Praise & Disparagement
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In most languages, putting letters next to each other simply creates a word.
However, In Arabic, putting letters as they are in a row does not create any word.
ب ح ر This is not a word
Ancient Arabs (or more precisely, Arameans) saw that it made more sense to join the letters of each word together, so the previous word will look like:
ب + ح + ر = بـحـر Now this is a word, and it means: sea
So to write and read Arabic you will have, in addition to knowing the letters, to know how each letter is joined when it is at the beginning, middle, or end of the word.
ي + و + م = يـوم Day
Notice here that one of the letters و was joined from the right but wasn't joined from the left; this happens.
ك + ت + ا + ب = كـتـاب Book
Supperع + ش + ا + أ = عـشـاء
Detailed information on the usage of different joining figures of letter 'alif is available on this page.
أ + ا = آ
ل + أ = لأ / ـلأ
ل + إ = لإ / ـلإ
The Arabic 28 letters are all consonants. Nonetheless, Arabic have six vowels.
There are three short vowels and three long vowels.
Short vowels appear only in pronunciation but do not have letters that represent them in writing. I will be Romanizing the short vowels as: a , i , and u .
Short vowels are sometimes denoted with special marks that appear above or below the preceding letter. These marks are: َ , ِ , ُ respectively.
These marks are rarely seen in real life, so you should not count much on them.
The three long vowels will be Romanized as: aa , ee , oo .
Long vowels are denoted in writing with the letters: و ، ي ، ا respectively.
But we already know that these three letters are the three consonants: ' , y, w .
Therefore, these three letters can denote both the consonants and long vowels. This is why they are called the "weak letters" حُرُوْفُ الْعِلَّةِ .
* "X" means any consonant preceding the short vowel.
The three weak letters are joined when they denote long vowels just like when they denote consonants. There is no way to determine between the two possibilities by just looking at the word if you do not know which one is the one.
However, the exception is the weak ا .You have seen that it is missing the sign ء .
If the 'alif has that sign, this means that the 'alif is definitely a hamza(t) هَمْزَة . The hamza(t) is the consonant form of 'alif (the glottal stop, the zero-duration A vowel).
If the 'alif is not carrying the sign of hamza(t), then it must be a long vowel A EXCEPT when it occurs first letter in the word. In that case, the 'alif is a hamza(t) (consonant), but it is a special type of hamza(t) that is pronounced only when it is the first sound coming out of the mouth (i.e. when you begin speaking by pronouncing that hamza(t) ). This hamza(t) is called the "connecting hamza(t)" هَمْزَةُ الوَصْلِ . The other outspoken hamza(t) at the beginning of a word is called the "disconnecting hamza(t)" هَمْزَةُ القَطْعِ; that one is always pronounced.
So a single 'alif can never denote a long vowel when it is the first letter of a word; there is no Arabic word that begins with a long-vowel-denoting 'alif. This is why the table of joining figures did not a have a figure for long vowel 'alif at the beginning of the word.
The hamza(t) is not a weak letter. The weak 'alif is only that 'alif which is not the first letter of a word and which doesn't carry the sign of hamza(t).
The ي and و have no such differentiation. The ي and و are always called weak letters, whether they were denoting long vowels or not.
Short vowels are called in Arabic "moves" حَرَكَاْتٌ .
Long vowels are called "extensions" أَحْرُفُ المَدِّ.
A letter that is followed by a "move" is called a "moving letter" حَرْفٌ مُتَحَرِّكٌ .
A letter that is not followed by any vowel is called a "still letter" حَرْفٌ سَاْكِنٌ.
The mark for "stillness" is: xْ
The three letters that indicate long vowels (extended letters) are always still, i.e. never followed by any short vowel (move).
The letter that precedes any extended letter must be followed by the short vowel that corresponds to the extended letter.
Thus, the extended letter is always a still letter and is always preceded by the corresponding short vowel. This the definition of long vowel. Any weak letter that is still and preceded by the corresponding short vowel indicates a long vowel.
You will see when you get deep enough in Arabic that Arabic does not have real long vowels but only the three short ones (a, i, u).
The long vowel I is composed of a short I and a still consonant Y (iy = ee). The long vowel U is composed of a short U and a still consonant W (uw = oo). The long vowel A is composed of a short A and a weak 'alif that represents another short A (aa). The second short A is not a consonant 'alif in this case. However, this weak 'alif is not an original letter and it is always transformed from either a consonant Y or W (ay → aa , aw → aa); thus, again we have a long vowel that is composed of a short vowel and a following still consonant, but the consonant here is disguising in the form of a short A.
This information will become useful later, but in the beginning, it is good idea to stick to the principles mentioned above without diving in these details.
Here is the Romanization scheme for the hamza(t) with the vowels:
You may click on the letter to hear its sound
These transformations were meant to facilitate pronunciation.
A diphthong means two vowels following each other and pronounced as one syllable. For example, the word "eye" is pronounced as a diphthong composed of a long A followed by an i (āi), and the word "mail" contains a diphthong composed of a long E and an i (mēil). Diphthongs are very common in English.
In Arabic however, diphthongs are few. Important diphthongs in formal Arabic are the following:
►aw / aaw sound similar to "mount", "doubt" or the German "aus."
So the Arabic word waaw sounds: wow!
►ay / aay sound similar to "my", "dry" or "Einstein."
Click on the example to hear the pronunciation:
Diphthongs like iw or uy do not exist in Arabic. When the combination iw occurs, it is transformed to other things (usually to iy) and the combination uy is usually transformed uw.
The concept of diphthongs is a western concept. From an Arabic point of view, the diphthongs are not combinations of vowels but combinations of vowels and weak consonants (w and y are not vowels in Arabic but consonants, because when you say "wide" and "yard" you are pronouncing consonants not vowels).
For example, diphthongs such as the one in the word "Iliad" are written in European languages with two vowels, i and a. If we were to transcribe this diphthong in Arabic, we would need to use three transcription symbols not just two:
The Arabic transcription identifies a full-blown consonant y between the two vowels i and a, whereas the western point of view is that this is a diphthong composed of two vowels connected by a "glide." The "glide" is a letter in Arabic (either w or y), so the Arabic transcription system does not recognize the western concept of diphthongs. Vowels NEVER follow each other in Arabic.
In the modern spoken Arabic, the diphthongs aw and ay have evolved into new, simple vowels. Aw has evolved into a long O (ō as in "loan") and ay and has evolved into a long E (ē as in "hair.") This has happened in nearly all the modern dialects barring a few exceptions (e.g. modern rural Syrian dialects) where the classical vowels and diphthongs remain unchanged.
Click to hear,