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The Status Of The Arabic Language

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3898 words Published: 11th May 2017

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Arabic is one of the widespread spoken languages among Arab speakers, especially in the Middle East and North Africa and it’s considered the central language of Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic languages (Zeina, 2008). Arabic is spoken by more than 280 million people as a first language and by 250 million as a second language. Regardless of the different varieties, there are three basic’ Arabics’. To put it clearly, there are three types of Arabic: the classical language, the modern standard language and colloquial language (Zeina, 2008, Gonzalo, 2005). The first one is the language of the Holy Quran which is used by all Muslim people who perform their prayers or read the Holy Quran whether they understand what they read or not (Zeina, 2008). As for the Modern Standard Arabic, it was derived from the Classical Arabic and it is widely used in formal situations such as schools, universities, courts, government and the media. Regarding the last one, it is substantially used in daily life situations and activities among people.

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Arabic language is different from other languages; it has a system of its own (Back Walter & Tim, 2004). It consists of 28 letters, 25 of them are consonant letters and the other three are vowels (Hattami, 2010). There is not capital letters and small letters. Moreover, it has a unique and different style because it starts from right to left in both reading and writing. (Zeina, 2008).

The relationship between Arabic and other languages such as Hebrew, English, Spanish, Sicilian, and other European languages is a strong related one. It is common that languages borrow some lexical items from one another. Arabic has borrowed many words from English and other languages and other languages have done the same thing as well (wajih, 1991). In other words, Arabic has borrowed words from many languages, including Hebrew, Persian and Syriac in early centuries, Turkish in medieval times and contemporary European languages in modern times.

In short, the Arabic language is a common language among Arab speakers and its roots have been taken from the Holy Quran which is considered the source of all literary works and poetry in the Arab world and all linguists refer to it when they search for some explanations of some words and meanings. Moreover, Arabic with its different writing system and varieties, it has a real and close contact to other languages, especially English.

In this written assignment, I will be briefly touching on certain points. Firstly, the description of vowels and consonants found in the Arabic and English languages, and the comparison between them. Secondly, some problems that learners of the Arabic language might have in learning English.

In spite of the similarities between the consonantal systems of English and Arabic, there are some differences in some aspects. For example, the Arabic language has uvular sounds Ghain / /, Qaaf, //, and Khaa //, the pharyngeal sounds Ain // and Haa // (Harakat, 1998), and emphatic sounds two plosives, / / and / /, and two fricatives, / / and / (Al-Muhtaseb et al., 2000; Ouni et al., 2005; Selouania and Caelen, 1998). These sounds actually give the Arabic language its own distinctive property. Since each language has its own system, as mentioned above, Arabic and English share common consonant sounds and some restricted-language sounds.(Eid, 2006).

1-Arabic consonant sounds

The Arabic language has some consonant sounds that are not existed in the English language. In fact, there are 28 consonants in Arabic, eight stops, thirteen fricatives, one affricate, two nasals, two liquids and two glides (Mousa M. Amayreh, 2003). The following table illustrates the place, manner, and voicing of Arabic consonants. Consonant Chart for Arabic

2-English consonant sounds

In English phonetics we describe consonants according to three criteria: place of articulation, manner of articulation and voicing. There are 25 consonants in English, six stops, nine fricatives, two affricates, three nasals, two glides, and two liquids. (Eid, 2006). The following table illustrates the place, manner, and voicing of English consonants.

Consonant Chart for English

3- Comparison of English and Arabic consonants

This part is a comparison between English and Arabic consonants. Some tables and other illustrations are provided below:

3.1 Stops

Based on the tables above, one can clearly say that there are eight plosives in Arabic [ b,d,t,k,d,t,q,?] while there are six plosives in English [ ph,b,t,k,d,g]. The English language lacks the equivalents of the Arabic emphatics [dظ, tط ], the uvular [qق] and the glottal stop [?ه]. On the other hand, the Arabic language also lacks some equivalents of the English plosives [ph, g]. The result of such difference results in some difficulties for students and speakers. As we will see later on, the difficulties that face Arab learners towards pronouncing vowels and consonants. The following table summarizes the difference between Arabic and English plosives with IPA symbols.

