived side by side in Mahoza and other villages, and their dialects of what they would both have thought of as “Aramaic” would almost certainly have been mutually comprehensible. Additionally, occasional Arabic loan can be found in the Jewish Aramaic documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls.[8]

The adoption of Arabic among the local population occurred most probably in several waves. After the Arabs took control of the area, so as to maintain their regular activity, the upper classes had to quickly become fluent in the language of the new masters who most probably were only few. The prevalence of Northern Levantine features in the urban dialects until the early 20th century, as well as in the dialect of Samaritans in Nablus (with systematic imala of /a:/) tends to show that a first layer of Arabization of urban upper classes could have led to what is now urban Levantine. Then, the main phenomenon could have been the slow countryside shift of Aramaic-speaking villages to Arabic under the influence of Arabized elites, leading to the emergence of the rural Palestinian dialects[citation needed]. This scenario is consistent with several facts.

Differences compared to other Levantine Arabic dialects

Manual of Palestinean Arabic, for self-instruction (1909)

The dialects spoken by the Arabs of the Levant – the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean – or Levantine Arabic, form a group of dialects of Arabic. Arabic manuals for the "Syrian dialect" were produced in the early 20th century,[9] and in 1909 a specific "Palestinean Arabic" manual was published.

The Palestinian Arabic dialects are varieties of Levantine Arabic because they display the following characteristic Levantine features:

The noticeable differences between southern and northern forms of Levantine Arabic, such as Syrian Arabic and Lebanese Arabic, are stronger in non-urban dialects. The main differences between Palestinian and northern Levantine Arabic are as follows:

There are also typical Palestinian words that are shibboleths in the Levant.

Social and geographic dialect structuration

As is very common in Arabic-speaking countries, the dialect spoken by a person depends on both the region he/she comes from, and the social group he/she belongs to.[citation needed] The hikaye, a form of women's oral literature inscribed to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Palestine, is recited in both the urban and rural dialects of Palestinian Arabic.[10][11]

Palestinian urban dialects

The Urban ('madani') dialects resemble closely northern Levantine Arabic dialects, that is, the colloquial variants of western Syria and Lebanon.[12] This fact, that makes the urban dialects of the Levant remarkably homogeneous, is probably due to the trading network among cities in the Ottoman Levant, or to an older Arabic dialect layer closer to the qeltu dialects still spoken in Upper Mesopotamia.

Urban dialects are characterised by the [ʔ] (hamza) pronunciation of ق qaf, the simplification of interdentals as dentals plosives, i.e. ث as [t], ذ as [d] and both ض and ظ as [dˤ]. Note however that in borrowings from Modern Standard Arabic, these interdental consonants are realised as dental sibilants, i.e. ث as [s], ذ as [z] and ظ as [zˤ] but ض is kept as [dˤ]. The Druzes have a dialect that may be classified with the Urban ones,[dubious ] with the difference that they keep the uvular pronunciation of ق qaf as [q]. The urban dialects also ignore the difference between masculine and feminine in the plural pronouns انتو ['ɪntu] is both 'you' (masc. plur.) and 'you' (fem. plur.), and ['hʊmme] is both 'they' (masc.) and 'they' (fem.)

Rural varieties

Rural or farmer ('fallahi') variety is retaining the interdental consonants, and is closely related with rural dialects in the outer southern Levant and in Lebanon. They keep the distinction between masculine and feminine plural pronouns, e.g. انتو ['ɪntu] is 'you' (masc.) while انتن ['ɪntɪn] is 'you' (fem.), and همه ['hʊmme] is 'they' (masc.) while هنه ['hɪnne] is 'they' (fem.). The three rural groups in the region are the following:

Bedouin variety

The Bedouins of Southern Levant use two different ('badawi') dialects in Galilee and the Negev. The Negev desert Bedouins, who are also present in Palestine and Gaza Strip use a dialect closely related to those spoken in the Hijaz, and in the Sinai. Unlike them, the Bedouins of Galilee speak a dialect related to those of the Syrian Desert and Najd, which indicates their arrival to the region is relatively recent. The Palestinian resident Negev Bedouins, who are present around Hebron and Jerusalem have a specific vocabulary, they maintain the interdental consonants, they do not use the ش-[-ʃ] negative suffix, they always realise ك /k/ as [k] and ق /q/ as [g], and distinguish plural masculine from plural feminine pronouns, but with different forms as the rural speakers.

