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Emphatic consonants in Arabic

  Tags: Arabic | Pronunciation
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 Message 1 of 4
05 October 2008 at 3:46pm | IP Logged 

I've been studying Arabic for some weeks now and I am still puzzled by emphatic consonants.

I fail to hear the difference between 'sin' and 'Sad', between 'dal' and 'Dad', etc.
I've been looking like mad for minimal pairs, but to no avail. Anyhow, if you wish to know more, please check this video in which I ask for help. I'm too tired to write more on the matter now...
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 Message 2 of 4
05 October 2008 at 4:56pm | IP Logged 
I'm far from an expert, but the emphatic consonants should not only have a slightly different sound themselves, but will likely change the sound of the vowels around it.
I personally hate Al Kitaab, but its companion Alif Baa has an excellent introduction to the alphabet, with many comparisons on the CD between similar letters.
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 Message 3 of 4
05 October 2008 at 5:01pm | IP Logged 
I as well think this is one of the trickiest things to learn in Arabic pronunciation, but think that once you learn to discriminate them as you hear them, it gets easier to produce them, or at least to approximate them in a way that will be comprehensible to Arabs.

Also, although I can't remember what book I read it in, velarization/emphasis is a phenomenon that tends to affect an entire syllable rather than just one letter (consonant), so you can often hear it more easily by the quality of the vowel that follows it rather than the consonant itself. Accordingly, you can win at least a part of the battle by modifying the vowel rather than focusing the entire struggle on the consonant.

If you're looking for minimal pairs on this, have you tried the FSI Introduction to Pronunciation course for Levantine Arabic? You can find lots of minimal pair drills, with exercises for self-testing on discrimination, on page 84 of the manual, and the tape for lesson R. Just look at

Working through these drills a couple of times should make it easier to hear the distinctions, and thus to imitate them acceptably.

In German, Langenscheidt used to, and may perhaps still, sell a small book entitled "Aussprache und Schrift des Arabischen", with two cassettes, by Hartmut Kaestner and Albert Waldmann, which had diagrams of the mouth to produce the various sounds, plus some exercises. But I think that some time spent with the FSI Levantine course will probably be the easiest (and cheapest!) way to get some practice.

I hope the above helps, and hope others will chime in as well.

ADDENDUM: After seeing Topsiderunner's comment, which was posted while I was writing mine, I just want to agree in hating Al-Kitaab, but finding the preliminary volume "Alif Baa" to be quite good. It doesn't have a lot of drills in discrimination et al, but the audio is very, very clear.

Edited by daristani on 05 October 2008 at 5:45pm

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 Message 4 of 4
06 October 2008 at 4:18pm | IP Logged 

I'm an Arabic native speaker. There is no big difference between 'sin' and 'Sad' or 'dal' and 'Dad'. In fact, the real difference is in the vowels that followed it.

For example, when we write the English word 'Sun' in Arabic letters, we write the 's' as 'Sad' NOT 'sin'. So it became صن (search in google for جريدة الصن). But if we write a word like 'sand' we will write the 's' as 'sin' ساند NOT صاند. When the English speakers pronounce the word 'Sun' we hear them say صن ! because of the vowel that follow it.

We write the 'T' in Tokyo as 'Taa' NOT 'taa' طوكيو, but if it is Tukyo for example, it will be 'taa' توكيو. (and Turkey is تركيا NOT طركيا).

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