Syrian Dialect from the TV show بقعة ضو (Spotlight)

Warning! This is a LONG post. I'm going to try to give you an idea of how I learn new Arabic words. These words and phrases are all from a single episode of a comedy show called بقعة ضو (Spotlight). I'm not going to play the whole episode, I'm just going to show clips to give you enough context to understand what's going on. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best way to learn (next to watching the whole episode of course). I think the hardest part for most people who haven't had exposure to Syrian dialect (or any dialect) will be actually hearing the words they're saying. I know that was (and sometimes still is) a major problem for me. To get over that it just takes a LOT of listening to a lot of different things. Even if you don't know what it all means you'll eventually be able to hear the words that are being said and at that point you can do a Google search since you'll know how to spell the word. Even if there isn't a site that says "the definition of this word is X", and sites like that are rare for the dialects, you will have a lot of uses of the word from the sites Google returns and you'll be able to figure out the meaning, in most cases, from all the new context you have. You should be able to tell that context is my favorite word. Let's dive in!First, I need to give you the plot of the show so it's not all just random clips. This woman (Reem) accidentally leaves her phone in the taxi she took to work. She calls her cellphone from work and the taxi driver (Abu Janti) picks it up. She asks him to come by her work and return the phone to her but he keeps picking up passengers and dropping them off instead. He eventually has people calling her cellphone about work matters and he takes care of the issues. He goes and picks up her French passport that was ready, he pays her phone bill, etc. At the end of the show he returns the phone and she offers him a job working for her since he did such a good job for her. He turns down the job though because he loves being a taxi driver.

That's enough for these clips to make some sense and really make the vocab stick in your head.

1. اي رد على الموبيل والله صرعنا. ولا عجبتك رنته؟ (Ay rid 'ala almoobile wallah sara'na. wala 'ajibtak rintu?) - Hey, answer the cellphone. It's driving me crazy. Or do you like its ring?

In this clip, Abu Janti (the driver) thinks that the cellphone belongs to this new passenger. However it belongs to Reem who he just dropped off at work. He says والله صرعنا which is like "by God it's driving us crazy." You can refer to just yourself as "us" in Arabic sometimes. Also, الصرع in MSA means "epilepsy", so you can remember this phrase as "you're giving me epilepsy."

The phone rings for a while before I started the clip so Abu Janti adds literally "or do you like its ring?". I would translate that to "or do you just like the sound of its ring?" to make it clearer. ولا is a common way to say "or" in many dialects. Egyptian included. It doesn't mean "and no".


2. الو؟ (aloo?) - Hello?
الو! لك مين انت؟ (aloo! lek meen intay) - Hello! Hey, who is this?
انا ابو جانتي ملك اللانسر. (ana abu janti melik alansar) - I'm Abu Janti, king of the Lancer.
لك هادا موبيلي إللي معك. (lek hada moobayli illi ma'ak) - Hey, that's my phone that's with you.
ايه عرفت عرفت. حاكيني بعد 5 دقايق. انا ماني فاضي. (ay 'arifit 'arifit. haakini ba'd khams d'aaya ana maani faadi) - Yeah, I know, I know. Talk to me in 5 minutes. I'm not free (now).
يِ! يِ! يخرب بيته! هادا شوفير تاكسي سكر بوشي (yi! yi! yikrib baytoo! hada shofer taksi sakkar ibwishi) - Yi! Yi! Destroy his house! That taxi driver hung up in my face!

Now for an explanation of some things that might not be clear. لك is basically like "hey". It can be perceived as rude. A Lancer is the model of car that Abu Janti drives. That's why he calls himself "king of the Lancer". You'll notice she says هادا instead of هذا . They change ذ to د sometimes in lots of dialects.

Also, he says انا ماني فاضي. The word ماني might be new to you, but it means the same thing as مش and مو. He could have said انا مو فاضي and it would mean the same thing. "I'm not free (to talk).

The word "yi" is an expression of surprise or astonishment. It's said mostly by women. يخرب بيته literally means "destroy his house", but it's not a terribly mean phrase and not to be taken literally. It's used when someone upsets you.

The word سكّر means to close. The full expression would be سكر الخط بوشي . "He closed the line in my face", literally, but we would translate it to "He hung up in my face". وش is how they say the MSA word وجه which means "face".