Jewish Variety

As jews from Morocco established a community in the Galilee and around Jerusalem, their dialect of Maghrebi Judeo-Arabic mixed with Palestinian Arabic. It peaked at 10,000 speakers and thrived alongside Yiddish until the 20th century. But today it is nearly extinct with only 5 speakers remaining in the Galilee.[13] It contained influence from Judeo-Moroccan Arabic and influence Judeo-Lebanese Arabic and Judeo-Syrian Arabic.[14]

Current evolutions

On the urban dialects side, the current trend is to have urban dialects getting closer to their rural neighbours, thus introducing some variability among cities in the Levant. For instance, Jerusalem used to say as Damascus ['nɪħna] ("we") and ['hʊnne] ("they") at the beginning of the 20th century, and this has moved to the more rural ['ɪħna] and ['hʊmme] nowadays.[15] This trend was probably initiated by the partition of the Levant of several states in the course of the 20th century.

The Rural description given above is moving nowadays with two opposite trends. On the one hand, urbanisation gives a strong influence power to urban dialects. As a result, villagers may adopt them at least in part, and Beduin maintain a two-dialect practice. On the other hand, the individualisation that comes with urbanisation make people feel more free to choose the way they speak than before, and in the same way as some will use typical Egyptian or Lebanese features as [le:] for [le:ʃ], others may use typical rural features such as the rural realisation [kˤ] of ق as a pride reaction against the stigmatisation of this pronunciation.



Labial Interdental Dental/Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emph. plain emph. plain emph. plain emph.
Nasal m n
Stop voiceless t (t͡ʃ) k ʔ
voiced b d d͡ʒ ɡ (ɢ)
Fricative voiceless f θ s ʃ χ ħ h
voiced ð ðˤ z ʒ ʁ ʕ
Trill (r)
Approximant l j w


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

Specific aspects of the vocabulary

As Palestinian Arabic is spoken in the heartland of the Semitic languages, it has kept many typical Semitic words. For this reason, it is relatively easy to guess how Modern Standard Arabic words map onto Palestinian Arabic Words. The list (Swadesh list) of basic word of Palestinian Arabic available on the Wiktionary (see external links below) may be used for this. However, some words are not transparent mappings from MSA, and deserve a description. This is due either to meaning changes in Arabic along the centuries – while MSA keeps the Classical Arabic meanings – or to the adoption of non-Arabic words (see below). Note that this section focuses on Urban Palestinian unless otherwise specified.

Prepositional pseudo verbs

The words used in Palestinian to express the basic verbs 'to want', 'to have', 'there is/are' are called prepositional pseudo verbs because they share all the features of verbs but are constructed with a preposition and a suffix pronoun.

Person To want To have
I بدي['bɪdd-i] عندي ['ʕɪnd-i]
You (sing. masc.) بدك['bɪdd-ak] عندك ['ʕɪnd-ak]
You (sing. fem.) بدك['bɪdd-ɪk] عندك ['ʕɪnd-ɪk]
He بده['bɪdd-o] عنده ['ʕɪnd-o]
She بدها['bɪdd-ha] عندها ['ʕɪnd-ha]
We بدنا['bɪdd-na] عندنا ['ʕɪnd-na]
You (plur.) بدكم['bɪdd-kʊm] عندكم ['ʕɪnd-kʊm]
They بدهم['bɪdd-hʊm] عندهم ['ʕɪnd-hʊm]

In the perfect, they are preceded by كان [kaːn], e.g. we wanted is كان بدنا [kaːn 'bɪddna].

Relative clause

As in most forms of colloquial Arabic, the relative clause markers of Classical Arabic (الذي، التي، اللذان، اللتان، الذين and اللاتي) have been simplified to a single form إللي ['ʔɪlli].

Interrogatives pronouns

The main Palestinian interrogative pronouns (with their Modern Standard Arabic counterparts) are the following ones.

Meaning Palestinian Arabic MSA
Why? ليش [leːʃ] لماذا [limaːðaː]
What? ايش [ʔeːʃ] or شو [ʃu] ماذا [maːðaː]
How? كيف [kiːf] كيف [kaɪfa]
When? إيمتى [ʔeːmta] or وينتى [weːnta] متى [mataː]
Where? وين [weːn] اين [ʔaɪna]
Who? مين [miːn] من [man]

Note that it is tempting to consider the long [iː] in مين [miːn] 'who?' as an influence of ancient Hebrew מי [miː] on Classical Arabic من [man], but it could be as well an analogy with the long vowels of the other interrogatives.

