The fact that vowels in Arabic are usually not written, favors native and fluent speakers – and makes it difficult for learners. Not only that learners mispronounce words – reading becomes also less enjoyable. Furthermore, sometimes it is really difficult to find out how an Arabic word is actually pronounced. Many websites nowadays use an AI to pronounce words which eventually sound like google.
The internet helps. There is a great tool which tells us how native speakers pronounce an Arabic word: Forvo.
But let us first have a brief look at the history and development of Arabic.
Why is Arabic written without vowels?
We don’t know and can only guess. When the Phoenician script (from which the Arabic alphabet was developed) was taken and adopted by the Greeks, it probably happend that some consonants were interpreted as vowels, and so we ended up with vowels in our (English) alphabet.
However, I don’t think we will ever be able to solve the great mystery of the Semitic bi- and triliteral roots – because we have too little information.
With a few exceptions, every Arabic root consists of three letters, and these three are consonants. The vowels have only a secondary role.
- The consonants give the meaning of the word.
- The vowels express its modifications.
The great British grammarian has worded it as follows:
The letters are the bones of a skeleton, which the vowels clothe with flesh and endow with life.William Wright in: Lectures On The Comparative Grammar Of The Semitic Languages (1890)
The website Forvo is the largest pronunciation guide in the world – that is what Forvo writes about itself, but I guess it is true. You can find millions of words and phrases pronounced in their original languages.
Forvo was founded in 2008 “with the mission of improving spoken communication across cultures by creating a platform where users could share pronunciations of words in their native language and listen to words pronounced by other native speakers” (about page).
Today, Forvo is the largest online reference for pronunciations with a database of nearly 5 million words pronounced in over 370 languages – all created and maintained by native speakers.
Does it work for Arabic? Yes, it works great!
Let’s try it.
Example: جمهوريّة مصر العربيّة
Let’s assume you don’t know how to pronounce Republic of Egypt in Arabic:
جمهوريّة مصر العربيّة
Click this link to hear how a male person from Algeria would pronounce it.
Example: كل عام وأنتم بخير
What about the famous expression to congratulate people? Kull aam…
كل عام وأنتم بخير
Click this link if you want to hear how Jasmen from Egypt would pronounce it.
Example: Jamal Khashoggi
When the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, many journalists struggled to pronounce his name: Jamal Khashoggi (خاشقجي).
Example: Mo Salah
Mohamed Salah is an Egyptian soccer player and is considered one of the best players in the world.
For names: pronounceitright.com
This website is a pretty good source if you want to know how a name is pronounced.
Picture credit: Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay