This chapter reviews the history of the Arabic dialects spoken in Bilād al-Shām from long before the Arab conquests until today. They belong mainly to the Syro-Lebanese group (including the Cilician and Cypriot dialects), but also to the Shāwi, north Arabian bedouin, and Mesopotamian groups. After an overview of the various but rather scanty available sources, and methodological considerations on the use of the data provided by texts written in Middle Arabic, some basic phonological, morphological, syntactical, and lexical features are studied in an attempt to trace their appearance and history whenever possible. Special attention is given to the b(i)-imperfect, whose origin and grammatical–semantic meanings are analysed at length, and to the influence of the Aramaic substrate, of which a dozen allegedly typical examples are discussed. Pointing to the difficulty of writing a history of Levantine dialects, the conclusion also underlines the striking continuity in colloquial usage over the ages.
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