This article is about the phonology of Egyptian Arabic, also known as
Cairene Arabic or Masri. It deals with the phonology and phonetics
Egyptian Arabic as well as the phonological development of child
native speakers of the dialect. To varying degrees, it affects the
1.1.1 Allophones 1.1.2 Assimilation
1.2.1 Emphasis spreading 1.2.2 Phonological processes
220.127.116.11 Vowel shortening 18.104.22.168 Vowel lengthening 22.214.171.124 Vowel deletion (syncope) 126.96.36.199 Vowel insertion (epenthesis) 188.8.131.52 Vowel elision and linking 184.108.40.206 Multiple processes
2.1 Syllable structure
4 Phonological development
4.1 Phonemic developmental stages 4.2 Cross-linguistic comparison and phonological processes
4.2.1 Phonological processes
4.3 Acquisition of syllable structure
5 Notes 6 References
Egyptian Arabic consonant phonemes
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic plain emphatic
Nasal m (mˤ)3 n
Stop voiceless (p)1 t tˤ k (q)4 ʔ
voiced b (bˤ)3 d (dˤ)4
Fricative voiceless f s sˤ ʃ x ħ h
voiced (v)1 z zˤ (ʒ)1 2 ɣ ʕ
Tap/trill ɾ~r (ɾˤ~rˤ)3
Approximant l (lˤ)3 j w
^1 Not all Egyptians can pronounce [p, v, ʒ], which are mostly found in names or loanwords, not from Literary Arabic.
[ʒ] (which can come from the deaffrication of /d͡ʒ/) of Egyptianized loanwords tends to merge with [ʃ]; for example, جراش ('garage') is mostly pronounced [ɡɑˈɾɑːʃ] even by educated speakers.
^2 A few rural speakers away from
Non-Egyptianized loanwords with /q/ may be Egyptianized to [ʔ] or if
approximated to [k] in a word having an open vowel, the front vowel
/æ/ is backed to [ɑ].
Traditionally, the interdental consonants /θ ð ðˤ/ correspond to
Egyptian Arabic alveolar consonants /t d dˤ/.
This is a feature common to some North African
/θ/ > /t/: /taʕlab/ ('fox') from */θaʕlab/ ثعلب (and never /saʕlab/). Likewise: /talɡ/ ('ice') from */θalɟ/ ثلج, /taman/ ('price') from */θaman/ ثمن, /talaːta/ ('three') from */θalaːθa/ ثلاثة, /miħraːt/ ('plough') from */miħraːθ/ محراث, and /ʕatar/ ('tripped') from /*ʕaθar/ عثر. /ð/ > /d/: /deːl/ ('tail') from */ðajl/ ذيل and never /zajl/. Likewise /dakar/ ('male') from */ðakar/ ذكر, /kidib/ ('lied') from */kaðib/ كذب, and /diːb/ ('wolf') from */ðiʔb/ ذئب. /ðˤ/ > /d(ˤ)/: /d(ˤ)ufr/ ('nail') from */ðˤufr/ ظفر and never /zˤufr/. Likewise /ðˤ/ > /dˤ/: /dˤalma/ ('darkness'), from */ðˤulma/ ظلمة.
However, unlike other North African varieties, in Egyptian Arabic, the
/θ/ > /s/: /sawra/ ('revolution') as opposed to /θawra/ ثورة /ð/ > /z/: /ʔizaːʕa/ ('broadcasting') as opposed to /ʔiðaːʕa/ إذاعة /ðˤ/ > /zˤ/: /bazˤr/ ('clitoris') as opposed to /baðˤr/ بظر
The sequence /ħh/ is more commonly pronounced [ħħ], especially outside of careful speech. For example, 'opened it'(feminine)' /fæˈtæħhæ/ → [fæˈtæħħæ]. The sequence /ʕh/ is more commonly pronounced [ʕ̞ħ] (or sometimes [ħħ]), especially outside of careful speech. For example, /bitaʕha/ ('hers') → [beˈtæʕ̞ħæ] or [beˈtæħħæ]. The sequence /ʒʃ/ is more commonly pronounced [ʃʃ]. For example, /mamantiʒʃ/ ('didn't montage') → [mæmænˈteʃ(ʃ)].
/n/ before /b/:
Often, the sequence of /nb/ assimilates to [mb].
