Table of Contents
Egyptian Colloquial Arabic is a spoken dialect with no official status or rules of orthography. Egyptians tend to borrow spelling conventions from MSA with some accommodations to account for ECA pronunciation. Arabic script, however, is ill suited to show the actual pronunciation of ECA and the sound changes that occur when words are inflected. Even if you are comfortable with Arabic script, it is advised that you pay close attention to the phonemic transcription to determine the exact pronunciation of words and phrases.
|The following sounds are also found in English and should pose no difficulties for learners:|
|b||ب||[b] as in bed||bána بنَى (build)|
|d||د||[d̪] as in dog, but with the tongue touching the back of the upper teeth||dáras درس (study)|
|f||ف||[f] as in four||fāz فاز (win)|
|g||ج||[g] as in gas||gíri جِرى (run)|
|h||ه||[h] as in house||hágam هجم (attack)|
|k||ك||[k] as in kid||kal كل (eat)|
|l||ل||[l] a light l as in love; but in the word الله [ɫ] a dark, velarized l as in yell.||líbis لِبِس (get dressed)|
|m||م||[m] as in moon||māt مات (die)|
|n||ن||[n] as in nice||nísi نِسي (forget)|
|s||س ث||[s] as in sun||sāb ساب (leave)|
|š||ش||[š] as in show||šakk شكّ (doubt)|
|t||ت||[t̪] as in tie, but with the tongue touching the back of the upper teeth||taff تفّ (spit)|
|w||و||[w] as in word||wárra ورَّى (show)|
|y||ي||[j] as in yes||yíktib يِكْتِب (he writes)|
|z||ز ذ||[z] as in zoo||zār زار (visit)|
|ž||ج||[ʒ] as in pleasure and beige; used in foreign borrowings and sometimes written چ to distinguish it from ج [g].||žim جيم (gym)|
|[v] (sometimes spelled ڤ) and [p] (پ) appear in some foreign borrowings, but may also be pronounced [f] and [b], respectively, by many speakers||seven ap سڤن اپ (7 Up)|
|The following sounds have no equivalent in English and require special attention. However, some exist in other languages you may be familiar with.|
|r||ر||[ɾ] tapped (flapped) as in the Spanish cara, or the Scottish pronunciation of tree||ráma رمَى (throw)|
|ɣ||غ||[ɣ] very similar to a guttural r as in the French Paris, or the German rot||ɣāb غاب (be absent)|
|x||خ||[x] as in the German doch, Spanish rojo, or Scottish loch||xad خد (take)|
|q||ق||[q] like k but further back, almost in the throat, with the tongue touching the uvula||qād قاد (lead)|
|ɧ||ح||[ħ] like a strong, breathy h, as if you were trying to fog up a window||ɧáfar حفر (dig)|
|3||ع||[ʕ] a voiced glottal stop, as if you had opened your mouth under water and constricted your throat to prevent choking and then released the constriction with a sigh||3írif عِرِف (know)|
|ʔ||ء ق||[ʔ] an unvoiced glottal stop, as [ʕ] above, but with a wispy, unvoiced sigh; or more simply put, like the constriction separating the vowels in uh-oh|
ʔíbil قِبِل (accept)
ʔá3lan أعْلن (announce)
|The following sounds also have no equivalent in English but are emphatic versions of otherwise familiar sounds. An emphatic consonant is produced by pulling the tongue back toward the pharynx (throat), spreading the sides of the tongue wide as if you wanted to bite down on both sides of your tongue, and producing a good puff of air from the lungs.|
|ɖ||ض||[dˁ] emphatic d||ɖárab ضرب (hit)|
|ʂ||ص||[sˁ] emphatic s||ʂamm صمّ (memorize)|
|ʈ||ط||[tˁ] emphatic t||ʈáwa طوَى (fold)|
|ʐ||ظ||[zˁ] emphatic z||ʐann ظنّ (believe)|
|a||ـَ||[æ] normally as in cat (but with the jaw not quite as lowered as in English); [a] as in stock when in the same syllable with ɧ or 3 (with the tongue lower than [æ]); usually [ɑ] as in father (but shorter) when in the same word as q, ɖ, ʂ, ʈ, ʐ, or, in most cases, r|
kátab كتب (write)
ma-bá3š مباعْش (he didn’t sell)
ɖárab ضرب (hit)
ɣáʂab غصب (force)
|ā||ـَا||[æ:] / [a:] / [ɑ:] as with a above but longer|
nām نام (sleep)
gā3 جاع (get hungry)
qād قاد (lead)
|ē||ـَي||[e:] as in play (but without the glide to [j])||malēt مليْت(I filled)|
|ə||[ə] as in ticket. In ECA, ə is inserted to avoid three adjacent consonants.||kúntə hína كُنْت هِنا (I was here)|
|i||ـِ||[ɪ] as in kid; [ɛ] as in bed when in the same syllable with ɧ or 3; when in the same word as q, ɖ, ʂ, ʈ, or ʐ, [ɨ] with the tongue pulled back a bit|
3ílim عِلِم (know)
biyíɧsib بِيِحْسِب (he calculates)
itʐāhir اتْظاهِر (protest)
|ī||ـِي||[i:] as in ski; [ɛ:] and [ɨ:] as with i above (but longer)|
biygīb بِيْجيب (he brings)
biybī3 بِيْبيع (he sells)
3āqib عاقِب (punish)
|ō||ـُو||[o:] as with o above but longer||nōm نوْم (sleep)|
|u||ـُ||[ʊ] as in book; [o] as in know (but shorter and without the glide to [w]) when in the same syllable with ɧ or 3|
yúʈlub يُطْلُب (he orders)
inbā3u اِنْباعوا (they sold)
|ū||ـُو||[u:] as in moon; [o:] as in know (but without the glide to [w]) when in the same syllable with ɧ or 3|
bitšūf بِتْشوف (you see)
maba3ūš مباعوش (they didn’t sell)
A lot of the changes which occur in conjugated ECA verbs are due to the rules of syllable structure and stress. The rules are summarized here using phonemic transcription only, as the Arabic script does not reflect these changes.