3. يِ! نسيت أساله مين دقإلي (yi! nasayt asalu meen da' illi) - Yi! I forgot to ask him who called me!
رجعي دقيله. لك ليكون غزوان دقإلك اذا بيرد و بيطلعله صوت شاب بيطبل الدنيا (rja'i di' illu. lik laykoon ghazwan da' illik izi byitla'lu soot shab byitbal addini) - Call him back! Hey, it could be Ghazwan who called you. If he answers and he gets a guy's voice he's going to be very angry.

The prominent word in this clip is دق. It means "to beat" (as in a heart beat), "to knock" as in knock on the door, but in the context of phones it means "to call". ليكون here means "it might have been" or "maybe it was".

Ghazwan is the name of Reem's fiance. Before this clip Abu Janti said that someone called Reem's phone but Reem forgot to ask who called. Reem's friend says that she should call Abu Janti back because if Ghazwan calls again and gets Abu Janti he's going to get the wrong idea.

يطلع has many different meanings. Here and a lot of the time it means "turns out to be" or "happens to be". A new phrase I learned here is يطبل الدنيا (they pronounce دنيا as dini instead of dunya). يطبل الدنيا means the same thing as كسر الدنيا (literally "to break the world"), but in actual use it means "to get really angry".


4. دخيل عينك. دخيل عينك ابو جانتي دير بالك عليه. هادا الباسبور مو اي كلام يعني. (dakheel 'aynak. dakheel 'aynak abu janti deer baalak 'aleyh. hada albasboor moo ay kalaam ya'ni) - I beg you. I beg you, Abu Janti, look after it. That is a passport, not just any old thing.
ولا تهكلي هم. حطيته بالتابلو مع اوراق السيارة (wala tihkali hem. hatteytu biltablu m'a oora' assayaara) - Don't worry. I put it in the glove compartment with the car's papers.

دخيل عينك means "I beg you". It's like please, but stronger. دير بالك means "to look out for". بال is "mind" and دير means "to wrap around". A new phrase for me is when she says that this passport is not اي كلام "any talk". From context you can tell the meaning is "not just any old thing", that it's very important.

Abu Janti responds and tells her to لا تهكلي هم . This means "don't worry". هم is a worry. There are other variations on this phrase as well. I had never heard this one specifically. I had heard however, لا تاكل هم and لا تعتل هم which mean the same thing. Respectively they literally mean "don't eat a worry" and "don't carry a worry". Those are probably mostly Lebanese though.

حطيت means "I put". And yet another new word for me that you can get from context is تابلو. It means glove compartment. Put تابلو السيارة into Google and look at the images it gives you. I tried تابلو and التابلو and it didn't give me what I wanted. That's how I make sure of a lot of words. Doing Google images searches.


5. ابو جانتي. من شان الله. الله يرضى عليك. الله يخليلك ولادك. من شان الله تاع محتاج الموبيل ضروري ضروري من شان الله (abu janti. min shan allah. allah yerda 'aleyk. allah ykhalleelak oolaadak. min shan allah taa' mahtaaj almoobile daroori daroori min shan allah) - Abu Janti. For God's sake. May God satisfy you. May God keep your children for you. For God's sake come. I need the cellphone. It's imperative. For God's sake.

Reem is really getting annoyed and she starts to beg Abu Janti to bring the phone. The things she says are very typical of what is said when someone is pleading with someone else to do something.

تاع is the Syrian way of saying تعال, "come".

محتاج means "I need".

And something that is ضروري is something necessary or something that must be done.


6. لك مع مين عم تحكي لك مع مين؟ (lek ma' meen 'am tahki lek ma' meen?) - Who are you talking to, Abu Janti? Who are you talking to?
لك الله يخليلك جانتي ان شاء الله لك بس قلي رح تجلطني يا اخي. شي بدقإلك بلاقيه مشغول شي بدقإلك ما بترد علي شو القصة؟ (lek allah ykhleelak janti in sha allah lek bes illi. rah tijlitni ya akhi. shi bda' illak blaa'eeh mashghool. shi bda' illak ma bitrud 'alayy. shu al'issa?) - May God keep Janti, inshallah, but tell me, you're going to give me a stroke, brother. Sometimes I call you and I find it busy. Sometimes I call you and you don't answer me. What's the story?