Examples: /zanb/ ('guilt') → [zæmb]; /ʔanˈbuːba/ ('tube') [ʔæmˈbuːbæ]; /ilˈlinbi/ ('Allenby') → [elˈlembi].[note 1]
Sibilant consonants before /ʃ/:
The sequences /sʃ/ and /sˤʃ/ are more commonly pronounced [ss], especially outside of careful speech. For example, /mabasʃ/ ('didn't kiss') → [mæˈbæs(s)] The sequences /zʃ/ and /zˤʃ/ are more commonly pronounced [ss]. For example, /mabazˤʃ/ ('wasn't corrupt') → [mɑˈbɑs(s)].
Voicing and devoicing
For some speakers, there is a voicing and devoicing assimilation for the following consonants:
Voiced: /t/ → [d]; /s/ → [z]; /sˤ/ → [zˤ]; /k/ → [ɡ]; /x/ → [ɣ]; /ʃ/ → [ʒ]; /f/ → [v]; /tˤ/ → [d]. Devoiced: /d/ → [t]; /z/ → [s]; /zˤ/ → [sˤ]; /ɡ/ → [k]; /ɣ/ → [x]; /ʒ/ → [ʃ]; /v/ → [f].
When the input consonants differ only in voicing, the resultant assimilation will be complete.
Examples on voicing assimilation: /laxbatˤ/ ('he/it confused') → [ˈlɑɣbɑtˤ]; /jisbaʔ/ ('outrun') → [ˈjezbæʔ]; /maʃˈbuːh/ ('suspected') → [mæʒˈbuːh]; /lafzˤ/ ('utter') → [lɑvzˤ]; /mitˈdaːjiʔ/ ('annoyed') → [medˈdæːjeʔ], a complete assimilation. Examples of devoicing assimilation: /moɡˈtamaʕ/ ('society') → [mokˈtæmæʕ]; /jistaɣfaɾ/ ('ask forgiveness [of God]') → [jesˈtɑxfɑɾ]; /xadt/ ('took') → [xæt(t)], a complete assimilation.
Vowels The Egyptian Arabic vocalic system has changed from the Classical system. The system of vowels is as follows:
Native vowels
Close-mid eː oː
Near-open æː æ
/a/: [æ], [ɑ]
/i/: [e]~[ɪ]; [i] at the end of a word
/u/: [o]~[ʊ]; [o]~[ʊ]~[u] at the end of a word
Long vowels (always stressed)
/aː/: [æː], [ɑː]
Like Maghrebi Arabic dialects, the higher vowels tend to be more centralized in emphatic environment:
[e]~[ɪ] → [ɘ]~[ɪ̈]
[i] → [ɨ]
[o]~[ʊ] → [ɵ]~[ʊ̈]
[o]~[ʊ]~[u] → [ɵ]~[ʊ̈]~[ʉ]
[iː] → [ɨː]
[uː] → [ʉː]
[eː] → [ɘː]
[oː] → [ɵː]
/bintɡamiːla/ [ˈbenteɡæˈmiːlæ] ('a beautiful girl') /binti ɡamiːla/ [ˈbenti ɡæˈmiːlæ] ('my girl is beautiful')
Some go ahead and treat all occurrences of [æ(ː) ɑ(ː)] as separate phonemes, despite the additional complexity of the resulting morphological descriptions; Some treat only "autonomous" occurrences of [ɑ(ː)] as phonemes /ɑ(ː)/, with all the rest subsumed under /a(ː)/; Some have created new emphatic consonants (e.g. analyzing [ˈmɑjjɑ] as /mˤajja/, where underlying /mˤ/ surfaces as [m] but triggers the back allophone [ɑ]); Some have ignored the distinction entirely.
