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Learning Arabic -- Syllables and Doubled Letters

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( بسم الله الرحمـٰنِ الرحيم )

 

Learning Arabic -- Syllables and Doubled Letters

 

There are two more concepts in the Arabic language in regards to reading Arabic script. They are ending a syllable with a consonant and the doubling of a letter.

 

Ending a Syllable with a Consonant: Recall that there are three ways in which we can construct a syllable. They are 1) consonant vowel, 2) vowel consonant, and 3) consonant vowel consonant. In the first instance, the syllable ends in a vowel and this is represented in the Arabic language by the consonant letter of the syllable having one of the three vowels. The second instance is not an option in the Arabic language because vowels do not precede consonants; rather they follow them. As for the third instance, we do not yet know how to construct that syllable whose last letter is a consonant.

 

That is to say, all of the words we have seen so far were composed of a certain number of consonants, and each of these consonants was paired with a vowel or followed by a long vowel (type one). But if we wish to transliterate the word 'FROM', for example, into Arabic, the last letter of the word wouldn't need a vowel. What would we do in this case?

 

When a syllable ends in a consonant, the consonant is free of all vowels. In Arabic, this is represented by means of a special symbol atop the letter. This symbol is called a sukoon and the letter which holds this symbol is called saakin. Therefore, the letter 'M' in the word 'FROM' would be transliterated with a sukoon atop the letter 'meem'. Only the sound of the letter would be pronounced just as we pronounce the sound of the letter 'M' when we recite this word.

 

Remember that a syllable is not a word. Therefore, saakin letters can occur in the middle or at the end of a word.

 

Notice that the word 'FROM' is strange in that the first letter of this word is saakin. Only the sound of the 'F' is pronounced and there are no vowels surrounding it. It is as if the 'F' is a syllable of its own. In Arabic, this is an intolerable situation; we cannot initiate pronunciation with a saakin letter.

 

In English, the 'F' is incorporated into the other syllable. There is no problem in saying that this letter combined with the 'R' together act as the first consonant of this syllable. In Arabic, however, the 'F' would be preceded by a consonant-vowel pair. This consonant-vowel pair would connect with the 'F' forming a new syllable. The word 'FROM' would be changed to something like 'IFROM' with a hamza maksoor preceding the 'faa' in order to complete the incomplete syllable (the 'F'); the vowel of the 'hamza' varies. The broken syllable was 'F', it has now been changed to a sound syllable type three because that is the only type of syllable in Arabic which ends in a consonant. It is type three because there is a consonant (the 'hamza'), a vowel (the kasra beneath the 'hamza'), and the 'faa' of the original word.

 

This is a common problem when Arabs speak or write. Often, a syllable ends in a consonant, and the next syllable starts with a consonant. This is not a problem for us, however, as our goal is to learn how to read and scribe Arabic, not to speak it.

 

Below are a few examples of saakin letters in the middle of syllables, at the end, and syllables which are created in order to complete incomplete syllables. Notice that the third example in the first table has 'type 3' listed twice. This is because there is a syllable between the first two letters and the vowel in between, and there is a syllable between the last letter, its vowel, and the 'N' sound which is made by the tanween. Also notice that in the last two examples, there was an incomplete syllable which was completed by adding a 'hamza' in the beginning of the word.

 

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Double Letters: In Arabic, when two of the same letter appear one after the other in the same word, it is considered a special situation. An example of this occurrence in the English language is the word 'FUNNY'. The 'N' comes twice consecutively in the same word. Although the letter is written twice in English, in Arabic, the letter is written once and a special symbol is placed atop the letter to indicate that the reader must pronounce it twice. There is more emphasis in the pronunciation of the doubled letter in Arabic than there is in English however.

 

The symbol which is placed atop the letter is called a shaddah or tashdeed. The letter which holds the shaddah is called mushaddad. The reality of the mushaddad letter is that it is a saakin letter followed by a mutaharrik letter of the same type. So when we read mushaddad letters, we see one letter, but it is actually two; the first saakin, and the second mutaharrik. The haraka of the second may be any of the three and it is written either above or beneath the shaddah, not the letter itself.

 

When a letter is mushaddad, the first of the two same letters is saakin which means that it is part of the previous syllable. It cannot start a syllable of its own because we have recently learned that pronunciation cannot begin with a saakin letter. This previous syllable must be type three since that is the only type which ends in a consonant. The second of the two same letters is part of the following syllable which may be either type one or three. If the letter following the mushaddad letter is saakin, the second of the same letters is of type three, and if it is mutaharrik, the second of the same letters is of type one.

 

Below are a few example of mushaddad letters appearing in normal words. Remember, a mushaddad letter may have any of the three vowels as well as the doubled vowels, it may be preceded and followed by any letter, and it may occur in the middle or at the end of a word. If, however, the mushaddad letter occurs at the beginning of a word, since the first letter will be saakin, the syllable will have to be completed as seen in the final example.

 

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