Arabic pronunciation

From Academic Kids

The Arabic language has a standard pronunciation, which is basically the one used to recite the Qur'an. The same pronunciation is used in newscasts, discourses and formal actuations of all types.

As in English, dialects of Arabic pronounce some letters differently.

Standard Arabic (or Quranic Arabic) has 28 consonant sounds and three vowel sounds. Both consonant and vowels may be short or long.

Contents

Rhythm

Unlike English, syllable stress in Arabic is largely irrelevant and does not affect meaning. There is no standard way of stressing words, each dialect has its own system.

However, vowel length and consonant length, which are largely irrelevant in English, do affect meaning in Arabic.

Arabic has two basic types of syllables: short and long. Short syllables have the form consonant + short vowel and are followed by a short consonant vowel in the next syllable. Long syllables have a consonant plus either a long vowel, or a short vowel followed by one long consonant or by two short consonants. Long syllables take approximately twice as long to say as do short ones, and this gives Arabic a characteristic "stacatto" rhythm.

Vowels

The short vowels are "a" as in English "bat" or "bot", "i" as in "sat" or "sit" or "set", "u" as oo in "book" or "boot".

The long vowels are exactly like the short ones, but held longer in pronunciation. Some say "twice as much time".

Consonants

The 28 consonant sounds of Arabic are the following: (Letters left without a comment are pronounced more or less like in English.)

ء (hamzah) 
as "tt" in the Cockney pronunciation of "bottle" (bo'l)
ب (b) 
ت (t) 
ث (th) 
as in English "throw"
ج (j) 
as in English "jelly"
ح (_h) 
unvoiced pharyngeal fricative
خ (kh) 
as j in Northern Spanish or ch in Scottish "loch"
د (d) 
ذ (dh) 
as in English "the other"
ر (r) 
as in Spanish
ز (z) 
س (s) 
ش (sh) 
ص (.s) 
emphatic s (see below)
ض (.d) 
emphatic d
ط (.t) 
emphatic t
ظ (.z) 
emphatic dh (not emphatic z!)
ع (ayn) 
laryngeal voiced fricative
غ (gh) 
voiced kh
ف (f) 
ق (q) 
uvular stop, aspirated
ك (k) 
front palatal stop, unaspirated
ل (l) 
م (m) 
ن (n) 
و (w) 
ى (y) 
ه (h) 
voiced glottal fricative (unvoiced in some dialects)

To pronounce the four emphatics, make your tongue broader and cover the side teeth with it, and lower the back of the tongue. The four corresponding "unemphatics" (s, d, t, dh) are pronounced with a narrow tongue and with the back of the tongue raised. You also lower the back of the tongue to pronounce q and r.

Local variations

Most variation on spoken Arabic prononounce certain letters differnt than the pronunciation of literary Arabic. Or, to put it differently, spoken and literary Arabic differ not only in specific words but also contain changes throughout the board in the pronunciations of certain sounds.

A good example would be Egyptian Arabic.

  • The letter ﻕ (q) is pronounced like a glottal stop in most (but not all) words.
  • The letter ﺝ (j) is pronounced as g. Foreign words which contain the sound j are written with چ, the same special variation used in some other dialects to pronounce g.
  • The letter ﺙ (th) is pronounced as s. Thus Umm Kulthum is actually pronounced Umm Kalsoum.
  • The letter ﺫ (dh) is usually pronounced as z, sometimes as d.
  • The letter ﻅ (emphatic dh) is pronounced as emphatic z.

Other dialects have similar variations. The letter most prone to variations in pronunciation seems to be ﻕ. This sometimes leads to variations in transliteration systems.

This does not mean that Egyptians recite the Quran any different or that they don't know the standard pronunciation: all of them can pronounce a q correctly and understand Standard Arabic when necessary.

Long consonants are pronounced exactly like short consonants, but last longer. Arabs call them "mushaddadah" i.e. "strengthened", but they are not pronounced any stronger, just held longer.

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