The approach followed here is to ignore the distinction in phonemic descriptions, subsuming [æ(ː) ɑ(ː)] as allophones of /a(ː)/, but where necessary to also include a phonetic explication (i.e. detailed pronunciation) that indicates the exact quality of all vowels. Generally, these phonetic explications are given for the examples in the section on phonology, and elsewhere whenever autonomous [ɑ(ː)] occurs. Phonological processes
Examples of operations on vowels
After operation (phonemic)
Vowel shortening /ʔaːl li/ 'he.said – to.me' /ʔal-li/ [ˈʔælli] 'he said to me'
Vowel lengthening /katabu/ 'they wrote' + /-ha/ 'it (fem.)' /kataˈbuː-ha/ [kætæˈbuːhæ] 'they wrote it'
Vowel deletion (syncope) /fi/ 'in' + /kitaːb/ 'a book' /fi-ktaːb/ [fekˈtæːb] 'in a book'
Vowel insertion (epenthesis) /il/ 'the' + /bint/ 'girl' + /di/ 'this' /il bint-di/ [el ˈbenteˈdi] 'this girl'
All long vowels are shortened when followed by two consonants
(including geminated consonants), and also in unstressed syllables,
though they are but sometimes kept long in careful speech
pronunciations of loanwords, as in /qaːˈhira/ ('Cairo') and a few
other borrowings from
/ɡibna/ [ˈɡebnæ] ('cheese') /ɡiːb/+/na/ → /ɡibna/ [ˈɡebnæ] ('we brought') /ɡeːb/+/na/ → /ɡebna/ [ˈɡebnæ] ('our pocket')
Vowel lengthening Final short vowels are lengthened when the stress is brought forward onto them as a result of the addition of a suffix. Vowel deletion (syncope) Unstressed /i/ and /u/ are deleted (i.e. syncope) when occurring in the context /VCVCV/, i.e. in an internal syllable with a single consonant on both sides. This also applies across word boundaries in cases of close syntactic connection. Vowel insertion (epenthesis) Three or more consonants are never allowed to appear together, including across a word boundary. When such a situation would occur, an epenthetic [e] is inserted between the second and third consonants. Vowel elision and linking Unlike in most Arabic dialects, Egyptian Arabic has many words that logically begin with a vowel (e.g. /ana/ 'I'), in addition to words that logically begin with a glottal stop (e.g. /ʔawi/ 'very', from Classical /qawij(j)/ 'strong'). When pronounced in isolation, both types of words will be sounded with an initial glottal stop. However, when following another word, words beginning with a vowel will often follow smoothly after the previous word, while words beginning with a glottal stop will always have the glottal stop sounded, e.g.:
/il walad (ʔ)aħmar/ → [el ˈwælæˈdɑħmɑɾ] or [el ˈwælæd ˈʔɑħmɑɾ] ('the boy is red) /inta kibiːr ʔawi/ → /inta-kbiːr ʔawi/ [entækˈbiːɾ ˈʔæwi] ('you [masc. sg.] are very big')
The phonetic pronunciations indicated above also demonstrate the phenomenon of linking, a normal process in Egyptian Arabic where syllable boundaries are adjusted across word boundaries to ensure that every syllable begins with exactly one consonant. Elision of vowels often occurs across word boundaries when a word ending with a vowel is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, especially when the two vowels are the same, or when one is /i/. More specifically, elision occurs in the following circumstances:
When both vowels are the same, one will be elided. When final /i/ is followed by initial /a/, /i/ is elided. When any vowel is followed by initial /i/, /i/ is elided.
Examples of elision
Condition for elision
After elision (phonemic)
Both vowels same /inta aħmar/ /int-aħmar/ [enˈtɑħmɑɾ] 'you (masc. sg.) are red'
Final /i/ followed by initial /a/ /naːwi aruːħ/ /naːw-aruːħ/ [ˈnæːw-ɑˈɾuːħ] 'I intend to go'
/xalli-ni arawwaħ/ /xalliː-n-arawwaħ/ [xælˈliːn-ɑˈɾɑwwɑħ] 'let me go home'
Vowel followed by initial /i/ /da illi ana ʕaːwiz+u/ /da-ll-ana ʕawz-u/ [ˈdælˈlænæ ˈʕæwzu] 'that's what I want'
/huwwa inta kibiːr/ /huwwa-nta-kbiːr/ [howˈwæntækˈbiːɾ] 'are you grown-up?'
Multiple processes Multiple processes often apply simultaneously. An example of both insertion and deletion working together comes from the phrase /il bint kibiːra/ ('the girl is grown up'): Example of insertion and deletion together:
Underlying representation: /il bint kibiːra/ Epenthesis in CCC sequence: */il bintekibiːra/ Deletion of /i/ VCVCV: [il bintekbiːra] Surface realization: [el ˈben.tekˈbiːræ]
Compare /il walad kibiːr/ ('the boy is grown up'), where neither process applies. Similarly, an example of both deletion and long-vowel shortening appears in the phrase /sˤaːħiba/ ('friend' fem.):
Underlying representation: /sˤaːħiba/ Deletion of /i/ in VCVCV: */sˤaːħba/ Vowel shortening in VCC: [sˤaħb+a] Surface realization: [ˈsˤɑħbɑ]
/ana ʕaːwiz aːkul/ → /ana ʕawz-aːkul/ ('I [masc.] want to eat') /ana ʕaːwiza aːkul/ → /ana ʕawza aːkul/ → /ana ʕawz-aːkul/ ('I [fem.] want to eat')
Hence, [ænæ ˈʕawˈzæːkol] is ambiguous in regards to grammatical gender. Phonotactics Syllable structure Egyptian Arabic has the following five syllable types: CV, CVː, CVC, CVːC, and CVCC. CVː, CVːC, and CVCC are long, or heavy, syllables. Long syllables bear primary stress, and there is only one stressed syllable per word. Egyptian Arabic has a strong preference for heavy syllables, and various phonetic adjustments conspire to modify the surface pronunciation of connected speech towards the ideal of consisting entirely of heavy syllables. Examples can be seen below:
Shortening of long vowels to avoid superheavy syllables (CVːC.CV → CVC.CV) Lengthening of short vowels to avoid light stressed syllables (ˈCV.CV → ˈCVː.CV) or the increasingly rarer cases (ˈCV.CVC → ˈCVː.CVC) or avoiding heavy syllables and converting them into superheavy sullables (CVC → CVːC) Elision of short vowels to avoid sequences of light syllables (CV.CV.CV → CVC.CV) Insertion of short vowels to avoid three-consonant sequences, which would result in a superheavy syllable (CVCC.CV or CVC.CCV → CVC.CV.CV) Movement of syllable boundaries across word boundaries to avoid vowel-initial syllables (CVC VC VC → CV.C-V.C-VC) Insertion of a glottal stop when necessary to avoid vowel-initial syllables
An example of these various processes together:
/da illi ana ʕaːwiz-u/ → /da-ll-ana ʕawz-u/ ('that's what I want')
Original /da illi ana ʕaːwiz-u/
Elision of /i/ next to a vowel /da-ll-ana ʕaːwiz-u/
Deletion of short high vowel in VCVCV /da-ll-ana ʕaːwz-u/
Shortening before two consonants /da-ll-ana ʕawz-u/
Continuous, resyllabified pronunciation (phonetic) [ˈdælˈlæ.næˈʕæw.zu]
Normal-form pronunciation [ˈdælˈlænæ ˈʕæwzu]
In the following and similar analyses, the normal-form pronunciation is given as the phonetic equivalent of the given phonemic form, although the intermediate steps may be given if necessary for clarity. Other examples include /ana ʕaːwiz aːkul/ ('I want to eat') → [ænæ ˈʕæwˈzæːkol], /ana ʕaːwiz aːkul-u/ ('I want to eat it') → [ænæ ˈʕæwˈzæklu], and /humma ʕaːwiz+iːn jaːkul+u-ː/ ('They want to eat it') → [hommæ ʕæwˈziːn jækˈluː]. Prosody Stress The position of stress is essentially automatic. The basic rule is that, preceding from right to left in a word (from the end to the beginning of the word), the stress goes on the first encountered syllable of any of these types: 1. A heavy syllable: that is, a syllable ending in either a long vowel (CVː) or one or two consonants (CVC, CVCC)[clarification needed] 2. A non-final light syllable that directly follows a heavy syllable 3. A non-final light syllable that directly follows two light syllables (i.e. ...CVCVˈCVCV...) 4. The first syllable of the word
Examples of rules of stress placement
Rule Phonemic form (no stress) Phonetic form (stressed) Meaning
1a. Syllable closed with a long vowel /kaː.tib/ [ˈkæːteb] 'writing' or 'writer'
/ki.taːb/ [keˈtæːb] 'book'
/tik.ti.biː/ [tekteˈbiː] 'you (fem.) write it'
1b. Syllable closed with two consonants /ka.tabt/ [kæˈtæbt] 'I wrote'
/kat.ba/ [ˈkætbæ] 'female writer'
/mak.tab/ [ˈmæktæb] 'desk'
/tik.tib/ [ˈtekteb] 'you (masc.) write'
2. Nonfinal light syllable following heavy syllable /mak.ta.ba/ [mækˈtæbæ] 'library'
/tik.ti.bi/ [tekˈtebi] 'you (fem.) write'
3. Nonfinal light syllable following two lights /ka.ta.bi.tu/ [kætæˈbetu] or [kætæˈbeto] 'she wrote it'
4. First syllable /ka.tab/ [ˈkætæb] 'he wrote'
/ka.ta.bit/ [ˈkætæbet] 'she wrote'
Because the stress is almost completely predictable, it is not indicated in phonemic transcriptions (but is given in the corresponding phonetic explication). Phonological development Phonemic developmental stages Omar (1973) identifies three stages in the phonological acquisition of Egyptian Arabic, ending with completion of the consonant inventory (with the possible exception of /q/) at approximately age five.
The sound inventory found in the babbling stage does not technically consist of phonemes, but rather vowel- and consonant-like sounds. Therefore, they are not true speech sounds. Like children acquiring other world languages, Egyptian Arabic infants produce consonant-like sounds approximating /b/, /p/, /ʔ/, /h/, /ɣ/, /v/, /z/, /m/, /w/, /j/.
