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Arabic Connected Speech: What Gets Assimilated? Posted by on Apr 20, 2017 in Arabic Language, Grammar, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

When people speak, it is common that certain sounds get assimilated, dropped, or blended. In English, for example, “does she” is pronounced as “dushee” in connected speech. In Arabic, the most common assimilation and/or dropping occurs with the definite article ال and with the alif of imperative tri-consonantal verbs (i.e. verbs that have a root of three consonants) and with alif of verbs that have a root of five or more letters. The alif in these cases is called alif al-wasl أَلِفُ الوَصل  in Arabic grammar. In isolated words, it is essential that أَلِفُ الوَصْل  be pronounced because it is articulatorily impossible to start a word in Arabic with a letter/sound that does not have either fatHah, dhammah, or kasrah on it (see this blog), as in these examples:

Hamzah Types

image by Ibn al-Yemen

  • اُكْتُب ‘write!’ [imperative]
  • اِجْلِس ‘sit down!’ [imperative]
  • اِسْتِمَاع ‘listening’ [noun]
  • اِنْكَسَرَ ‘broke’ [verb]

However, this alif gets dropped (but is still written) when the preceding letter/sound is part of a preposition, such as فِي , مِن, عَن, و, بـ, كـ etc. or a diacriticized letter, as in these examples:

  1. With prepositions:
    • مِنَ اليَمَن ‘from Yemen’ is pronounced as مِنَليَمن
    • وَالكِتَاب ‘and the book’ is pronounced as وَلْكِتَاب
    • إِلَى البَيْت ‘to the house’ is pronounced as إِللْبَيت
    • فِي الغُرْفَة ‘in the room’ is pronounced as فِيَّلْغُرفَة or فِلْغُرفَة
    • وَاُكْتُب ‘and write!’ is pronounced as وَكْتُب
    • فَاِنْكَسَرَ ‘then it breaks’ is pronounced as فَنْكَسَرَ
  2. With words that are properly parsed; that is, they are assigned the correct final diacritical marks:
    • كِتَابُ الوَلَدِ ‘the boy’s book’ is pronounced as كِتَابُلْوَلَدِ
    • كِتَابَ الوَلَدِ is pronounced as كِتَابَلْوَلَدِ
    • كَتَابِ الوَلَدِ is pronounced as كِتَابِلْوَلَدِ
    • تَمْرِينُ اِسْتِماع ‘listening exercise’ is pronounced as تَمْرِينُستماع

If the alif is preceded by the preposition لـ  ‘for’ it is neither written nor pronounced, as in these examples:

  • لـ + الوَلَد ‘for the boy’ is written and pronounced as لِلْوَلد
  • لـ + الوَطَن ‘for the country’ is written and pronounced as لِلْوَطَن

If the alif in the definite article ال  is followed by a word that begins with a sun letter (see this post), both the alif al-Wasl  and the ل  get assimilated (but they are still written), as in these examples:

  1. With propositions:
    • كَالشَّمْس ‘like the sun’ is pronounced as كَشَّمْس
    • بِالسِّكِين ‘with the knife’ is pronounced as بِسِّكِّين
    • فِي السَّيَّارَة ‘in the car’ is pronounced as فِيسَّيَّارَة
  2. With words that are properly parsed:
    • كِتَابُ الطَّالِب ‘the student’s book’ is pronounced as كِتَابُطَّالِب
    • يَومُ الثُّلاثَاء ‘Tuesday’ is pronounced as يَومُثُّلاثَاء
    • سَيَّارَةِ الرَّجُل ‘the man’s car’ is pronounced as سَيَّارَةُ رَّجُل or سَيَّارَتُرَّجُل

Alif al-wasl ألِفُ الوَصِل  in Arabic is a plain alif, i.e. alif without hamzah ء . If it is written with hamzah (above or below, i.e. أ or إ), it is known as alif al-qaT’ أَلِفُ القَطع. Contrary to أَلِفُ الوَصل, it is not affected by connected speech. That is, it is still pronounced regardless of the preceding or following letters or sounds, as in the following examples:

  1. Isolated words:
    • أَحْمَد ‘Ahmed’
    • أَشْرَبُ ‘I drink’
    • أَنَّ ‘.. that’ (as in قَالَ أَّنَّ البِنْتَ جَمِيلَةٌ ‘he said that the girl was pretty.’)
    • أَكْمِل ‘complete!’ [imperative/order]
  2. In contexts:
    • وَأَحْمَد ‘and Ahmed’, no change in pronunciation
    • بِأَنَّ ‘such that’, no change in pronunciation
    • أَنَا أَشَرَبُ مَاءً بَارِدًا ‘I am drinking cold water.’, no change in pronunciation
    • اِسْتَمِع وَأَكْمِل ‘listen and complete!’ [imperative], no change in pronunciation

Knowing these rules help you comprehend the speech of native speakers of Arabic more easily. Besides, putting them into practice makes your speech of Arabic more intelligible. More importantly, you will certainly speak a lot more fluently. To change these rule from mere knowledge about the language to actual linguistic ability in your speech, it is important that you practice them as much as possible so that they become commonplace and automatic for you. This said, let’s put what we just learned into practice.

a) Read loudly paying attention أَلِفُ الوَصل

ذَهَبْتُ إِلَى الشَّرِكَة.

هَذَا مَكْتَبُ اِستِقبَال.

الوَقْتُ كَالسَّيْف.

وَضَعْتُ الصُّورَة فَوقَ النَّافِذَة.

b) Distinguish between أَلِفُ الوَصل and أَلِفُ القَطْع

أَنَا أُشَاهِدُ التِّلْفِزِيون.

أَكْرَم وَالوَلَد يَلْعَبَان فِي الحَدِيقَة.

قَالَ بِأَنَّ السَّيَّارَةَ جَدِيدَةٌ.

هَذَا البَاب كَبِيرٌ وتِلْكَ النَّافِذَةُ صَغِيرَة.

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About the Author: Ibnulyemen اِبْنُ اليَمَن

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. To learn more, you can also visit my website Ibnulyemen Arabic or my facebook page.


Comments:

  1. pat copping:

    thank you I have been asking my lecturer to explain the difference to no avail – and this explanation was very clear with great examples

    • ibn al-Yemen:

      @pat copping I am glad that this facilitated your learning of Arabic. Good luck!