3.2 Fricatives

The English language has nine fricatives in the labio-denteal interdental, dento-alveolar and glottal areas i.e. most of its fricatives are in the front half of the vocal tract, while the Arabic language has thirteen ranging from the labiodental to the glottal areas. In addition to that, it also has parts of uvular [ xخ, ع] and pharyngeal fricatives [hح, ع] as well as two emphatic ones (Eid, 2006). The following table summarizes the difference between Arabic and English fricatives with IPA symbols.

3.3 Affricates

There are two basic affricates in English a voiceless post-alveolar affricate [th] and a voiced post-alveolar affricate [d3] while Arabic has only one affricate, a voiced post-alveolar one [d3] (Hattami, 2010). However, some Arabic dialects, such as the Iraqi one, have [th] sound and this helps Iraqi learners speak words containing such sound properly. (Andrzej & Rouag, 1993, Hattami, 2010).

3.4 Nasals

The English language has three nasal sounds [m,n,g] while Arabic has only two [m,n ] (Hattami, 2010). That is, the Arabic language lacks the [g] sound which is considered an allophone of [n] before velar and uvular stops, as in:

English and Arabic have the same [m] and this doesn’t cause problems. On the other hand, [n] is alveolar in English while it is dental in Arabic.

English and Arabic nasal sounds

3.5 Approximants

There are three differences between the approximants of Arabic and English. First, English has the nasal sound [g] while it is not found in the Arabic language. Second, [r] in Arabic does not follow the approximants but the un-sustained or R-sound (Odisho, 2003b). Third, the English approximant [r] causes problems for Arab learners.

3.6 Laterals

There is only one lateral sound in English [l] while the Arabic language has two: non-emphatic one [l] and emphatic one [L] (Andrzej & Rouag, 1993, Hattami, 2010), as in:

3.7 Flab

The phonemic system of English language does not have the so-called flap sound. However, the system of the Arabic language may be a source of substitutions for the English / r/’s. (Andrzej & Rouag, 1993, Hattami, 2010)

4. Consonantal problems Arab learners face in learning English

Since each language has a sound system and regardless of the similarities between these languages, there, indeed, must be some differences which cause problems for learners of languages. Thus, once the Arab learners are willing to learn the English language, they may make unconscious mistakes resulting from either the interference of the two languages or unawareness of the sound systems of each language or the inexistence of certain sounds. (Hattami, 2010) A list of such problems is outlined below:

/p/ as stated earlier, English has the consonant aspirated sound /p/, and /b/, whereas there is only /b/ —/ب/ in Arabic. In the result, Arab learners may not be able to differentiate between these two sounds and make mistakes when pronouncing them and replace /b/ in replace of /p/. For instance, / picture/ ——/ bicture/.

/g/ the standard Arabic does not consider /g/ as a fixed sound in its sound system, but in some Arabic dialects, this sound is considered such as the Egyptian dialect. Mostly, all Arab learners of English face difficulty in differentiating between them, and they substitute the Arabic /k/ for the English /g/. For example, /game/ —— / kame/.

/ t∫/ this sound is not also existed in the sound system of standard Arabic. However, it can be found in some Arabic dialects such as the Iraqi dialect. The counter-consonant in standard Arabic is /k/. Arab learners of English may have problems in the sound / t∫/ and they may tend to simplify this sound to / ∫/ .Consequently, this results in wrong pronunciation of / t∫/. For example, chair—- shair.

/ Æ·/ In some cases, the simplification of / dÊ’/ to / Æ·/ is also found. Some Arabic dialects accept this sound such as Syrian and Lebanese ones. Speakers may simplify / / to / / such as / / —— / / .

