In the Arabic language, there are a number of letters that do not have a corresponding equivalent in the English language. As a result the sound or pronunciation of those letters would be unfamiliar to the English reader who has not come across them before. The English reader may easily pronounce some of them, whereas they would find others difficult to pronounce, unless he has already been exposed to the sounds of the Arabic alphabet.
The Arabic consonant characters are given below along with their equivalent English characters or sounds.
b = ب
z = ز
f = ف
t = ت
s = س
q = ق
th = ث
sh = ش
k = ک
j = ج
s = س
l = ل
h = ه
d = د
m = م
kh = خ
t = ت
n = ن
d = د
dh = ز
h = ه
w = و
r = ر
gh = ق
y = ي
The Arabic vowel characters are
short a = ´
i = اي
Long a = آ
i = اي
u = او
This presentation is an effort to describe the sounds of these letters, and or explain how their sounds are generated, hoping that the reader may obtain some idea about those particular characters, when they appear in some Arabic terms used in this work.
To distinguish these letters, either a combination of two letters are used or, in the case of the majority of the difficult letters, a normal Latin letter is used in association with a dot below it or a line or diacritic above as shown in the table above. Furthermore there are a couple of letters in the Arabic alphabet which are indicated using the symbols ' and c. Beginning with the easy ones, there is the letter that is symbolized as:
th, which sounds like the th in the word 'three'. dh, which sounds like the th in the word 'there'. As for the difficult ones, they are as follows: H or h
The sound of this letter resembles the sound of 'strong, breathy' H. The sound for h is generated from the proximity of the throat that the normal h is, but from an area slightly further up the throat, with more tension in the local throat muscle, with the back end of the tongue closing in against the roof of the throat immediately before the uvula.
Kh or kh
The sound for this is perhaps somewhere between of that of 'h' and 'k', as far as the location of mouth where it is generated is concerned. It is generated at the back of the mouth, by pressing the back end of the tongue against the soft palate whilst forcing the air through in the outward direction, causing the uvula to vibrate. Example of the sound of kh found in English or that the English reader may be familiar with is Loch, the Scottish word for lake, where the ch in loch is pronounced as the designated kh in Arabic.
S or s
The sound of this letter resembles the sound of 'strong' S. It is generated by involving the main trunk of the tongue, by slightly curving the center of the front half of the tongue in the downward direction. In aid of pronouncing the sound of the 'strong' S, it would be helpful if you consider saying the normal letter 'S', when the front upper and lower teeth are brought closer together reducing the airflow, thus producing the sound of the letter 'S'. The opposite process is used to generate the sound of the 'strong' S, i.e. the sound is produced when slightly moving apart the upper and lower teeth, thus pronouncing the 'strong' S.
D or d
The sound of this letter is somewhere near the sound of the normal D. Whereas the sound of a normal D is generated by placing the front end of the tongue at the front end of the hard palate or the roof of the mouth adjoining the top teeth, the sound of d is generated by touching, to the same location, more of the front trunk of the tongue while caving in the middle part of the tongue.
Dh or dh
The best description of this sound is that it could be the strong version of the sound of 'dh' as in the word 'there'. Whereas 'dh' is generated by placing the tip of the tongue between the upper and lower front teeth, whilst pressing against the upper front teeth, the sound for dh is generated by pressing more of the front end of the tongue between the upper and lower front teeth, whilst pressing against the upper front teeth, and the center of the tongue is curved downwards.
T or t
The sound of this letter resembles a 'strong' T; whereas involving the front end of the tongue generates a normal T, the 'strong' T is generated by pressing the front end of the trunk of the tongue against the front end of the hard palate or the roof of the mouth. Also when the normal T is pronounced, the lower jaw does not move, whereas in the case of pronouncing the strong T, or T, the lower jaw moves outwards.
' or the hamzah, which is the character representing the glottal stop. c also shown as '
This symbol is used to characterize an Arabic alphabet that represents the sound of a strong 'throaty' A. Just as the sound for A is generated at the back of the throat, in the same proximity, the sound for c or ' is also generated with the difference that the entire throat back is engaged in the process by a stroke of contraction in the muscle there. In this process more of the throat is blocked, which also involves the back end of the tongue, than when pronouncing the normal A. Just in the case of the normal A, the sound is actually generated at the time of the release of the contraction of the muscles involved.
Gh or gh
The nearest sound for this is that of the French R.
Q or q
The sound for this letter is a short and sharp version of the letter 'gh' or the French R. Whereas in the process of generating the sound of 'gh' the back end of the tongue is pressed slightly against the uvula, allowing some air to flow, in the case of the sound of the Arabic alphabet represented by Q, the same process takes place with the difference that the passage is completely blocked, and the sound is actually generated by he sudden release of the passage.
There are also cases when there is a diacritic or a small horizontal line above the letter, like a: this is to represent 'long' a, an alternative to writing aa. The nearest example for the long a, or a, in English words is case of “far” as opposed to the word “fat”. In the case of “far”, the 'a' is elongated in its pronunciation, whereas in the case of “fat”, the 'a' is short.
In the case of i, it represents the pronunciation of the ee in the word 'need'.
In the case of u, it represents the pronunciation of the oo in the word 'noon'.
In the Arabic language, there are many instances where a letter in a word has double pronunciations with a very slight pause between the two. The first pronunciation is always the sound of the letter itself, and the second is the sound of the letter together with that of the following letter. For correct pronunciation of the word, it is important that there is a very slight pause between the sounds of the double letters. Some examples are as follows:
Allah - where the presence of 'll' indicates the requirement of the double pronunciation of the letter 'l'. It may help if the word is considered as Al-lah, with the pause due to the hyphen being very slight. Another example is Muhammad.
To emphasize the correct pronunciation of some Arabic words, the transliteration characters are normally used for words like Allah, Quran, Muhammad, surah, ayah, etc. On the other hand, to adhere to simplicity it has been decided that diacritics and other transliteration characters are to be avoided where possible - in common words - where it is assumed that reader is or would be familiar with the pronunciation of those words, and that such characters are only used for less common and unfamiliar words only. So for such words as the above-mentioned, they would be written simply as Allah, Quran, Muhammad, surah, ayah, etc.
Along similar lines, names of prophets and messengers are generally presented in the Latin form in this work, although on the initial occasion for each case, the equivalent of the Arabic pronunciation is also given e.g. in the case of the name of prophet Abraham, its Arabic equivalent of Ibrahim is also given for the first time, and subsequently only the Latin form is used for the sake of ease and simplicity for the English reader.