Stage I (~1–2 years)
At this stage children have acquired the basic /i/, /a/, /u/ vowel triangle, and the consonants /b/, /m/, /w/, /j/, and /h/. At this stage /ʔ/ is only produced word-initially (possibly due to speakers’ tendency to insert a glottal stop on words which begin with a vowel). There is typically no voiced-voiceless contrast and no single-double consonant contrast.
Stage II (~2–3 years)
Newly acquired phonemes are: /t/, /d/, /k/, /ɡ/, /n/, /f/, /s/, /z/, /l/, /x/, /ɣ/, /æ/, /e/, /o/. A voiced-voiceless contrast is now apparent in stops and fricatives. Consonant clusters appear but are unstable, often being omitted or simplified (consonant cluster reduction). The newly acquired lateral /l/ is frequently used in place of the tap/trill [ɾ]~[r] (lateralization). Example: /madɾasa/ ('school') → [mædˈlæsæ]
Intermediate Stage II-III (~3–5 years)
Vowel length distinction, the emphatics /sˤ/, /zˤ/, /tˤ/, /dˤ/; /ʕ/ (sometimes realized as /ʔ/) and /ʃ/ (often realized as [s]) are acquired. A geminated consonant distinction is developing, although children have difficulty with /xx/ and its voiced pair /ɣɣ/.
Phonemic Stage III (Adult mastery ~5 years)
The tap/trill /ɾ/~/r/ and all diphthongs and clusters are acquired, and geminate consonant distinction is stable. The phoneme /q/ is rare in Egyptian Arabic and is typically only mastered with formal schooling at around age seven or eight, and is realized acceptably in the dialect as [k]. Cross-linguistic comparison and phonological processes Egyptian Arabic phoneme acquisition has been chiefly compared to that of English. The order of phoneme acquisition is similar for both languages: Exceptions are /s/, /z/, and /h/, which appear earlier in Arabic-speaking children's inventory than in English, perhaps due to the frequency of their occurrence in the children's input. Egyptian Arabic differs most from English in terms of age of phoneme acquisition: Vowel distinctions appear at an earlier age in Egyptian Arabic than in English, which could reflect both the smaller inventory and the higher functional value of Arabic vowels: The consonantal system, on the other hand, is completed almost a year later than that of English. However, the lateral /l/ is acquired by most Arabic-speaking children by age two, a year earlier than English-speaking children. The most difficult phonemes for young Arabic children are emphatic stops, fricatives, and the tap/trill /ɾ/~/r/. /x/ and /ɣ/, which are relatively rare sounds in other languages, are the most difficult geminate consonants to acquire. Phonological processes For children under two, syllable reduction and final consonant deletion are the most common phonological processes. De-emphasis, involving the loss of the secondary articulation for emphatic consonants (e.g., realizing emphatic /sˤ/ as [s]), may reflect the motoric difficulty of emphatic consonants, which are rare in world languages, as well as their relatively low frequency and functional load in Arabic. The back fricatives /ħ/ and /x/ are unusually accurate at an early age and less prone to fronting than in other languages. Acquisition of syllable structure Most children have mastered all syllable types between the ages of two and three. A preference for three-syllable words is evident (CVːC syllables being the most frequently produced) and production rarely exceeds four syllables. Simplification processes like those detailed above may occur to reduce CVCC syllables to CVːC or CVC syllables; however, when children change the syllable structure, they preserve the prosodic weight of the altered syllable in order to maintain stress relations. Notes
^ Egyptian Arabic at Ethnologue ^ Watson (2002), p. 21. ^ a b c d Watson (2002), p. 22. ^ Watson (2002), p. 16. ^ a b Watson (2002), p. 17. ^ Behnstedt (1985), p. ?. ^ Watson (2002), p. 23. ^ Mitchell (1956), p. 112. ^ Ammar (2002), p. 154. ^ a b Omar (1973), p. 52. ^ Omar (1973), p. 35. ^ Omar (1973), p. 38. ^ Omar (1973), p. 45. ^ Omar (1973), pp. 48–49. ^ a b Saleh (2007), pp. 234–240. ^ Amayreh (1998). ^ Omar (1973), p. 60. ^ Saleh (2007), pp. 154–160. ^ Amayreh (2000), p. 84. ^ Abou-Elsaad (2009), pp. 275–282. ^ Amayreh (2000), p. 94. ^ Amayreh (2000), p. 100. ^ Amayreh (2000), p. 87. ^ Ammar (2002), pp. 154–158.
^ An Egyptian popular film called, el-Lembi (اللمبى), named after Allenby, but has no relation to him.
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