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A Linguistic Description of Arabic

November 30th, 2011 Author: Heather Johnson

1. Background Arabic is the largest-spoken language of the Semitic language family with approximately 323 million speakers (Language). Standardized by the Academy of the Arabic Language in Egypt, Arabic is the official national language of many Arab countries including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria (Language). Countries like Israel, Mali, and Somalia also consider Arabic secondary national languages (Language). A number of Muslim countries including India and Pakistan also use Arabic in religious writings and ceremonies (Kaye 664). Developing from the various dialects spoken by Arabs as early as the sixth and seventh centuries, many diverse dialects of Arabic are spoken throughout the Arab World (Semaan 10; Tritton ix). Major dialects include Egyptian Arabic, Maghreb Arabic including Moroccan Arabic and

Algerian Arabic, Levantine Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, East Arabian Arabic, and Gulf Arabic (Language). According to native speakers of Arabic, standard Arabic is more or less a literary language restricted to the formal written form of the language, which is written from right to left (Wickens 8; Language). As the Holy Book of Islam, the Koran or Quran is probably the most well known example of Arabic literature (Kaye 664). The earliest known records of the Arabic language are written inscriptions dated around 950 B.C.E. in which only consonants and not vowels are written (Tritton viii; Semaan 6). Even today, vowels are used in moderation in most texts except for schoolbooks and the Koran (Tritton ix). Arabic lends many words to various European languages, particularly in science, mathematics, and philosophy (Language).

2. Phonetics and Phonology

Arabic contains twenty-four consonant sounds, twentythree of which can be either long or short, as illustrated in (1).

Arabic additionally uses five pharyngealized consonants: [t], [d], [s], [], and [l] (Newman 2). Arabic contains three core vowels: high front unrounded [i], high back rounded [u], and low back

unrounded [] (Ziadeh 7; Semaan xi). These main three vowels can be either short or long (Semaan xi). However, like most other languages, Arabic vowels are pronounced slightly differently depending upon the phonetic environment. The nine most common pronunciations of the three core vowels are illustrated in (2).

The high front unrounded [i] is pronounced as [i] as in machine or triyd, [] as in kit or jiddan, and [e] as in say or kayf. The high back rounded [u] is pronounced as [u] as in boot or shuwf, [] as in put or bukra, and [o] as in blow or shlown. The low back unrounded [] is pronounced as [] as in

watt or fahamt, [] as in bazaar or haadha, and [] as in at or bass. (Van Wagoner 11-12) Arabic also uses three diphthongs as illustrated in (3).

Unlike many Indo-European languages, most Semitic languages including Arabic accurately represent all used vowel sounds with phonetic spelling systems (Newman 1). 3. Morphology Like most Semitic languages, the majority of Arabic words are constructed from roots that typically consist of three and sometimes four consonants (Ziadeh 20; Bulos 3). The three consonants are also known as radicals (Tritton vii). Roots are not actually words but

rather offer a sense of meaning (Tritton viii). For example, the root /k t b/ provides an idea of writing (Bulos 4). Words are derived by infixing vowels into the root as well as adding prefixes and suffixes (Ziadeh 20). Unlike other common Semitic languages like Hebrew, Arabic only has three parts of speech: noun, verb, and particle (Tritton viii). 3.1 Nouns Arabic nouns are inflected for number, case, gender, and state (Language; Grammar). Nouns and adjectives both fall under the noun class in Arabic because distinguishing the adjective from the noun is not often necessary because what is true of the first is usually true of the second (Tritton viii). The formation of nouns is based on affixing sounds onto the root form. 3.1.1 Number Arabic nouns can be singular, dual, or plural (Tritton 38).