I really wish I could talk as fast as she talks at the end of the clip... even in English. The لك is just used for emphasis here and I wouldn't translate it as "hey". You could maybe translate it as "look here" but I like just leaving it out.

Janti is Abu Janti's son obviously, but coming from a western background that might not register to us right away. I know I had that problem. The word رح indicates future tense and تجلطني is a cool word. جلطة دماغية is a stroke so رح تجلطني means "you're going to give me a stroke) :D.

The word بلاقي means "I find". بلاقيه is "I find it". When she says شي you can take it to mean "sometimes" here. شو القصة is like "what's going on". I know I had a hard time recognizing it when I first started with Levantine dialect because they drop the ق so it's "shu al issa". I knew the word قصة but because they didn't say it like I had learned it in MSA class I didn't recognize it as a word I knew.

You'll find that, if you've studied MSA, a lot of words that you hear and think you don't know you actually do know, they're just said in a weird way to your ears so you don't recognize them. This problem is solved with lots of exposure to the dialects.


7. انا اذا ما كل يوم اطلعت ورا دركسيون اللانسر و حطيت الشريط إلي على ذوقي و فتلت الشام كلياتها حارة حارة و شارع شارع ما بيهنالي عيش (ana iza ma kil youm atla't wara direkesion al lancer wa hateyt ashareet illi 'ala zoo'ee wa fatelt ashaam kilayaata haara haara wa shaar'a shaar'a ma byihnaali 'aeesh) - If I didn't get behind the steering wheel of the Lancer every day and put on a tape I'm in the mood for and weave around the entirety of Damascus neighborhood by neighborhood and street by street, I couldn't live happily.

This clip is right after Reem offers Abu Janti a job for his good work that day. He turns it down even though the pay she is offering is more. دركسيون is the French word for steering wheel. ذوق is "taste", but in English you wouldn't say "I put on the tape that's on my taste", so "the tape I'm in the mood for" is a better translation.

فتل is not a word I'm familiar with, but you can get it from context that it means to go around Damascus. I looked it up in the Hans Wehr dictionary and it said to twist or weave around. الشام is Damascus by the way. They also say دمشق . I translated كلياتها as "the entirety of it", but more simply it just means "all". Just like the word كل .

Now I'm not 100% sure of the last phrase. ما بيهنالي عيش isn't something that I've heard before. But I get the idea. I'm pretty sure it's, "I wouldn't be able to live" or "I couldn't live happily". Something like that. If anyone wants to chime in (if anyone stuck with the lesson this far :P) and shed some light on that phrase I would be thankful.



China limits use of English in written material

I know this is nothing to do with Arabic, but it's very interesting. This article from Taipei Times announces that China has made it so that English words and abbreviations are no longer allowed to be used in newspapers, websites, and books. They are claiming that allowing English to be used is contaminating the purity of their language. I'm kind of torn on this issue. When I first read the article I though, "How dare they ban English!", like it was an attack on my country or something, but I can see where they're coming from. I'm sure a lot of countries around the world, not just China, feel like they're being culturally attacked by English.A lot of countries don't care and even embrace English as a road to prosperity, but it seems China's leaders don't want their country to lose its identity. I'm not sure how I feel on this. After all, shouldn't China's people be able to choose for themselves what they read? I know I wouldn't be for it if the US suddenly banned foreign language use in print, so I guess it's hypocritical of me to say it's ok for it to be done in China. What do you think about this subject?

Lebanese Arabic - enter فات

This is an essential word in Levantine dialect. The word فات (fat) means "he entered" and the present tense is يفوت (yfut). The word فات is also used in MSA, but it has a different meaning. It means "to pass away". The examples below will help clear up the way the word is used. There's another phrase I hear a lot that I didn't mention in the video. On TV when the channel wants you to tune in to a future program they'll say لا يفوِّتك (la yfawwitak) which means "don't miss it" or literally, "don't let it pass you by". You will hear this word used all the time.
To enter:
1. الي حابب يضحك يفوت (illi haabib yidhak yfut) - Whoever likes to laugh, enter. (talking about an internet forum topic)
2. لما كسرت الباب فات علينا البرد (limma kasart al bab fat 'alayna al bard) - When you broke down the door, the cold entered (on us).