Marking Indirect Object

In Classical Arabic, the indirect object was marked with the particle /li-/ ('for', 'to'). For instance 'I said to him' was قلت له ['qultu 'lahu] and 'I wrote to her' was كتبت لها [ka'tabtu la'ha:]. In Palestinian Arabic, the Indirect Object marker is still based on the consonant /l/, but with more complex rules, and two different vocal patterns. The basic form before pronouns is a clitic [ɪll-], that always bears the stress, and to which person pronouns are suffixed. The basic form before nouns is [la]. For instance

Vowel harmony

The most often cited example of vowel harmony in Palestinian Arabic is in the present tense conjugations of verbs. If the root vowel is rounded, then the roundness spreads to other high vowels in the prefix. Vowel harmony in PA is also found in the nominal verbal domain. Suffixes are immune to rounding harmony, and vowels left of the stressed syllable do not have vowel harmony.[17]

Palestinian Arabic has a regressive vowel harmony for these present tense conjugations: if the verb stem's main vowel is /u/, then the vowel in the prefix is also /u/, else the vowel is /i/. This is compared with standard Arabic (which can be seen as representative of other Arabic dialects), where the vowel in the prefix is consistently /a/.[18]


Borrowings in vocabulary

Palestinians have borrowed words from the many languages they have been in contact with throughout history. For example,



From Hebrew, especially the Arab citizens of Israel have adopted many Hebraisms, like yesh יֵשׁ‎ ("we did it!" – used as sports cheer) which has no real equivalent in Arabic. According to sociolinguist David Mendelson from Givat Haviva's Jewish-Arab Center for Peace, there is an adoption of words from Hebrew in Arabic spoken in Israel where alternative native terms exist. According to linguist Mohammed Omara, of Bar-Ilan University some researchers call the Arabic spoken by Israeli Arabs Arabrew (in Hebrew, ערברית "Aravrit"). The list of words adopted contain:

Palestinians in the Palestinian territories sometimes refer to their brethren in Israel as "the b'seder Arabs" because of their adoption of the Hebrew word בְּסֵדֶר [beseder] for 'O.K.', (while Arabic is ماشي [ma:ʃi]). However words like ramzor רַמְזוֹר‎ 'traffic light' and maḥsom מַחְסוֹם‎ 'roadblock' have become a part of the general Palestinian vernacular.

The 2009 film Ajami is mostly spoken in Palestinian-Hebrew Arabic.

Interpretations of "Arabrew" are often colored by non-linguistic political and cultural factors,[19] but how contact with Hebrew is realized has been studied, and has been described in linguistic terms and in terms of how it varies. "Arabrew" as spoken by Palestinians and more generally Arab citizens of Israel has been described as classical codeswitching without much structural effect[20][19] While the codeswitching by the majority of Arab or Palestinian citizens of Israel who are Christian or Muslim from the North or the Triangle is described as limited, more intense codeswitching is seen among Arabs who live in Jewish-majority settlements as well as Bedouin (in the South) who serve in the army, although this variety can still be called codeswitching, and does not involve any significant structural change deviating from the non-Hebrew influenced norm.[20] For the most part among all Christian and Muslim Arabs in Israel, the impact of Hebrew contact on Palestinian Arabic is limited to borrowing of nouns, mostly for specialist vocabulary, plus a few discourse markers.[19] However, this does not apply to the Arabic spoken by the Israeli Druze, which has been documented as manifesting much more intense contact effects, including the mixture of Arabic and Hebrew words within syntactic clauses, such as the use of a Hebrew preposition for an Arabic element and vice versa, and the adherence to gender and number agreement between Arabic and Hebrew elements (i.e. a Hebrew possessive adjective must agree with the gender of the Arabic noun it describes).[20] While Hebrew definite articles can only be used for Hebrew nouns, Arabic definite articles are used for Hebrew nouns and are, in fact, the most common DP structure.[20]

Ancient Hebrew





The Gospel of Mark was published in Palestinian Arabic in 1940,[21] with the Gospel of Matthew and the Letter of James published in 1946.[22]

