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Learning Article : Learning Arabic Alphabet Part 2: Arabic Word Formation

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Within the categories of short and long vowels, learners face a total of six distinct tones to master in their understanding of Arabic text and pronunciation. This in-depth article discusses each individually, sure to help anyone struggling to grasp the "tashkil" of Arabic.

Apr 15, 2017 12:00 AM
Comments · 4
Tomas, your analysis is on the spot. Well done!
In other words, it all boils down to the facilitation of the articulation.

Arabic letters are divided into soft and hard letters (like in Russian, except in Russian it’s the consonants that are divided and not all the letters):

Hard letters (الحروف المفخَّمة):
خ، ص، ض، غ، ط، ق، ظ

Soft letters (الحروف المرقّقة)
The rest of the the alphabet, except ا, ل and ر.

ا, ل and ر which can be hard or soft.

Since we’re talking specifically about the ا:
It’s hard when preceded by a hard letter, such as in ظابط ,صاحب, and soft when preceded by a soft one, such as in باب, ساحر.

This rule makes sense, because, as you explained, why make it hard, when it’s anatomically easier to pronounce it soft, and make soft when it’s easier to make it hard? The letter ا itself is neutral; neither soft nor hard. Its articulation, hard or soft, is decided upon by the letter preceding it.

March 27, 2020
Yeah, I'd love to read your take on that!

I understand it the following way:

ظابط cannot be pronounced zhääbit, because of the guttural nature of ظ
It simply does not allow your tongue to form the ää, because it's needed for your ظ
I'd even say, that when pronouncing ظابط the Alif almost sounds like an Å?
My question: Could one make a rule of thumb out of it: After guttural sounds it's an ÅÅ, whereas any other time it's ÄÄ?
For example
صاحب ساحر
9åå7ib sää7ir ?
March 27, 2020
Andrew, if I understood your question correctly, you’re wondering why for example the alif in باب is pronounced more like the German ä, while the alif in ظابط more like the German a. Am I right?

March 27, 2020
This is interesting, as far as spelling is concerned. Regarding pronunciation, I have never found a good explanation of how long and short vowels are affected by their phonetic context in Arabic and of how they are rendered accordingly. I clarify with an example: the alif in باب does not sound like in ظابط or in قابل. While I realise accents can vary in different varieties of Arabic, this is a point that most textbooks neglect when presenting the ABC of the language.
March 26, 2020