The phonological system of the Hejazi Arabic consists of approximately 26 to 28 native consonant phonemes, and 8 vowel phonemes /a, u, i, aː, uː, oː, iː, eː/, in addition to 2 diphthongs /aw, aj/. Consonant length and Vowel length are both distinctive in Hejazi.
Strictly speaking, there are two main groups of dialects spoken in the Hejaz region, one by the urban population حَضَرْ originally spoken in the major cities of Jeddah, Medina, Mecca and Ta'if who constitute the majority, and another by the bedouin or rural populations. However, the term most often applies to the urban variety which is discussed in this article.
Hejazi consonant inventory mostly depends on the speaker, urban speakers use 26 with no interdental phonemes /θ, ð/ or 28 phonemes with the phonemes /θ/ ⟨ث⟩ and /ð/ ⟨ذ⟩ being used partially due to the influence of Modern Standard Arabic and neighboring dialects, in addition to the marginal phoneme /ɫ/ and two foreign phonemes /p/ ⟨پ⟩ and /v/ ⟨ڤ⟩ used by a number of speakers. Being a Semitic language the four emphatic consonants /sˤ, dˤ, tˤ, zˤ/ are treated as separate phonemes from their plain counterparts.
- the marginal phoneme /ɫ/ only occurs in the word الله /aɫːaːh/ ('god') and words derived from it, it contrasts with /l/ in والله /waɫːa/ ('i swear') vs. ولَّا /walːa/ ('or').
- the phonemes /d͡ʒ/ ⟨ج⟩ and the trill /r/ ⟨ر⟩ are realised as a [ʒ] and a tap [ɾ] respectively by a number of speakers or in a number of words.
- the phonemes /ɣ/ ⟨غ⟩ and /x/ ⟨خ⟩ can be realised as uvular fricatives [ʁ] and [χ] in few instances.
- the reintroduced phoneme /θ/ ⟨ث⟩ is partially used as an alternative phoneme, while most speakers merge it with /t/ or /s/ depending on the word.
- the reintroduced phoneme /ð/ ⟨ذ⟩ is partially used as an alternative phoneme, while most speakers merge it with /d/ or /z/ depending on the word.
- the classicized [ðˤ] is an optional allophone for ⟨ظ⟩. In general, Hejazi speakers (urban) pronounce it as /zˤ/ or merge it with /dˤ/ depending on the word.
- /n/ ⟨ن⟩ has the velar allophone [ŋ], which occurs before velar consonants ⟨ق ,ك⟩ /k, ɡ/ as in انكب [aŋkab] ('it spilled') and مِنقَل [mɪŋɡal] ('brazier').
- the phonemes /p/ ⟨پ⟩ and /v/ ⟨ڤ⟩ which exist only in foreign words, are used by a number of speakers and can be substituted by /b/ ⟨ب⟩ and /f/ ⟨ف⟩ respectively depending on the speaker.
- /tʃ/ occurs only in foreign words and it is not considered to be part of the phonemic inventory but as a sequence of /t/ ⟨ت⟩ and /ʃ/ ⟨ش⟩, as in تشيلي /ˈtʃiːli/ or /tʃiːleː/ ('Chile').
A notable feature of Hejazi and many Arabic dialects is the pronunciation of ⟨ق⟩ as a voiced velar /ɡ/, which Ibn Khaldun described that it might have been the Old Arabic pronunciation of the letter, and he even described that Quraysh and the Islamic prophet Muhammad may have had the /g/ pronunciation instead of /q/, but due to the influence of Modern Standard Arabic the [q] has been introduced as an allophone of /ɡ/ ⟨ق⟩ in few words borrowed from Modern Standard Arabic as in اقتصاد /igtiˈsˤaːd/ ('economy') which can be pronounced [e̞qtɪˈsˤaːd] or [e̞gtɪˈsˤaːd], or in religious terms as in قرآن /gurˈʔaːn/ ('Quran') which can be pronounced as [qʊrˈʔaːn] by younger speakers or [gʊrˈʔaːn] by older speakers. The two allophones might contrast for a number of speakers, e.g. قرون [gʊrˈuːn] ('horns') vs. قرون [qʊrˈuːn] ('centuries') which might suggest [q] as a marginal phoneme.
- 1 for most speakers /ð/and /θ/ are mainly used in classical words, or when trying to speak with a standardized tone. /ð/ is mostly substituted by /d/ or /z/ depending on the word and the speaker, and likewise /θ/ is also substituted by /t/ or /s/.
- 2 also pronounced /sarwa/
- 3 also pronounced /zarwa/
- 4 pronounced [zˤarf] or [ðˤarf].
- 5 pronounced [jaraga] or [jaraqa].
- 6 /p/ and /v/ occur only in loanwords and can be substituted by /b/ and /f/ respectively depending on the speaker.
Long (geminate or double) consonants are pronounced exactly like short consonants, they occur between vowels and they are marked with a shaddah if needed, e.g. كَتَّب /katːab/ kattab "he made (someone) write" vs. كَتَب /katab/ katab "he wrote". They can occur phonemically at the end of the words as well but they are pronounced as a single consonant not geminated, e.g. فَمّ /famː/ ('mouth') which is pronounced with a single final consonant [fam].
In general, Hejazi speakers pronounce ⟨ظ⟩ distinctly as /zˤ/ in ظلم /zˤulm/ and ظاهرة /zˤaːhra/ or /zˤaːhira/ or merge it with /dˤ/ ⟨ض⟩ in some words like ظلام /dˤalaːm/ and ظفر /dˤifir/, this partial merger with ⟨ض⟩ lead to some homophones that did not exist in Classical Arabic e.g. تظليل 'dimming' and تضليل 'mislead' both pronounced /tadˤliːl/, it is also worth noting that the classical [ðˤ] is still an optional allophone for ⟨ظ⟩, as it is always used when saying the letter's name ([ˈðˤaːʔ]), and when reading or speaking Standard or Classical Arabic. In contrast ⟨ض⟩ is always pronounced as a /dˤ/ except in words derived from the two trilateral roots ⟨ض ب ط⟩ and ⟨ض ر ط⟩ in which it is pronounced /zˤ/.
