Arabic is a Semitic language, related to ancient Cana'anite, Aramaic and Nabatean. Arabic script evolved from Nabatean
and/or Syriac writing about 300 AD. Earlier inscriptions were written in Nabatean or Aramaic. Written Arabic
was spread through the Qu'ran. Literary Arabic remained
bound to the Quran, but the colloquial language changed a bit over time, and developed different dialects and
pronunciations in different countries. Variations are most common in pronunciation of vowels.
The Arabic alphabet has 28 consonant
letters. Arabic is written from right to left. Long vowel sounds are written explicitly using diacritic marks to modify
the alif, while others are usually inferred. The chart below gives the entire alphabet. The Arabic alphabet is
complex. Letters change their form depending on whether they are at the beginning, middle or end of a word, and are
modified by marks indicating vowel sounds as well as the hamza, a glotteal stop sign, the shadda, which indicates
doubling of the letters, and the suqqun, which indicates that no vowel is to be sounded.
Arabic has three vowels, long and short: i, u and a. There is no o.
Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions
'Ha - ('h)
-a guttural sound
made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like an h, or like the "ch" in loch, but it
is easily distinguishable by speakers of Semitic languages from the Kh, which is closer to the ch in Loch. In
transliteration using the standard alphabet, it is written 'h. Examples: 'hamas,
('a) - This letter is pronounced from deep
in the throat. It is like an "ah" with the extreme back of the tongue held up against the roof of the mouth. It is
Gayn - (gh)
- This letter is an ''ayn that is pronounced so deeply that is
is sounded as a very deep rolled "r." It is not pronounced as "G." It is usually written as gh. In English
spelling of some place names, the Gayn has been anglicized
to "G' as in Gaza.
U - "ou" but not quite as long as ou in "soup." About like oo in "woops" but longer than "look."
A- sounded about like a in and
in standard English.
R- close to the French or Eastern European
Dha (tha, th, dh)
- Pronounced approximately as "th" in "this," sometimes "z" in vernacular;
written as th or dh.
Tha - (tha ) -
Pronounced and written as th (soft as in "with").
Qaf- (qaf, q) -
In transliteration, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the qaf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding
words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Qassam is preferable to
example. It is not necessary to add a "u" after the q, because Semitic languages, unlike English, do not necessarily
have a "u" sound after the q. Words with different spelling such as nakba and naqba have different
meanings. The Palestinian "catastrophe" of 1948 must always be written as "nakba."
Arabic alphabet and phonetic
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Further Information: See: Hebrew