In my write-up on Arabic
I confine myself to the grammar
. Elsewhere I have been working on the script (see abjad
among others), though that's not complete. Both those might be complicated if I also discussed the pronunciation
in detail, so I'm hiving that off here. This also introduces the phonetic
notation I use in my article on Arabic
There are twenty-eight letters in the Arabic alphabet, the abjad, and all of them represent consonants. These are the names of the letters in order, together with the Unicode number and (in bold) the phonetic symbol I'm going to use for the consonant. I'm basing these symbols on the system used in printed books, where a dot is put under the so-called emphatic letters; in these cases I use an exclamation mark after them to convey that effect. For a different system more specific to the Web, see Arabic transliteration.
This is Classical Arabic, the language of the Quran. Modern varieties of course have somewhat different pronunciations depending on the country.
ا ا alif !
ب ب ba b
1577 is used for the ta marbuta
ت ت ta t
ث ث tha th
ج ج jim j
ح ح ha emphatic h!
خ خ kha kh
د د dal d
ذ ذ dhal dh
ر ر ra r
ز ز za (or zay) z
س س sin s
ش ش shin sh
ص ص sad s!
ض ض dad d!
ط ط ta emphatic t!
ظ ظ za emphatic z!
ع ع ain &
غ غ ghain gh
a gap in numbers
ف ف fa f
ق ق qaf q
ك ك kaf k
ل ل lam l
م م mim m
ن ن nun n
ه ه ha h
و و waw w
ى ى ya y
The names of the letter
s above are simplified, without attempting to convey the Arabic precisely: my nodes are under those name
s. In some cases, because I can't do the necessary diacritic
s, two letters come out the same: two ha
, two ta
, two za
. In such cases I'm putting both letters under the one node. For accuracy, here are the names of the letters in my phonetic notation: ?alif baa taa thaa jiim h!aa khaa daal dhaal raa zaa (zay) siin shiin s!aad d!aad t!aa z!aa &ayn ghayn faa qaaf kaaf laam miim nuun haa waw yaa
. Those sending in the long vowel aa
sometimes have a final alif, e.g. baa?
: I don't know what the distinction is.
Vowels are written with marks around the consonants. (This is not the place to discuss how: for now I want to stick to sounds.) Classical Arabic has three vowels a i u, though modern dialects usually have e o as well. These can be short or long. The long ones are usually transcribed with a diacritic, as e.g. â î û, but it's clearer (and a lot easier typing the HTML) if I use double vowels: aa ii uu.
Some letters (b k m etc.) require no comment. Some others can be disposed of easily.
sh as in English: shariba 'he drank'
th as in English thin: thamaaniyah 'eight'
dh as TH in English this: dhi?b 'wolf'
kh as CH in loch, chutzpah: khit!aab 'letter'
kh is a strong sound: don't turn it into little more than H or K; also, it's always the same, unlike the German CH which changes to a sibilant in ich.
h! is intermediate between h and kh, made very deep in the throat, in the pharynx in fact: it's pharyngal. Very hard to describe. Doesn't occur in any other familiar language. Examples are the names H!asan, Muh!ammad, ?Ah!mad.
& is even harder, and you need a native speaker for this. It's the voiced version of h!, but that doesn't help. It is the dull metallic tone you get when you slow a choked gargle down so slow that it no longer vibrates... like I said, find a native speaker. Examples are &alima 'he knew', mu&allim 'teacher'.
gh is a voiced kh, somewhat like G in Spanish luego but with considerable friction. Example: ghaniyy 'rich', lughah 'language'.
The other letters I've symbolized using exclamation marks are called emphatic letters: more technically they are pharyngalized: t! d! s! z! are like t d s dh but with the back of the tongue pressed back into the pharynx, giving a dull "metallic" tone to them. (I don't know why "metallic" seems so apt here, but it does.)
q is a K made further back in the throat: it's uvular.
? is a glottal stop, that is a catch in the voice as in the middle of "oh-oh!". In Arabic it can occur in any position: ?abuu 'father (of)', bada?a 'he began'.
No Arabic word begins with a vowel. Those that do so in romanization actually begin with either ? or &: e.g. ?Ibraahiim, ?Allaah, ?Ah!mad and &Arabiyyah, &Abdullaah, &Aliyy. To a European ear these are evanescent sounds, so are left out, but they are true consonants, and to leave them out is like the French leaving out the English H.
No consonant varies in pronunciation. The one exception to this is the double L in the name of God, ?Allaah. This uniquely has a dark sound, with the back of the tongue bunched up. (It also occurs in compounds containing the word, such as &Abdullaah 'servant of God' and bismillaah 'in the name of God'.)
The vowel a is normally as in English cat. (It may be a little further back than that for some speakers.) But on either side of q or the emphatics t! d! s! z! or the unique L in ?Allaah, it is a low, rounded, back vowel: the O in British English cot.
There are two diphthongs ai, au: these can equally well be regarded as ay, aw.
Stress is on the penultimate syllable if that's long, as in kaana 'he was', otherwise on the one before, as in kataba 'he wrote'.
Now I have to admit I've been hiding something from you. Nouns and adjectives and numerals have case endings. (This is in Classical Arabic, at least.) So mu&allim 'teacher' is actually mu&allimu in the nominative, mu&allimi in the genitive, but these endings are not pronounced at the end of an utterance, i.e. last word in the sentence, or when you say the word in isolation. But the rules for counting syllables apply to the full form. So ?Allaah is really ?Allaahu, the second-last vowel -aa- is long, so that's where the stress goes. The result is that when you omit the true final syllable, the new final syllable is now stressed: ?ollóoh.