To pass by:
3. فات الاوان (fat al awaan) - the time has passed
4. الي فات مات (illi fat mat) - let bygones be bygones (literally, "what's passed is dead")


Ya Reit يا ريت - if only

This phrase looks strange because it contains يا which is usually put in front of someone's name when talking to them. This يا however is just part of the phrase. يا ريت has several different translations. It all just depends on the context. It can mean "if only", "hopefully", "I wish", and other meanings that have to do with wishful thinking. In MSA it is pronounced and written as يا ليت (ya leit) and means the same things.

Example Sentences:

1. يا ريت تعجبكن الصور (ya rayt t'ajibkun assuwar) - Hopefully you guys like the pictures
2. يا ريت كنا نضل صغار (ya rayt kinna ndall izghaar)- If only we had stayed young

Video Games in Arabic

Most of the stuff I post is usually related to Levantine dialect or MSA, but last night I was looking for a podcast to listen to in some Arabic dialect while I went to sleep. I don't like listening to things in MSA. I know comparing MSA to Latin is cliche, but that's how I feel. I want something that has emotion, slang, etc. Something that people use in their every day lives. So eventually I found this podcast on video games called Saudi Gamer. I haven't had much exposure to Saudi dialect and I'm not into Islam so that kind of limits the reasons I'd have to learn it, but knowing that there's this subculture of video games encourages me. After all, if you're going to learn a language there needs to be something that interests you about the culture of the people who speak that language in order to keep you motivated. When I was first learning MSA I gravitated toward the science news in order to keep me interested. There's a show called Al-Jazeera puts on called عن كثب that I watched a lot. If you're interested in Islam then Arabic is a lot easier for you to learn, but if you're interests, like mine, include technology, science, futurism, then you're hard pressed to find resources that will keep your attention.I say all that to say that this Saudi Gamer podcast is a good resource for people like me who have trouble finding interesting topics to learn the Arabic language from. It's basically like having IGN or GiantBomb (both English video game websites) in Arabic. They review new games, talk about new platforms, etc, but it's all in Saudi Arabian dialect, something I never thought I'd see. There are 90 podcasts that are on average between 1 hour and 2 hours long and they are always adding new ones. I gather that this podcast is very popular because to my knowledge there's nothing else that covers this topic in the Arab world and they've done over 100 hours of the show so there has to be a decent fan base.

As someone with little exposure to Gulf dialects I don't understand everything that's said, but it's only a matter of time. 90 episodes is a lot of listening material to bridge the gap between the Levantine dialect that I know and the way Saudis speak.


Jordanian YouTube Comedy Channel بث بياخة

I haven't found a lot of resources online that are specifically Jordanian dialect, but the YouTube channel bathbayakha (بث بياخة) is. The name means something like "silly broadcast". It's a comedy channel run by a small team of Jordanian guys that do short skits. They have 5 up right now, but they continue to make more. I wouldn't be surprised if they are YouTube partners once they have a few more videos up because the quality of the videos is really good and they're pretty funny too. I really like the one they just put up called بتخونيني (you betray me) where a guy raps about his girlfriend cheating on him with other men when she's really just doing platonic things like buying stuff at the grocery store. And then at the end of the song it's his friend that she's really cheating with.There's another video that's in Bedouin dialect making fun of Bedouin TV shows, one about a fight over who's going to pay the bill at the restaurant, and a guide on how to avoid speeding tickets in Jordan. Jordanian is close to other Levantine dialects so it won't be like trying to understand Moroccan or anything.

I hope the Arab world continues to make YouTube channels. You obviously see tons in English, but YouTube channels in Arabic are few. If anyone knows of anymore please post them in the comments.


Niyalak نيالك - Good for You

The word نيالك (niyalak) is used in Lebanese and Syrian (as well as other dialects I'm sure) to mean "good for you", "oh how lucky you are", "good job", and other things along that line. The example sentences will make its use clear. نياله (niyalu) is "good for him", نيالها (niyala) is "good for her", نيالنا (niyalna) is "good for us", you get the idea.1. نياله اذا نجح بالامتحان - Good for him if he passed the test.
2. انا عربي يا نيالي - I'm Arab. Good for me.

'Quick' in Syrian Dialect

Lots of times in Arabic dialects the MSA word will be used as well as another word to mean the same thing. This is the case for the word قوام (qawaam). It is used to mean "quickly", but the MSA word بسرعة (bisur'a) is also used. This word is used in Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and I'm sure some surrounding countries as well. I know very little about Palestinian and Jordanian because most of the language I hear is from TV shows and only a few TV shows come out of those countries. An example of the usage of this word can be found below the video.

