Arabic Pronunciation of consonants
(1) Alif ا This first letter has no pronunciation of its own. One of
its main functions is to act as a bearer for the sign hamzah,
discussed separately in chapter 7. Alif is also used as a long vowel
/a¯ / (see chapter 6).
(2) Ba¯ ب /b/ A voiced bilabial stop as the /b/ in English ‘habit’.
(3) Ta¯ ت /t/ An unaspirated voiceless dental stop as the t in English
‘stop’. Never pronounced as American English tt as in ‘letter’.
a¯ ث /t
/ A voiceless interdental fricative as th in English ‘thick’,
(5) G˘ ¯ım ج /g˘ / A voiced palato-alveolar affricate. In reality, this letter
has three different pronunciations depending on the dialectal
background of the speaker:
(a) In Classical Arabic and the Gulf area, as well as in many
other places in the Arab world, it is pronounced as a voiced
palato-alveolar affricate as the j in ‘judge’, ‘journey’, or the g
in Italian ‘giorno’.
(b) In Lower Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria) it is pronounced as a
voiced velar stop as the g in English ‘great’.
(c) In North Africa and the Levant it is pronounced as a voiced
palato-alveolar fricative /zˇ / as the s in English ‘pleasure’, and
as j in French ‘jour’.
a¯ ح /h
/ This consonant has no equivalent in European
languages. It is pronounced in the pharynx by breathing with
strong friction and no uvular vibration or scrape, so that it sounds
like a loud whispering from the throat. It must be kept distinct
from the sounds of خ /h
/ (7) and .. ه /h/ (26).
a¯ خ /h
/ This consonant occurs in many languages. It is a
voiceless postvelar (before or after /i/) or uvular (before or after /a/
or /u/) fricative, quite similar to the so-called ach-Laut in German
‘Nacht’ or Scottish ‘loch’ or the Spanish j in ‘mujer’, but in Arabic
it has a stronger, rasping sound.
(8) Da¯ l د /d/ A voiced dental stop as the d in English ‘leader’.
a¯ l ذ /d
/ A voiced interdental fricative, as the th in English
(10) Ra¯ ر /r/ A voiced alveolar trill, which differs from English r in
that it is a rolled sound or trill, pronounced as a rapid succession
of flaps of the tongue, similar to Scottish r in ‘radical’ or Italian r
in ‘parlare’ or Spanish rr in ‘perro’.
(11) Zayn ز /z/ A voiced alveolar sibilant, as the z in English ‘gazelle’.
(12) S¯ın س /s/ A voiceless alveolar sibilant as the s in English ‘state’.
(13) Sˇ ¯ın ش /sˇ/ A voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant as the sh in
English ‘shave’, ‘push’.
a¯d ص /s
/ Belongs to the group of emphatic consonants. The
emphatic consonants are pronounced with more emphasis and
further back in the mouth than their non-emphatic (plain)
counterparts. In pronouncing them the body and root of the
tongue are (simultaneously) drawn back towards the rear wall
of the throat (pharynx), and also the tip of the tongue is slightly
retracted. Hence the emphatic consonants are also called
pharyngealized consonants. ص /s
/ is thus the emphatic or
pharyngealized counterpart of the plain alveolar س /s/ (12) and
sounds somewhat similar to the s in English ‘son’ or ‘assumption’.
For the retracting and lowering effect of the emphatic consonants
on the adjacent vowels, see chapter 4.
a¯d ض /d
/ It is also an emphatic consonant, classified as a
pharyngealized voiced alveolar stop. Arab phoneticians and
reciters of the Quran recommend it is pronounced as a counter-
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part to د /d/ (8). In current use in many dialects it is, however, also
pronounced as the counterpart of ذ /d
/ (9), somewhat similar to
the sound th in English ‘thus’. See also chapter 4.
a¯ ط /t
/ An emphatic consonant, classified as a pharyngealized
voiceless alveolar stop. It is the counterpart of ت /t/ (3), and similar
to the sound /t/ at the beginning of the English word ‘tall’. See
also chapter 4.
a¯ ظ /d
/ An emphatic consonant, classified as a pharyngealized
voiced interdental fricative. It is the emphatic counterpart of ذ
/ (9). In some dialects it is pronounced as ض /d
/ (15). In some
other dialects it is pronounced as pharyngealized ز /z/ (11). See
also chapter 4.
(18) Ayn ع // This consonant has no equivalent in European
languages. It is defined as a voiced emphatic (pharyngealized)
laryngeal fricative, which is pronounced by pressing the root of
the tongue against the back wall of the pharynx (upper part of the
throat) and letting the pressed air stream from the throat pass
through the pharynx with some vibration. In a way it is the voiced
counterpart of ح /h
/ (6). It sounds as if you are swallowing your
tongue or being strangled.
(19) G˙ ayn غ /g˙ / A voiced postvelar (before or after /i/) or uvular
(before or after /a/ or /u/) fricative, a gargling sound, produced
by pronouncing the خ /h
/ (7) and activating the vocal folds,
similar to Parisian French r in ‘Paris’ and ‘rouge’ but with more
(20) Fa¯ ف /f/ A voiceless labiodental fricative as the f in English
(21) Qa¯ f ق /q/ This has no equivalent in European languages. It is a
voiceless postvelar or uvular stop, pronounced by closing the back
of the tongue against the uvula as if it were to be swallowed. It is
like خ /h
/ (7) without vibration. This sound should not be confused
with ك /k/ (22), e.g. قَلْب qalb, ‘heart’, but كَلْب kalb ‘dog’.