Dual nouns are formed by suffixing /-ni/ to the nominative case and /-aini/ to both the accusative and genitives cases (Wickens 57). Dual nouns refer to two things such as a pair of shoes. Plurals are formed by either suffixing prescribed plural morphemes or by creating a new pattern with the root radicals. Suffixing a morpheme to a noun creates a plural called a sound plural because the singular form of the noun is not altered. Plurals of the second type are called broken plurals because the singular form of the noun is broken apart and reassembled in a new pattern. Some singular nouns have both sound and broken plural forms. (Wickens 42) Almost all nouns use the broken plural form to derive the plural (Tritton 40). 3.1.2 Case Arabic nouns can take three cases: nominative, accusative, and genitive. The case endings for most nouns of both genders are /u/ for nominative, /a/ for accusative, and /i/ for genitive. For example, moon is

qvmarun in the nominative, qvmaran in the accusative, and qvmarin in the genitive. (Tritton 33) 3.1.3 Gender Because Arabic uses grammatical gender as opposed to natural gender, Arabic nouns are either masculine or feminine (Tritton 28). Most feminine nouns are derived from masculine nouns by changing the last sound of the word (Ziadeh 30). The most common feminine ending is /at/ (Tritton 28). Some feminine nouns have no masculine equivalents (Ziadeh 30). Nouns referring to males are always masculine even when the noun ending is feminine. Similarly, nouns that refer to females such as ummun for mother and aru:sun for bride neither need nor have feminine endings. (Tritton 29) 3.1.4 State Nouns and modifying adjectives in Arabic are either definite, indefinite, or construct but only the definite and indefinite states have affixed articles or marks

(Grammar). To create a definite noun, the prefix /al-/ is affixed to the beginning of the word (Grammar). Indefinite nouns are suffixed with /-n/ such as risaalatan meaning a letter (Grammar). The construct state is when one noun governs another in the genitive such as baytu meaning of a man in baytu rajulin meaning a house of a man (Tritton 3334). 3.2 Verbs Since Arabic derives words from a root form, an infinitive form of the verb does not exist in the language (Bulos 13). Although traditional Arabic contains fifteen verb forms, modern Arabic only uses ten including the bare or root form (Bulos 13). When describing the changes made to the base in each verb form, the radicals /q t l/ are most commonly used to represent a root form (Bulos 13). The bare form is not technically a verb but instead expresses an idea or sense of meaning (Tritton viii). For example, the root /d r s/ offers a sense

of learning while the root / r H/ provides a sense of injuring (Bulos 15). Arabic does not have forms of the verbs to be or to have but instead substitutes the verb to become when absolutely necessary (Tritton vii). Like most languages, the most common Arabic verbs are irregular, although Arabic also has fewer irregular verbs than most other languages (Tritton viii). Arabic verbs also express tense, aspect, mood, and voice (Bulos 35). 3.2.1 Form I Form I of the Arabic verb is expressed in three shapes as illustrated in (4).

Roots that take the /qatala/ form typically create transitive verbs such as kasara, which means he

broke. However, a few intransitive verbs are also derived from the /qatala/ form such as alasa, which means he sat. Most other intransitive verbs take the /qatula/ and /qatila/ forms. Intransitive verbs that indicate a permanent state are derived from the /qatula/ form. For instance, qubuHa means he became ugly and Hasuna means he became nice. Finally, intransitive verbs that indicate a temporary state take the /qatila/ form. Examples include fariHa meaning he became glad and Hazina meaning he grew sad. (Bulos 14) 3.2.2 Form II Form II of the Arabic verb is derived by duplicating the second radical as illustrated in (5).

Roots that form transitive verbs in Form I remain transitive in Form II but also create causative or intensified actions. For example, the root /d r s/, which offers a sense of learning, becomes darasa, which means to study, in First Form. In the Second Form, darrasa is derived from the root /d r s/ and means to teach, which is a more causative action. Instead of a student studying to learn, a teacher teaches and causes a student to learn. An example of an intensified action is the root / r H/ for which the First Form araHa means to wound while conjugated into the Second Form arraHa means to inflict many wounds. The action of causing injuring is intensified in Form II. (Bulos 15) Intransitive verbs in Form I also become transitive verbs that also create causative or intensified actions in Form II. For example, fariHa means to become glad and Hazina means to become sad in the First Form; fariHa transforms into farraHa meaning to make glad and Hazina into Hazzana meaning to

make sad in the Second Form. Instead of indicating a temporary state, similar verbs in Form II show some sort of causative action. (Bulos 15) 3.2.3 Form III Similar to Form II, Form III of the Arabic verb is formed by lengthening the first vowel after the first radical to a long vowel as illustrated in (6).