See also


  1. ^ Palestinian Arabic at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "How to Reach your Audience with the Right Dialect of Arabic". Asian Absolute. 2016-01-19. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  3. ^ "Arabic Language: Tracing its Roots, Development and Varied Dialects". Day Translations. 2015-10-16. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  4. ^ Palva, H. (1984). A general classification for the Arabic dialects spoken in Palestine and Transjordan. Studia Orientalia Electronica, 55, 357-376.
  5. ^ Kwaik, K.; Saad, M.; Chatzikyriakidis, S.; Dobnik, S. (2018). "A Lexical Distance Study of Arabic Dialects". Procedia Computer Science. The 4th International Conference on Arabic Computational Linguistics (ACLing) (published 15 November 2018). 143: 1, 3. doi:10.1016/j.procs.2018.10.456. ISSN 1877-0509.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Harrat, S.; Meftouh, K.; Abbas, M.; Jamoussi, S.; Saad, M.; Smaili, K. (2015). "Cross-Dialectal Arabic Processing". Computational Linguistics and Intelligent Text Processing. Gelbukh, Alexander (Ed.). Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Vol. 9041. Springer, Cham. (published April 14–20, 2015). pp. 3, 6. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-18111-0_47. ISBN 978-3-319-18110-3. S2CID 5978068. Retrieved 29 November 2022.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b c Bassal, Ibrahim (2012). "Hebrew and Aramaic Substrata in Spoken Palestinian Arabic". Mediterranean Language Review. 19: 85–104. ISSN 0724-7567. JSTOR 10.13173/medilangrevi.19.2012.0085.
  8. ^ Macdonald, Michael C. A. (2017). "How much can we know about language and literacy in Roman Judaea? A review". Journal of Roman Archaeology. 30: 832–842. doi:10.1017/S1047759400074882. S2CID 232343804.
  9. ^ Crow, F.E., Arabic manual: a colloquia handbook in the Syrian dialect, for the use of visitors to Syria and Palestine, containing a simplified grammar, a comprehensive English and Arabic vocabulary and dialogues, Luzac & co, London, 1901
  10. ^ Rivoal, Isabelle (2001-01-01). "Susan Slyomovics, The Object of Memory. Arabs and Jews Narrate the Palestinian Village". L'Homme. Revue française d'anthropologie (in French) (158–159): 478–479. doi:10.4000/lhomme.6701. ISSN 0439-4216.
  11. ^ Timothy, Dallen J. (2018-12-07). Routledge Handbook on Tourism in the Middle East and North Africa. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-22923-0.
  12. ^ Ammon, Ulrich (2006). Sociolinguistics/Soziolinguistik 3: An International Handbook of the Science. Walter de Gruyter. p. 1922. ISBN 9783110184181.
  13. ^ "Judeo-Arabic". Jewish Languages. Retrieved 2024-01-25.
  14. ^ Geva-Kleinberger, Aharon (2018-11-05), "Judeo-Arabic in the Holy Land and Lebanon", Judeo-Arabic in the Holy Land and Lebanon, De Gruyter Mouton, pp. 569–580, doi:10.1515/9781501504631-021/html, ISBN 978-1-5015-0463-1, retrieved 2024-01-25
  15. ^ U. Seeger, Mediterranean Language Review 10 (1998), pp. 89-145.
  16. ^ Kimary N., Shahin (2019). Palestinian Arabic. In Kees Versteegh (ed.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, Vol. II: Leiden: Brill. pp. 526–538. ISBN 978-90-04-17702-4.
  17. ^ Kenstowicz, Michael. 1981. Vowel Harmony in Palestinian Arabic: A Suprasegmental Analysis. Linguistics 19:449-465.
  18. ^ Abu-Salim, Issam. 1987. Vowel Harmony in Palestinian Arabic: A Metrical Perspective. Journal of Linguistics 23:1-24.
  19. ^ a b c Hawker, Nancy (2018). "The mirage of 'Arabrew': Ideologies for understanding Arabic-Hebrew contact". Language in Society. 47 (2): 219–244. doi:10.1017/S0047404518000015. S2CID 148862120.
  20. ^ a b c d Afifa Eve Kheir (2019). "The Matrix Language Turnover Hypothesis: The Case of the Druze Language in Israel". Journal of Language Contact. 12 (2): 479–512. doi:10.1163/19552629-01202008. S2CID 202246511.
  21. ^ Bishop, E. F. F; George, Surayya (1940). Gospel of St. Mark in South Levantine Spoken Arabic (in Arabic). Cairo. OCLC 77662380.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  22. ^ "Arabic--Other Bible History". Retrieved 2018-10-15.

Further reading