(22) Ka¯ f ك /k/ An unaspirated voiceless velar stop as the k of English
(23) La¯m ل /l/ A voiced alveolar lateral as the l in English ‘let’.
(24) M¯ım م /m/ A voiced bilabial nasal as the m in English ‘moon’.
(25) Nu¯n ن /n/ A voiced alveolar nasal as the n in English ‘nine’.
(26) Ha¯ ه) ه ) /h/ A voiceless glottal fricative as the h in English
Note: This letter has another function when it occurs at the end of a word with
two superscript dots: ة v ة … Then it is pronounced exactly like ت /t/ (3) and is
called ta¯ marbu¯t
ah (see chapter 10 on gender).
(27) Wa¯w و /w/ A voiced bilabial semivowel, as the w in English
(28) Ya¯ ي /y/ A voiced alveo-palatal semivowel, as the y in English
The Arabic Alphabet: Consonants
|‘alif||ا||ـا||‘ / ā||long unrounded low central back vowel||‘a’ as in ‘father’|
|Bā’||ب||بـ||ـبـ||ـب||b||voiced bilabial stop||‘b’ as in ‘bed’|
|Tā’||ت||تـ||ـتـ||ـت||t||voiced aspirated stop||‘t’ as in ‘tent’|
|Thā’||ث||ثـ||ـثـ||ـث||th||voiceless interdental fricative||‘th’ as in ‘think’|
|Jīm||ج||جـ||ـجـ||ـج||j||voiced palatal affricate||‘j’ as in ‘jam’|
|Ḥā’||ح||حـ||ـحـ||ـح||ḥ||voiceless pharyngeal constricted fricative||only in Arabic; a constricted English ‘h’|
|Khā’||خ||خـ||ـخـ||ـخ||kh||voiceless velar fricative||‘ch’ as in German ‘Bach’|
|Dāl||د||ـد||d||voiced dental stop||‘d’ as in ‘deer’ (approx.)|
|Dhāl||ذ||ـذ||dh||voiced interdental fricative||‘th’ as in ‘there’|
|Rā’||ر||ـر||r||voiced dental trill||‘r’ as in ‘run’ (approx.)|
|Zāy||ز||ـز||z||voiced dental sibilant||‘z’ as in ‘zoo’ (approx.)|
|Sīn||س||سـ||ـسـ||ـس||s||voiceless dental sibilant||‘s’ as in ‘sit’|
|Shīn||ش||شـ||ـشـ||ـش||sh||voiceless palatal sibilant||‘sh’ as in ‘shut’|
|Ṣād||ص||صـ||ـصـ||ـص||ṣ||voiceless post-dental sibilant emphatic||the counterpart of Sῑn; all the ’emphatics’ are pronounced with the back of the tongue slightly raised|
|Ḍād||ض||ضـ||ـضـ||ـض||ḍ||voiced post-dental emphatic stop||the counterpart of Dāl|
|Ṭā’||ط||طـ||ـطـ||ـط||ṭ||voiceless post-dental emphatic stop||the counterpart of Tā’|
|Ẓā’||ظ||ظـ||ـظـ||ـظ||ẓ||voiced post-interdental emphatic fricative||the counterpart of Dhāl|
|cayn||ع||عـ||ـعـ||ـع||c||voiced pharyngeal fricative||purely Arabic — a constriction of the throat and an expulsion of the breath with the vocal cords vibrating|
|Ghayn||غ||غـ||ـغـ||ـغ||gh||voiced uvular fricative||close to a French ‘r’ as in ‘Paris’ — like a gentle gargling|
|Fā’||ف||فـ||ـفـ||ـف||f||labio-dental voiceless fricative||‘f’ as in ‘free’|
|Qāf||ق||قـ||ـقـ||ـق||q||voiceless unaspirated uvular stop||‘k’ in the back of the throat; compare ‘cough’ with ‘calf’|
|Kāf||ك||كـ||ـكـ||ـك||k||voiceless aspirated palatal or velar stop||‘k’ as in ‘king’|
|Lām||ل||لـ||ـلـ||ـل||l||voiced dental lateral||‘l’ as in ‘lift’|
|Mīm||م||مـ||ـمـ||ـم||m||voiced bilabial nasal||‘m’ as in ‘moon’|
|Nūn||ن||نـ||ـنـ||ـن||n||voiced dental nasal||‘n’ as in ‘net’|
|Hā’||ه||هـ||ـهـ||ـه||h||voiceless glottal fricative||‘h’ as in ‘house’|
|Wāw||و||ـو||w||voiced bilabial glide||‘w’ as in ‘wonder’|
|Yā’||ي||يـ||ـيـ||ـي||y||voiced palatal glide||‘y’ as in ‘yellow’|
|Hamza||ء||‘||voiceless glottal stop||not a phoneme in English but found in some exclamations — e.g. ‘oh-oh’|