As I mentioned in the previous post, there are some features that nearly all dialects of Arabic have in common with each other, but not with Classical Arabic. Today we’ll be looking at four changes in phonology that occur in almost all Arabic dialects.

1. Loss of hamza

• In basilect words, the hamza sound (a glottal stop) is typically dropped. Notice how this may affect where stress accent is placed.

Classical: سماء samāʔ

Dialect: سما sa

• If a hamza is preceded by a short vowel, when the hamza is lost that vowel is given compensatory lengthening.

Classical: رأس raʔs

Dialect: راس rās

• If a hamza is sitting on the letter yā’ (ي), when the hamza is lost it becomes pronounced as a normal yā’, which may be either a long vowel or a consonant.

Classical: نائم nāʔim

Dialect: نايم nāyim

Classical: هادئ hādiʔ

Dialect: هادي hādī

2. Shift from /a/ to /i/ in grammatical forms

• In many grammatical forms where Classical Arabic has the short vowel /a/, a dialect has /i/. This includes the definite article.

Classical: السيارة as-sayyāra

Dialect: السيارة is-sayyāra

• It also includes vowels of verb conjugation.

Classical: يَلعب yalʕab

Dialect: يِلعب yilʕab

3. Flattening of diphthongs

• Classical Arabic has two pseudo-diphthongs, /ay/ and /aw/. In most dialects these are simplified into monophthongs: /ay/ becomes /e:/ and /aw/ becomes /o:/.

Classical: بَيْت bayt

Dialect: بيت bēt

Classical: مَوْت mawt

Dialect: موت mōt

4. Simplification of masculine nisba adjectives

• Classical Arabic forms nisba adjectives by adding the ending -iyy in masculine words and -iyyah in feminine words. In both cases the letter yā’ has a shadda on it. But in all dialects the masculine ending -iyy is simplified to –ī. Notice how this can affect the placement of stress accent.

Classical: عربيّ ʕarabiyy

Dialect: عربي ʕarabī