/ ÅŠ/ doesn’t exist in Arabic at all, in English, it has a restriction on occurrence: it doesn’t occur initially. It only occurs medially and finally. For example, “finger” and “sing”. Consequently, an Arab student who learns English is strongly conditioned by the context in which allophone /ÅŠ/ occurs and will tend to insert the conditioning /k g / such as: Singing ——-Think ———.


I have presented a brief comparison between the consonant systems of English and Arabic. I have also listed some problems in pronouncing individual consonants faced by Arabic speakers and learners of English. According to (Hattami, 2010), the remedial solution can be placed on teachers. Teachers have to be fully aware of the two sound systems and then prepare remedial drills and train students to avoid such problems in learning and speaking.

Arabic consonants. Adopted from (Hattami, 2010)

English consonants. Adopted from (Hattami, 2010)

2- Arabic and English Vowels

Like consonants, English and Arabic have different systems of vowels. They share three common vowels / / while English is characterized by four own vowels / / and only one vowel is restricted to Arabic/ /. Moreover, a laconic overview of the vowel systems of each language will be outlined below and then a comparison will also be provided.

2.1 Arabic vowels

The Arabic vowel system has six vowel sounds, three short vowels and three long ones. (Eid, 2006). These are outlined below:

2.1.1 Short vowels:

– Fatha: the first short vowel in Arabic. Fatha is a diagonal stroke written above the consonant which precedes it in pronunciation. It’s pronounced like “A” in English. For example, the Arabic consonant “º”= “b” in English, if we put the Fatha “ÙŽ” above the consonant “º”, it will produce the sound “º” = “ba” in English. Another example is /Bat/.

– Damma: the second short vowel in Arabic. Damma is an apostrophe-like shape written above the consonant which precedes it in pronunciation it’s pronounced like ” o” or ” u” in English. For example, if you put Damma “ُ” above the consonant “º”, it will produce the sound “º” and pronounce like /bo/ in the word / but /.

– Kasra: The third short vowel in Arabic is Kasra. Kasra is a diagonal stroke written below the consonant which precedes it in pronunciation, it’s the only short vowel that comes under the consonants, if we put “ِ” under the sound “º” it will be pronounced like /be/ in English. Another example is / bit /.

2.1.2 Long vowels:

Long vowels in Arabic are Alif / º / which is pronounced like /aa/ in English , Waw / »® / which is pronounced like /uu/ in English , and / »±/ which is pronounced like /ii/ in English.

– Alif / Ø / comes in three various situations front, central, and back. For example, in the word “بØب” which means “door” in English, the /aa/ is front vowel. A central vowel like “bar”, and back vowel like “low”. Another example is the English word / father / and / bat /.

-Waw: / Ùˆ / the second long vowel in Arabic, it’s pronounced like /uu/ in English. For example “توت” which means ” blueberry” and is pronounced as /toot/ in English. Another example is the word / moon/.

-Ya: / ii / the third long vowel in Arabic, we can pronounce it like /ii/ in English. For example “عربي” which relates to s/body Arabic, and pronounce /arabii/ in English. Another example is the word / sheep/.

As for diphthongs and tripthongs, linguists are reluctant to accept the existence of these sounds in Arabic. (Odisho, p, 49).

Arabic Name

Arabic Romanization



opening (of lips)



Short A


As in “accept,” “ascend”

‘alif mamdooda(t)

extended ‘alif

أَلِفٌ مَمْدودَةٌ


Long A


As in “man,” “can”


breaking (of sound)



Short I


As in “sit,” “hit”

yaa’< mamdooda(t)

extended yaa’<

ÙŠØØ¡ÙŒ مَمْدودَةٌ


Long I


As in “feel,” “deal”


joining (of lips)



Short U


As in “put,” “foot”

waaw mamdooda(t)

extended waaw

ÙˆØÙˆÙŒ مَمْدودَةٌ


Long U


As in “sure,” “roof”





No following vowel

As in “stay,” “drag”

Short and long Arabic vowels in Arabic:

2.2 English vowels

The English language is rich in vowels, both simple and diphthongs. Simple vowels are divided into short and long. As it is shown in tables below, we have six short vowels and five long vowels while there are eight diphthongs.(Eid, 2006).

