Phonetic Differences Between English and Arabic

Written by laura payne
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Phonetic Differences Between English and Arabic
Phonetics is the science of speech sounds. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

It is not easy for Arabic speakers to learn English nor is it easy for English speakers to learn Arabic. English and Arabic are from two different language families, Germanic and Semitic, respectively. Because they descend from different language families, English and Arabic have numerous differences in their individual grammars. The grammar of a language includes its phonetic attributes, and there are many phonetic differences between the English and Arabic languages.

Individual Sounds

Speech sounds in a language are not the same thing as the letters of a language's alphabet. The individual speech sounds of a language are called phonemes. There are 20 consonants in the English alphabet; however, there are 24 consonant phonemes. Additionally, there are only six vowels in the English alphabet, when counting "y," but there are 22 vowel phonemes. When it comes to Arabic, there are 28 consonant phonemes and eight vowel phonemes. With four more consonant phonemes and 14 fewer vowel phonemes, Arabic is a consonant-heavy language compared to English.

Sound Combinations

The sound combinations found in Arabic are also quite different from those found in English. Even though Arabic is a consonant-heavy language, English uses many more consonant clusters to form words. Consonant clusters refer to phoneme groupings, not alphabet letters. Some two-consonant clusters are found at the beginning of Arabic words, but Arabic does not have any initial three-consonant clusters. English also has numerous three- and four-consonant clusters found at the ends of words, whereas Arabic does not. To compensate for this difference, Arabic speakers often insert a short vowel sound to break up consonant clusters when speaking English. For example, they might say "nexist" instead of "next."

Word Stress

Word stress is very regular in Arabic. In English, word stress changes frequently and can alter the meaning and lexical category of a word. For example, "'object" is a verb but "ob'-ject" is a noun. In Arabic, a change in stress is never used to change the meaning of a word. Instead, a word is pronounced with a different short vowel even when it is spelt the same. Because of the irregularity of stress in English, Arabic speakers often have a hard time learning and understanding the differences in English words.

Sound Elision

The elision of sounds is a common phonetic feature of English that is not found in Arabic. Elision is the dropping of a sound in the middle of a word, or between words, when verbalising a sentence or phrase. This often occurs with initial or final word vowels, or sometimes with entire syllables. Some examples of elision are "cap'n" instead of "captain" and "wanna" instead of "want to." In Arabic, spelling is much more closely related to sounds; and because of this, sounds are rarely omitted.

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