Roots conjugated into Form III create verbs that indicate reciprocity, effort, or an attempt to perform an action (Bulos 16). To illustrate an example of reciprocity, the action kataba meaning he wrote in Form I becomes the reciprocal ktabahu meaning he corresponded with him in Form III. An example of effort or attempt is sabaqa meaning to precede in Form I, which in Form III morphs into sbaqa

meaning to compete with or to attempt to precede. (Bulos 16) 3.2.4 Form IV Form IV of the Arabic verb is derived by prefixing the voiceless glottal stop // to Form I, which results in an inversion of the first radical and vowel as illustrated in (7).

Similar to the Second Form, verbs in the Forth Form signify factitive and causative actions. Verbs in Form I that are intransitive again become transitive while verbs in Form I that are transitive remain transitive. For example, alasa means to sit in Form I and morphs into alaza meaning to seat in Form IV. Although the meaning of a verb in Form II is occasionally the same as the meaning of that verb in Form IV, most

verbs are different semantically such as the derivatives of the root / l m/. While similar, allama in Form II meaning to teach and alama in Form IV meaning to inform are nonetheless semantically different. (Bulos 17) 3.2.5 Form V Form V of the Arabic verb is formed by adding the prefix /ta-/ to Form II as illustrated in (8).

Adding the prefix /ta-/ to Form II creates a reflexive verb in the Form V that expresses the state into which the object of the action denoted by the Second Form is brought by that action, as its effect or result. (Bulos 18) The Fifth Form is similar to the passive voice in English but more comparable to the reflexive form in Romance languages like Spanish and French. For

example, the root /k s r/ becomes takassara meaning to get broken or it itself breaks in Form IV. Some reflexive verbs in Form IV are derived from nouns as opposed to Form II such as tawassada meaning to lean oneself on a pillow from wisdat meaning pillow and talaHHafa meaning to cover oneself with an eiderdown from liHf meaning eiderdown. A few verbs in Form V are not obviously reflexive but are reflexive nonetheless because the direct objects of these kinds of verbs are actually the subjects. An example is taHaqqaqa, which literally means to ascertain but is actually reflexive because something is ascertained. (Bulos 18-19) As well as reflexive verbs, Form V also forms verbs that express an act is done to a person, or a state produced in him by another person or by himself, both of which render the subject submissive (Bulos 18). For example, the verb taallama meaning to become learned indicates that learning occurred for one because of the teaching by another. Similarly, some

verbs in Form V show the acquiring of an attribute, complaining, the avoidance of an action, or repetition (Bulos 19). For example, both tana&7779;&7779; ara meaning to become Christian and takabbara meaning to become haughty, indicate the acquisition of new characteristics. 3.2.6 Form VI Form VI of the Arabic verb is formed by adding the prefix /ta-/ to Form III as illustrated in (9).

Form VI is extremely similar to Form III in that verbs in Form VI also indicate reciprocity, effort, and attempt. Transitive verbs showing effort or attempt in Form III become reflexive verbs in Form VI such as allamtuhu meaning I taught him in Form III and fa-taallam meaning and he [himself] learned in

Form VI. The Third Form expresses an attempt of the subject to educate the object while the Sixth Form shows learning by the former object who transforms into the subject. Weak or implied reciprocity in Form III becomes strong or evident in Form VI. For example, the Form III ktabahu meaning he wrote him becomes the obviously reciprocal taktab meaning the two corresponded with each other in Form VI. Finally, some verbs in the Sixth Form show pretence such as tamwata and tamrada, which mean he pretended to be dead and he feigned illness. (Bulos 20-21) 3.2.7 Form VII Form VII of the Arabic verb is derived by prefixing the sound /n/ to Form I as illustrated in (10).