They are produced when airstream is voiced through the vibration of the vocal cords. Vowel consonants can be classified as: vowel tongue height (close, mid, open) by raising or lowering the tongue; vowel tongue position(front, center, back) by advancing the body of the tongue; and lip rounding(spread, natural, and rounded).




















Lips loosely spread. Tongue lax with less tension than / i: /



Lips loosely spread and slightly wider apart than / ɪ /



Lips neutrally open and slightly wider apart than / e /



Lips loose, but closely rounded. Tongue not as tense as in / u: /



Lips neutrally open. Open jaws. Centralized quality.(cut)


Open lip-rounding, wide open jaws, back of tongue low.(pot)


Lips spread. Tongue tense (front raised) with sides touching upper molars. (bead)


Lips neutrally spread. Tongue slightly higher than /É™/ (no firm contact with upper molars). (girl)


Lips neutrally open and jaws far apart. Centre to back of tongue fully open. (car)


Lips closely rounded. Back of tongue high. Tense compared with /ÊŠ/. (booed)


Medium lip rounding. Tongue drawn back making no contact with upper molars.(bought)


Lips in neutral position. Centralized. Tongue slightly higher than in /ʌ/. (teacher)





to /http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_i_bg.jpg/

to /http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_u_bg.jpg/

Starting close

http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ie.jpg http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ue.jpg

Starting mid

http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ei.jpg http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_oi.jpg



Starting open




Bay, say


Boy, foil


Reply, high


Toe, show


Cow, how







3- Comparison of English and Arabic vowels

3.1- Front vowels

In the English sound system there are five phonemes. On the other hand, Arabic has four phonemes.



two in the high area

/ I / higher high and /i/. lower high

two in the high area

one in the mid area


two in the low area

/ / high long,

/ /. High short

two in the low area

3.2- Back vowels

English has five phonemes while Arabic has only two.



two in the low area

/ / low, low, back / / higher low back

Two back phonemes

One in the mid area

/ / mid back

Two in the high area

/ / lower high back / /higher high back.

3.3- Central vowels

English has two central vowels while Arabic has no central vowels.


One mid-central

/ /

Non-mid central

/ /

4- Problems Arab learners encounter in vowels:

/http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_a.jpg/, most Arab learners pronounce the /http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_a.jpg/ sound, which produces when the tongue is more central and the lips are relaxed, as /http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ae.jpg/ instead of /http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_a.jpg/. For example, the word “cup” as /khttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ae.jpgp/ instead of /khttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_a.jpgp/.

/http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_e.jpg/, Arab speakers tend to lengthen the short vowel /http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_e.jpg/, as in the words “pet” and “men”.

/http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_i.jpg/, which is produced when the tongue is more front and little high. For example, the word “sit” which pronounce as /set/ instead of /shttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_i.jpgt/.

/http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_au.jpg/ which supposed to pronounce by using the tongue central, then tightly round the lips. For example, the word “note” /nhttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_o.jpgt/ instead of the correct pronounce /nhttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_au.jpgt/.

/http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ei.jpg/, which produces when the tongue moves from front center to front high. For example, the word “late”, Arabic speakers pronounce it like /let/ instead of /lhttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ei.jpgt/.

/http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ie.jpg/, tongue high and front then move to center. For example, the word “beer” as /beÉ™(r)/ instead of /bhttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_ie.jpg(r)/.

/http://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_oo.jpg/, which produced by moving the tongue low, back and fixed. Jaws together. For example, the word “bought” /bhttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_eu.jpgt/ instead of the correct pronounce /bhttp://www.englishlanguageguide.com/english/images/ipa/ipa_oo.jpgt/.


In this short part, a distinction between English and Arabic vowels sounds is given. The distinction showed some similarities and differences between the two systems. Some tables and figures have been given to illustrate the difference vividly.


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