When a suffix beginning in a consonant is added immediately after a syllable containing a long vowel, or when a suffix causes the stressed syllable to move, the long vowel is shortened. This is because a long vowel can only exist in a stressed syllable and cannot be followed by two consonants.
|bagīb + ha = bagībha → bagíbha||I bring it|
|ma + nām + š = ma-nāmš → ma-námš||he didn’t sleep|
|sāfir + t = sāfírt → safírt||you traveled|
|nisīt + ni = nisītni → nisítni||you forgot me|
A long ē is shortened to i.
|ma + ɧabbēt + š = ma-ɧabbētš → ma-ɧabbítš||I didn’t love|
A final vowel is lengthened when certain suffixes are added to a word ending in a short vowel.
|ma + ráma + š = ma-rámaš → ma-ramāš||he didn’t throw|
|3ámalu + u = 3ámaluu → 3amalū||they did it|
|nísi + t = nísit → nisīt||you forgot|
A short, unstressed i (or u) is elided (that is, omitted) from a word when its omission would not result in a series of three adjacent consonants, in other words, when the vowel is both preceded and followed by a single consonant only. This does not happen in a final syllable, and it only happens in the first syllable if the preceding word ends in a vowel.
Vowel omission occurs when -it (the third person feminine singular (híyya) suffix of the perfect tense) or -u (the third person plural (húmma) suffix of the perfect tense) is added to a sound measure I verb containing i:
|šírib + it = šíribit → šírbit||she drank|
Notice that the elision may create two adjacent consonants following a long vowel, in which case the long vowel must be shortened. In the second example, it is the feminine form of an active participle in which elision occurs.
|sāfir + it = sāfirit → sāfrit → sáfrit||she traveled|
|kātib + a = kātiba → kātba → kátba||writing|
Elision can also take place with the addition of a prefix. That is, the i of the imperfect prefixes ni-, ti-, and yi- is elided when the imperfect prefix bi-, the negative prefix ma-, or the future prefix ha– is added, as long as the elision would not result in three adjacent consonants.
|ha + nifákkar = hanifákkar → hanfákkar||we’ll think|
|ma + yisāfir + š = ma-yisāfirš → ma-ysafírš||he doesn’t travel|
|bi + yitárgim = biyitárgim → biytárgim||he translates|
|ha + tiʔūl = hatiʔūl → hatʔūl||you’ll speak|
|bi + tiɧíbb = bitiɧíbb → bitɧíbb||she loves|
An originally long vowel is normally not elided, even after it has become short because of a shift in stress. An exception occurs in the following verb:
|ma + tīgi + š = ma-tīgiš → ma-tigīš → ma-tgīš||she doesn’t come|
Elision can occur in the first syllable of a word if the preceding word ends in a vowel, as long as this would not result in three adjacent consonants (as in the second example below).
|híyya bitúskun → híyya btúskun||she lives|
|húwwa biyɧíbb → húwwa biyɧíbb||he loves|
Vowel Insertion (Epenthesis)
A short vowel is inserted when a suffix or a following word would create a situation with three adjacent consonants. i is inserted between two consonants and the negative suffix -š or indirect object pronouns. Direct object pronouns may take a, i, or u.
