First languages – part III

Read Part I and Part II.

Although the Lebanese have informally adopted a great wealth of foreign terms, they are a long way from establishing a new language, like Maltese. First of all, the French and English influences are by no means stable or having equal effect on the whole population. One person may speak fluent French and another none. This is because they are now largely chosen influences, not imposed ones. True, French is a legacy of the mandate era, but since the end of the mandate it has been kept alive by choice. It has become a sign of prestige or education, as it did in England in the 11th century. Christians even use it as a means to distinguish themselves from Muslims or Arabs in general. Likewise English is a tool for those wanting to travel to or do trade with the rest of the world.

The fact that these are not nationwide imposed influences means that Lebanese vocabulary is not being completely replaced by other languages. The multiple vocabularies co-exist at least across the country if not in every house. Therefore we continue to view non-Arabic vocabulary as an outside influence rather than an integral part of Lebanese. If the great majority of the population were to adopt the same new vocabulary, only then could we consider that Lebanese had evolved, even if only as a dialect. 

Still,  the very same factor which makes Lebanese open to influence, that is, the absence of a written form of the dialect, also prevents foreign influences from being officially and permanently adopted. They cannot be added to a dictionary, the way “shampooing” and “hard rock” now appear in the Le Trésor de la langue française.

So even if all the mothers in Lebanon tell their kids, “Khallas, mamy, no more gateau,” rather than just a surprisingly large number of those in the capital, unless a written form is developed, Lebanese – with all the foreign terms it has absorbed – will not be recognised as a language in its own right as Maltese is.

Read Part I and Part II.

2 Responses to “First languages – part III”

  1. Nessie says:

    I love your insights on the Lebanese dialect. Chapeau :)

  2. Joe says:

    There are many attempts to classify the Lebanese language, in the old times with Said Akl, and in the current days with the Lebanese Language Institute by the way. It might just catch up by the way, since the guys at LLI have done some remarkable work so far. Their system is easily implemented, that is, if you wish to implement it.

    Love the blog by the way.

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