1. حضريلي كاسة شاي قوام (haddireelee kaasat shaay 'awam) - Fix me a cup of tea, quickly.

If you used بسرعة instead of قوام it would mean the same thing. If you know MSA but aren't so great at dialect you can always use the MSA word and 99% of the time it will work fine. Remember, Arabic speakers watch the news and understand it so if you throw in a news word you're going to get your point across. Some people will tell you this isn't true and I've had people tell me that as well. They say that you can't speak MSA in an Arabic speaking country and be understood, but in my experience the reason these people weren't understood is because their pronunciation was very bad. If all you know is MSA and you speak it in an Arabic country people will find it funny since it's rarely spoken by regular people in everyday situations, but you will be understood just fine.


What's the right way to say Qatar?

Qatar is a word you will hear pronounced all kinds of different ways. It's been in the news a lot lately since it was announced December 2nd that it will host the 2022 Soccer World Cup. There's really no way to say it correctly with an accent other than the Arabic one since it has 3 letters that aren't in English, but you can get close.


TV Review: Syrian Series Abu Janti

The Syrian TV show Abu Janti (المسلسل السوري ابو جانتي) is one of the best Arabic shows I've seen. It's a comedy show mainly, but it's got drama too. The show centers around the life of a taxi driver named Abu Janti, his mother and sister, and his friends. A lot of the show is shot from inside his taxi as he picks up odd characters around Damascus. For me, his interaction with them is the best part of the show. I also love that since Abu Janti is driving around Damascus you really get to see the city, its streets, buildings, and people. The show isn't restricted to the inside of building and you get to see a place that you've never been.

One thing that's invaluable about this show from the standpoint of someone trying to master the Arabic language is that the language spoken in the show is really authentic. It's much more like how real people talk than dubbed soap operas. If you can understand everything in this show then you have done it. You can say that you are a master of at least the Syrian Arabic dialect. I'll admit that I don't understand everything that's said, but that tells me that I'm watching the right show. In dubbed soap operas the language is much simpler and a lot less slang and colorful language is used. They're good for starting out because everything is very clear, but even if you can understand every word in them there is a lot that they won't expose you to.
On the topic of not understanding everything, often the most difficult to understand people are the ones who are not very educated. In this show there is a friend of Abu Janti named Abu Layla (ابو ليلة) who represents that type of person. The actor wears fake teeth on top that jut out and make it hard to understand him. He also doesn't move his lips much when he talks. He's supposed to be a village idiot character, but there are so many characters like that in this show which is what makes it so fun to watch. Abu Layla has a pretty wife somehow and it's hard to believe that a marriage between 2 people who are so different would happen in real life. Abu Layla isn't satisfied with his wife though because she bosses him around all the time. I guess that's why he's always hitting on every pretty girl that walks infront of his button shop. Most of the time you see him he's forcing his one employee, Waleed (وليد), to transcribe the songs he thinks up to woo women.

The two characters that I don't really enjoy are Sa'eed (سعيد) and Su'aad (سعاد). Sa'eed is approximately 35 to 40 years old and he spends all his time trying to become a good enough soccer goalie to actually be allowed to play in a game. His girlfriend Su'aad is played by an actress who has been in a lot of popular Syrian shows including Dunya (دنيا) and Bab al Hara (باب الحارة), but I really just find the two of them annoying. Su'aad's personality is very abrasive and I never really cared about Sa'eed's plight. The rest of the characters are much more interesting. Abu Janti's sister Awatif (عواطف) is really cute and naive and wears her emotions on her sleeve. The love story between her and Abu Layla's employee Waleed is fun to watch unfold. Then there's Imad (عماد) who works as a painter and lies to a girl who he sees from the balcony that he owns the place he's painting. He strings a bunch of lies over many episodes to make himself seem like he's rich and important so that she likes him.

I would recommend this series to anyone wants to watch something in Arabic but finds most shows boring. The show isn't overly conservative which allows it to present more interesting scenarios than some other shows. The Arabic in the show will be extremely hard to understand at first, but give it time. You're learning even when you don't think you are. You can watch the show at