|ma + ʔúlt + š = ma-ʔúltš → ma-ʔúltiš||I didn’t say|
|gibt + li = gibtli → gibtíli||you brought (to) me|
|šuft + ni = šúftni → šuftíni||you saw me|
|šuft + ha = šúftha → šuftáha||I saw her|
|šuft + ku = šúftku → šuftúku||I saw you (pl.)|
Vowel insertion can also occur between word boundaries. When a word ends in two consonants and the next word begins with a consonant, ə is inserted to avoid three adjacent consonants.
|biyɧíbb bint → biyɧíbbə bint||He loves a girl.|
|ʔúlt ʔē →ʔúltə ʔē||What did you say?|
Once ə is inserted, the vowel of the first syllable of the following word may be a candidate for elision.
|kúntə mišīt → kúntə mšīt||I had walked|
|kúntə bitúskun → kúntə btúskun||you were living|
A voiced consonant immediately preceding an unvoiced consonant tends to become unvoiced. The table below shows such consonants in pairs—voiced consonants in the left column and their voiceless counterparts on the right. The change is not reflected in writing, either in Arabic script or the phonemic transcription used in this book.
|b||p||b → p: katábt /katápt/|
|d||t||d → t: rafádku /rafátku/|
|ɖ||ʈ||ɖ → ʈ: ma-faraɖš /-raʈš/|
|g||k||g → k: nahágti /nahákti/|
|ɣ||x||ɣ → x: balláɣt / balláxt/|
|z||s||z → s: ɧagázt /ɧagást/|
|ʐ||ʂ||ʐ → ʂ: ɧafaʐt /ɧafaʂt/|
The reverse is also true, so that a voiceless consonant followed by a voiced consonant may become voiced. Listen for such sound changes in the accompanying MP3s.
The prefix it- of many verbs is not only affected by the following consonant’s voicing, but, in relaxed speech, it may be totally assimilated by a following d, ɖ, g, k, s, ʂ, š, ʈ, z, or ʐ.
|itdāra → /iddāra/||be hidden|
|itɖárr → /iɖɖárr/||be damaged|
|itgámma3 → /idgámma3 / → /iggámma3 /||come together|
|itkátab → /ikkátab/||be written|
|itsállim → /issállim/||receive|
|itʂāɧib → /iʂʂāɧib/||become friends|
|itšárab → /iššárab/||be drunk|
|itʈábax → /iʈʈábax/||cook|
|itzáɧlaʔ → /idzáɧlaʔ/→ /izzáɧlaʔ/||slip|
|itʐábaʈ → /idʐábaʈ/ → /iʐʐábaʈ/||be adjusted|
Assimilation in the Definite Article
In addition to natural assimilation through the influence of adjacent consonants, Arabic also has special rules that govern whether the l (laam) of the definite article (الـ il-) is pronounced or assimilated.
The default is to pronounce the l before consonants, including ʔ, and vowels. These consonants are collectively known as ‘moon letters,’ as the word moon قمر ʔámar begins with a letter from this group:
il- + ʔámar → ilʔámar
il- + bēt → ilbēt
In the examples above, the definite article is simply added to a noun without any special sound change. However, when the definite article is added to a ‘sun letter,’ the l is not pronounced; instead, the initial consonant of that word is doubled (pronounced long/twice):
il- + šams → iššáms
il- + nūr → innūr
The sun letters are: ن ل ظ ط ض ص ش س ز ر ذ د ث ت. Additionally, in Egypt Arabic, the definite article optionally assimilates before ج g, چ ž, ك k, and ق q (when pronounced q and not ʔ). This happens in casual, natural speech, but is often avoided in more careful, enunciated pronunciation:
il- + gúm3a → iggúm3a (or ilgúm3a)
il- + kitāb → ikkitāb (or ilkitāb)
Two vowels cannot occur together. When the addition of a prefix or preceding word would result in such a case, one vowel is assimilated into the other. As seen in the last example below, this also applies across word boundaries in some cases.
|ma- + itkátab + š = ma-itkátabš → ma-tkatábš||it wasn’t written|
|ma- + áktib + š = ma-áktibš → ma-ktíbš||I don’t write|
|ha– + áktib = haáktib → háktib||I will write|
|yi- + istáxdim = yiistáxdim → yistáxdim||he uses|
|ána + istaxdímt = ána istaxdímt → ána staxdímt||I used|
Vowel assimilation also occurs with the final vowel a verb ends in a or u. Thi vowel is dropped when a suffix beginning with a vowel is added.
|yímši + -u = yímšiu → yímšu||they walk|
|tínsa + -i = tínsai → tínsi||you (f.) forget|
|ráma + -u = rámau → rámu||they threw|
|mála + -it = málait → málit||she filled|
When -it and -u are added to a verb ending in i, the i changes into a y.
|nísi + -it = nísiit → nísyit||she forgot|
|míši + -u = míšiu → míšyu||they walked|