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.

CONSONANTS

The following sounds are also found in English and should pose no difficulties for learners:
   examples
bب[b] as in bedbána بنَى (build)
dد[d̪] as in dog, but with the tongue touching the back of the upper teethdáras درس (study)
fف[f] as in fourfāz فاز (win)
gج[g] as in gasgíri جِرى (run)
hه[h] as in househágam هجم (attack)
kك[k] as in kidkal كل (eat)
lل[l] a light l as in love; but in the word الله [ɫ] a dark, velarized l as in yell.líbis لِبِس (get dressed)
mم[m] as in moonmāt  مات (die)
nن[n] as in nicenísi نِسي (forget)
sس ث[s] as in sunsāb ساب (leave)
šش[š] as in showšakk شكّ (doubt)
tت[t̪] as in tie, but with the tongue touching the back of the upper teethtaff تفّ (spit)
wو[w] as in wordwárra ورَّى (show)
yي[j] as in yesyíktib يِكْتِب (he writes)
zز ذ[z] as in zoozār زار (visit)
žج[ʒ] as in pleasure and beige; used in foreign borrowings and sometimes written چ to distinguish it from ج [g].žim جيم (gym)

v

p

ف

ب

[v] (sometimes spelled ڤ‎) and [p] (پ‎) appear in some foreign borrowings, but may also be pronounced [f] and [b], respectively, by many speakersseven 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.
rر[ɾ] tapped (flapped) as in the Spanish cara, or the Scottish pronunciation of treeráma رمَى (throw)
ɣغ[ɣ] very similar to a guttural r as in the French Paris, or the German rotɣāb غاب (be absent)
xخ[x] as in the German doch, Spanish rojo, or Scottish lochxad خد (take)
qق[q] like k but further back, almost in the throat, with the tongue touching the uvulaqād قاد (lead)
ɧح[ħ] like a strong, breathy h, as if you were trying to fog up a windowɧáfar حفر (dig)
3ع[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 sigh3írif عِرِف (know)
ʔء 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.
    
ɖض[dˁ] emphatic dɖárab ضرب (hit)
ʂص[sˁ] emphatic sʂamm صمّ (memorize)
ʈط[tˁ] emphatic tʈáwa طوَى (fold)
ʐظ[zˁ] emphatic zʐann ظنّ (believe)

VOWELS

   examples
aـَ[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)

āـَا[æ:] / [a:] / [ɑ:] as with a above but longer

nām نام (sleep)

gā3 جاع (get hungry)

qād  قاد (lead)

ēـَي[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)
iـِ[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)

īـِي[i:] as in ski; [ɛ:] and [ɨ:] as with i above (but longer)

biygīb بِيْجيب (he brings)

biybī3 بِيْبيع (he sells)

3āqib عاقِب (punish)

ōـُو[o:] as with o above but longernōm نوْم (sleep)
uـُ[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)

ūـُو[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)

SOUND CHANGES

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.

Vowel Shortening

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 → bagíbhaI bring it
ma + nām + š = ma-nāmš → ma-námšhe didn’t sleep
sāfir + t = sāfírt → safírtyou traveled
nisīt + ni = nisītni → nisítniyou forgot me

A long ē is shortened to i.

ma + ɧabbēt + š = ma-ɧabbētš  ma-ɧabbítšI didn’t love

Vowel Lengthening

A final vowel is lengthened when certain suffixes are added to a word ending in a short vowel.

ma + ráma + š = ma-rámaš → ma-ramāšhe didn’t throw
3ámalu + u = 3ámaluu → 3amalūthey did it
nísi + t = nísit → nisītyou forgot

 Vowel Elision

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 → šírbitshe 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 → sáfritshe traveled
kātib + a = kātiba → kātba → kátbawriting

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 → hanfákkarwe’ll think
ma + yisāfir + š = ma-yisāfirš → ma-ysafíršhe doesn’t travel
bi + yitárgim = biyitárgim → biytárgimhe translates
ha + tiʔūl = hatiʔūl → hatʔūlyou’ll speak
bi + tiɧíbb = bitiɧíbb → bitɧíbbshe 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-tgīšshe 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 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

 Consonant Assimilation

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.

voiced voiceless 
b pb → p: katábt /katápt/
d td → t: rafádku /rafátku/
ɖ ʈɖ → ʈ: ma-faraɖš /-raʈš/
v f
g kg k:  nahágti /nahákti/
ɣ xɣ → x:  balláɣt / balláxt/
z sz → s:  ɧagázt /ɧagást/
ʐ ʂʐ → 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

 

the moon

il- + bēt → ilbēt

 

the house

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

 

the sun

il- + nūr → innūr

 

the light

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)

 

Friday

il- + kitāb → ikkitāb (or ilkitāb)

 

the light

Vowel Assimilation

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  ktib 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

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