Roots conjugated into Form VII create reflexivepassive meanings that are even more intensified than in Form V. For example, Form I of the root /k s r/ is kasara and means to break (something) whereas Form VII of the same root is nkasara and means to get broken or something itself is broken by some outside force. Another example of a reflexivepassive verb is nqataa meaning to get cut off or something itself is cut off by some outside force. Similar to the passive meaning, some verbs in the Seventh Form also indicate involuntarily submissive actions such as nqda meaning to be led and nxadaa meaning to be deceived. Like previous forms, certain verbs in Form IV become reflexive in Form VII. For example, alaqa meaning to close in the Forth Form morphs into nalaqa meaning to close (of itself) in the Seventh Form. Verbs in Form VII are never reciprocal. 3.2.8 Form VIII

Form VIII of the Arabic Verb is formed by infixing the sound /-t-/ after the first radical as illustrated in (11).

Verbs in the Eighth Form are again reflexive verbs such as arada meaning to exhibit in Form I, which morphs into tarada meaning to put oneself in the way to oppose in Form VIII. When the indirect object is also the reflexive object in the Eighth Form, the verb indicates that the action is done for oneself. For instance, lamasa meaning to touch in Form I becomes ltamasa meaning to seek or try to obtain for oneself in the Eighth Form. Verbs with implied reciprocity in the Sixth Form become evidently reciprocal in Form VIII such as talq meaning they met in Form VI which becomes ltaq meaning they met one another in Form VIII. Although most derived verbs have different meanings, certain verbs are the

same semantically in both the First Form and the Eighth Form. For example, both Form I ar and Form VIII tar mean to buy just as Form I xaafa and Form VIII xaafa mean to kidnap. (Bulos 23) 3.2.9 Form IX Form IX of the Arabic verb is derived from Form I by duplicating the second third radical similar to Form II as well as eliminating the first vowel as illustrated in (12).

Form IX verbs are not derived from roots but rather from noun-adjectives as adjectives are called in Arabic. For example, aHmar meaning red and awa meaning crooked become Hmarra meaning to get red and waa meaning to become crooked in the Ninth Form. Form IX indicates color,

size, defects, and other similar physical characteristics. (Bulos 25) 3.2.10 Form X Form X of the Arabic verb is formed by prefixing the syllable /st-/ to Form I, which results in an inversion of the first radical and vowel similar to Form IV as illustrated in (13).

The semantics of Form X verbs depend solely upon the sense of meaning expressed by the root. Some transitive verbs in Form IV become reflexive verbs in Form X. For example, aadda meaning to prepare and aslama meaning to give up in the Forth Form morph into staadda meaning to prepare oneself and staslama meaning to give oneself up in the Tenth Form. Other verbs in Form X indicate pleading,

requesting, and taking such as staana and staxbara, which mean to ask permission and to get information when derived from their roots into Form X. A few verbs also denote thought or estimation in the Tenth Form. Examples include stamala meaning to find beautiful and staqwa meaning to overestimate the power of, both of which indicate consideration by the semantic subject. (Bulos 25-26) 3.2.11 Tense Arabic verbs can take either the imperfect tense of the perfect tense. The imperfect tense is the equivalent of the present tense whereas the perfect tense is the equivalent of the past tense. (Bulos 35) 3.2.12 Aspect Arabic verbs are mainly either resultative or iterative in aspect (Bulos 35). Resultative verbs indicate a completed action whereas iterative verbs express recurring action.

