Foreigncy’s August 23 Arabic post provided a link to An Nahar’s profile of Lebanese comedian Wissam Kamal’s new stand up comedy series Lahalla2 3am Jarrib (لهلّأ عم جرّب), which in Lebanese Arabic means ‘I have been trying (experimenting, testing things out)’ / I’m still trying (experimenting, testing things out)’, or literally, ’til now I am trying (experimenting, testing things out).’
This phrase differs significantly from Modern Standard Arabic equivalents. We thought it might be helpful to break down the expression word by word and in doing so 1) demonstrate that the differences between colloquial and MSA should not be that intimidating, and 2) provide you with some colloquial grammar you can apply to your studies.
So… Lahalla2 لهلّأ. First, right off the bat, in certain forums, where the Latin alphabet is more convenient than Arabic, such as text messages or billboards, 2 is used to represent the hamza ء, the 3 is used for the ain ع, and the 7 is used for the hah ح, and the 8 is used for the ghain غ.
Second, lahalla2 لهلّأ, meaning ’til now, up to now, still’, would be expressed as 7atta-‘laan حتى الان in MSA. It is a composite word, comprised of la ل – ‘to, til’ – and halla2 هلّأ – now. The la- portion comes from MSA’s la / li ل, which means ‘to, for’. The halla2 portion is the the colloquial way of saying ‘now’ and is itself a composite word that has broken down over time. It comes from Classical Arabic’s hadha-lwaqt هذا الوقت, meaning ‘(at) this time’. In many colloquial dialects, hadha هذا, when followed by a noun, contracted to ha- هـ followed by the definite article al ال, giving us in this instance ha-lwaqt هالوقت. From there, the qaf ق, as is typical in many dialects, changed to a hamza ء sound, giving us ha-lwa2t هلوئت. Finally, the final t ت disappeared and the w و merged with the l ل, giving us a double l لّ, producing halla2 هلّأ. In other dialects, the word for “now” is different, but stems from the same process. These other words include halwa2 هلوأ and hesse هسّه (ultimately from hadhihi-ssaa3a هذه الساعة, meaning ‘(at) this hour’). If this breakdown process is confusing, think of how we got ‘howdy’ from ‘how do you do.’ Note that the colloquial word for ‘time’, wa2t وئت, keeps the t ت and the w و.
Now we go to 3am عم. This is another colloquial word one does not find in MSA or Classical Arabic. It is used most frequently in the Levantine dialect in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. It is used to form the present progressive, i.e. the ‘-ing’ form of a verb, a nuance not available in Classical Arabic. It can be used for most verbs, but the meaning changes slightly when you use it with verbs of motion, state, or experience (think to go, to stand, to see). It ultimately comes from some form of the verb 3amal, which in colloquial Arabic means ‘to do.’ Some dialects use the form 3ammaal عمّال, ‘I am doing’, instead of 3am عم.
Now the verb. The Verb Jarrab جَرَّب, from Classical Arabic Jarraba جَرَّبَ, means ‘to try, to experiment, to test, to try out’, as it does in Classical Arabic and MSA. In all modern Arabic dialects, short vowels differ significantly from Classical Arabic and from each other, and as a result verb conjugations tend to be highly variable from dialect to dialect. In Classical and MSA, ‘I try’ is rendered u-jarrib-u أُجَرِّبُ. In Lebanese and Syrian Arabic, generally, the first person singular conjugation u- disappears. The final vowel on the verb disappears in all dialects in all circumstances. The result: jarrib جَرِّب. This rule is just as true for other form 2 verbs. So, for example, u-waSSil-u أُوَصِّلُ, meaning ‘I bring, I deliver, I cause to arrive,’ becomes waSSil وَصِّل.
One final bit of nuance. Typically, the ism faa3il اسم فاعل is used in colloquial dialects for the perfect tense, i.e. ‘have done, have been doing.’ So normally ‘I have been trying, testing experimenting’ would be rendered mjarrib مْجَرِّب, from Classical Arabic mujarrib مْجَرِّب (another colloquial contraction). In this case, however, the 3am jarrib عم جرِّب form is used to add emphasis to the persons active – i.e. not passive – engagement in the action. The word lahalla2, ’til now, still’ effectively conveys the information that the action has been ongoing since some time in the past. This is a complicated topic. Shoot us a note on our Contact Us page if you have any questions.
We hope you found this enlightening. Good luck!