Part 4: The Vowels
– Arabic has three main vowels. Luckily, they’re very simple to pronounce because they’re similar to English vowels. However, it’s important to realize that Arabic also has vowel derivatives that are as important as the main vowels. These vowel derivatives fall into three categories: double vowels, long
vowels, and diphthongs.
Arabic has 3 short vowels: U, A and E/I
• These are marks that go on top or underneath a letter
• If a letter has a vowel, it means that vowel comes after that letter
• You can “double” these vowels; this will add the sound of the letter N at the end
• This doubling can only happen at the end of a word
• If a letter has no vowel after it, we put a special symbol on top of that letter to indicate this
• This symbol is called a Sukoon
• If there is a letter with a Sukoon and then the same letter in the same word again, the two letters will be written as one and a special symbol will be placed on top of the letter
• This symbol is called the Shadda
• The vowel of the second letter is placed on top of underneath the Shadda, not on top of underneath the letter itself.
The three main Arabic vowels are:
fatHah: The first main vowel in Arabic is called a fatHa (feht-hah). A fatHa is the equivalent of the short “a” in “hat” or “cat.” Occasionally, a fatHa also sounds like the short “e” in “bet” or “set.” Much like the other vowels, the way you pronounce a fatHa depends on what consonants come before or after it. In Arabic script, the fatHa is written as a small horizontal line above a consonant.
In English transcription, which I use in this book, it’s simply represented by the letter “a,” as in the words kalb (kah-leb; dog) or
walad (wah-lahd; boy).
damma: The second main Arabic vowel is the damma (dah-mah). A damma sounds like the “uh” in “foot” or “book.” In Arabic script, it’s written like a tiny backward “e” above a particular consonant. In English transcription, it’s represented by the letter “u,” as in funduq (foon-dook; hotel) or suHub (soo-hoob; clouds).
kasra: The third main vowel in Arabic is the kasra (kahs-rah), which sounds like the long “e” in “feet” or “treat.” The kasra is written the same way as a fatHa — as a small horizontal line — except that it goes underneath the consonant. In English transcription, it’s written as an “i,” as in bint (bee-neht; girl) or ‘islaam (ees-lahm; Islam).
One type of vowel derivative is the double vowel, which is known in Arabic as tanwiin (tahn-ween). The process of tanwiin is a fairly simple one: Basically, you take a main vowel and place the same vowel right next to it, thus creating two vowels, or a double vowel. The sound that the double vowel makes depends on the main vowel that’s doubled. Here are all possible combinations of double vowels:
-Double fatHa: tanwiin with fatHa creates the “an” sound, as in ‘ahlan wa sahlan (ahel-an wah sahel-an; Hi).
-Double damma: tanwiin with damma creates the “oun” sound. For example, kouratoun (koo-rah-toon; ball) contains a double damma.
-Double kasra: tanwiin with kasra makes the “een” sound, as in SafHatin (sahf-hah-teen; page).
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