3.2.13 Mood Arabic verbs are recognized to have a number of verbs including indicative, subjunctive, jussive, energetic, conditional, and imperative (Tritton 81-83; Bulos 46). Indicative verbs are used to form most declarative sentences. Subjunctive verbs are generally present in subordinate clauses and express some sort of wish or desire (Tritton 81-82). The subjunctive mood is formed by changing the /u/ of the indicative verb to the /a/ of the subjunctive (Tritton 81). The jussive mood is mainly used in forming imperative sentences by either dropping the /u/ of the indicative or taking the subjunctive form (Tritton 82). The energetic form is used to indicate solemn statements, commands, and wishes (Tritton 83). Energetic verbs are created by suffixing /anna/ to the indicative (Tritton 82). The conditional mood is used to create if-then statements (Tritton 83). 3.2.14 Voice

The Arabic verb can be either active or passive. The passive is formed by changing the vowels in the indicative verb. An agentive can never be present in passive sentences. (Tritton 108) 3.3 Particles Most grammatical words such as prepositions and conjunctions fall under the class of particle (Tritton viii). Some particles indicate tense of aspect of verbs (Shlonsky 11). Several Arabic words have no equivalent in Indo-European languages and are thus lumped together with the other grammatical words in the Arabic language (Tritton viii). 4. Syntax Because Arabic uses a case system, word order is less important for creating meaning. However, only two main word order patterns are allowed in the language: VSO and SVO. 4.1 Word Order

Standard Arabic is primarily a VSO language, although other word order patterns such as SVO occur under varying circumstances (Shlonsky 8). Most sentences in Arabic are verbal sentences or sentences that begin with a verb; the subject follows directly after the verb (Ziadeh 51). An example of a VSO sentence is katabat Mona risaalatan, which means Mona wrote a letter (Shlonsky 7). Katabat feminine nominative verb form of the root /k t b/ that provides a sense of writing. Mona is the subject of the sentence and follows directly after the verb katabat because of the verbsubject syntactic rule. Finally, risaalatan is the direct object of the verb meaning a letter and proceeds the subject. Risaalatan is in the accusative form as indicated by the /a/ case ending (Tritton 33). Although not the default word order pattern, SVO is another possible sentence structure in Arabic used when emphasis is on the subject. An example is found in the Palastinian dialect of the language: Mona katbat risaale (Shlonsky 7). Like the previous Standard

Arabic example, Mona katbat risaale means Mona wrote a letter in Palastinian Arabic (Shlonsky 7). The nominative verb katbat again means wrote while risaale meaning a letter is the direct object of the verb. Mona also is again the subject of the sentence; however, the subject precedes the verb in this particular sentence structure because emphasis is put on the fact that Mona is the person who wrote the letters, not the fact that the letters were written. Declarative sentences structured by the SVO word order do not need an equivalent of the verb to be if the present tense is implied (Ziadeh 26). For example, the book magical is a possible sentence in Arabic because the predicate verb to be is implied and therefore not required. 4.2 Case Arabic nouns take case endings for the three possible cases in the language: nominative, accusative, and genitive (Tritton 33). For both verbal sentences and nominal sentences, the subject and the verb are both in

the nominative case because of the necessity of subjectverb case agreement (Ziadeh 26; 51). 4.3. Complex Sentences Arabic allows for a number of complex sentences through the use of subordinate clauses including subjunctive clauses and conditional clauses (Tritton 8283).
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Early Islam. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968. Shlonsky, Ur. Clause Structure and Word Order in Hebrew and Arabic: An Essay in Comparative Semitic Syntax. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Tritton, A.S. Arabic. London: The English Universities Press, 1943. Van Wagoner, Merrill Y., Arnold Statterthwait, and Frank Rice. Spoken Arabic (Saudi). Ithaca: Spoken Language Services, Inc., 1977. Wickens, G. M. Arabic Grammar: A First Workbook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Ziadeh, Farhat J., and R. Bayly Winder. An Introduction to Modern Arabic. London: Princeton University Press, 1957. Category: Linguistics Tags: Arabic language, morphology, phonetics, phonology, syntax | Comments Off You Left Your Rs in the 1700s: Received Pronunciation Versus Extra-Insular Englishes Baby Sign Language: Christmas, Santa Claus, Tree, and Gift in American Sign Language
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