Article | Variation and regional differences

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In this dictionary I have chosen urban speech as my standard, for several reasons: it is relatively uniform, it is the dialect normally heard in television interviews, for example, and it is what non-Arabs are expected to speak. Rural dialects differ from region to region, and the dialect of a specific village sounds odd when used indiscriminately by a non-Arab – unless, of course, he or she has developed close ties with that particular village. An informant of mine from ‘Umm il-Fahem who settled in Jerusalem made a very clear distinction between urban and rural dialect in a question she once asked me: “Do you want me to talk the way they do in town or the way we do in our village?” There is a lot of research to be done on regional and village dialects, but this does not fall within the scope of a book designed to help non-Arabs acquire the language. My aim is to equip students of Arabic with a fairly standard form of speech which will enable them to understand most of what they hear and to express themselves in an accent which will excite neither surprise nor ridicule. Nevertheless, I have included in the dictionary a number of words commonly used in rural areas, such as hān; hal-hīn (here; now). In Palestinian urban speech, too, there are regional differences, and a word or expression widely used in Jerusalem may not be understood in Nazareth, or vice-versa. Such words have been marked with a (J) for Jerusalem or a (G) for Galilee, or may be followed by the rather non-committal expression “in some areas”; this enables the reader to understand a word he may have heard in Tarshiha, for example, while at the same time warning him that if he uses it elsewhere he may not be understood.