Most Hejazi speakers merge the phoneme /ð/ ⟨ذ⟩ mostly with /d/ or with /z/ depending on the word, while most words have only one merger or the other, only few words have two optional mergers e.g. كذب /kiðib/ might be pronounced as /kidib/ for some speakers or /kizib/ for others. The other dental phoneme /θ/ ⟨ث⟩ merges mostly with /t/ or rarely /s/ depending on the word, e.g. ثور /θoːr/ is pronounced /toːr/, these mergers completely depend on the speakers, for example many might refrain from the usage of /s/ as a pronunciation for ⟨ث⟩ and only merge /θ/ with /t/ in most words while keeping it /θ/ in others, this phenomenon might be due to the influence of Modern Standard Arabic and neighboring dialects.
|Grapheme with Standard Arabic phoneme||ث /θ/||ذ /ð/||ظ /ðˤ/|
|Merged Consonant||ت /t/||س /s/1||د /d/||ز /z/||ض /dˤ/||/zˤ/2|
- The merger between /θ/ and /s/ is more likely to never occur, unlike other mergers.
- /zˤ/ is a distinct phoneme in Hejazi, e.g. ظَنّ /zˤanː/ ('he thought') vs. زَنّ /zanː/ ('he nagged').
- [ðˤ] is an optional allophone for ⟨ظ⟩ based on spelling pronunciation, not a distinct phoneme.
When speaking or reading Modern Standard Arabic, Hejazi speakers would not merge any of the phonemes and would pronounce each consonant distinctly according to its classical phonemic value, and any mergers in those situations are stigmatized, while most rural Hejazi, Najdi and other Gulf Arabic speakers tend to completely merge /dˤ/ with /ðˤ/ when speaking or reading Modern Standard Arabic. but while most speakers keep the same Classical Arabic spelling of the words some might change the spelling according to their pronunciation so ثور becomes تور.
Hejazi has eight vowel phonemes: three short /a/, /u/, /i/ and five long /aː/, /uː/, /oː/, /iː/ and /eː/, with length as a distinctive feature, and two diphthongs /aw/ and /aj/. Unlike other Arabic dialects, Hejazi did not develop allophones for the vowels /a/ and /aː/ in the vicinity of emphatic consonants, and they are always pronounced as an open front [a] or open central [ä] depending on the speaker, and retains most of the long and short vowels of Classical Arabic with no vowel reduction, although in few words /a/ and /aː/ are pronounced with an open back [ɑ].
The main phonological feature that differentiates urban Hejazi from the neighboring dialects of the Arabian peninsula, is the constant use of full vowels and the absence of vowel reduction, for example قلت لك 'I told you' (to a female), is pronounced [gʊltalːɪk] or [gʊltalɪk] in Hejazi with full vowels but pronounced with the reduced vowel [ə] as [gəltələk] or [gəltələt͡s] or [gəltələt͡ʃ] in most other dialects of the Arabian Peninsula. On the other hand Elision occurs, so in isolation لا تقول /laː tiguːl/ ('don't say!') is pronounced [laː.tguːl] but for emphasis it can be pronounced as [laː tɪguːl].
The pronunciation of word initial and medial /u/ and /i/ depends on the nature of the surrounding consonants, whether the syllable is stressed or unstressed, and on the accent of the speaker, and speech rate. As a general rule, word initial or medial /u/ is pronounced [ʊ] or [o̞], but strictly as an [u] at the end of the word or before /w/ (as in هُوَّ [huwːa]), while word initial or medial /i/ is pronounced [ɪ] or [e̞], and strictly as an [i] at the end of the word or before /j/ (as in هِيَّ [hijːa]), though this complementary distribution in allophones is not found among all speakers of Hejazi and some use [u] and [i] in all positions.
Most inherited words with the two diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ from the Old Arabic period underwent monophthongization in Hejazi, and are realized as the long vowels /eː/ and /oː/ respectively, but they are still preserved in many words as in حيوان /ħajwaːn/ 'animal', and have resurfaced in a number of words borrowed later from Modern Standard Arabic which created a contrast with the inherited monophthongized words as in inherited صوتي /sˤoːti/ 'my voice' vs. borrowed صَوْتي /sˤawti/ 'acoustic', and inherited عيني /ʕeːni/ 'my eye' vs. borrowed عَيْني /ʕajni/ 'ophthalmic'. But not all instances of mid vowels are a result of monophthongization, some are from grammatical processes قالوا /gaːlu/ 'they said' → قالوا لها /gaːˈloːlaha/ 'they said to her' (opposed to Classical Arabic قالوا لها /qaːluː lahaː/), and some occur in Portmanteau words e.g. ليش /leːʃ/ 'why?' (from Classical Arabic لأي /liʔaj/ 'for what' and شيء /ʃajʔ/ 'thing').
- /a/ and /aː/ are pronounced either as an open front vowel [a] or an open central vowel [ä] depending on the speaker, even when adjacent to emphatic consonants.
- [ɑ] is an optional allophone for /aː/ and /a/ in some words such as ألمانيا [almɑːnja] ('Germany'), يابان [jaːbɑːn] ('Japan') and بابا [bɑːbɑ] ('dad').
- short /u/ :
- [ʊ] or [o̞] in word initial or medial syllables, e.g. جُغْمَة /ˈd͡ʒuɣma/ ('sip') pronounced [ˈd͡ʒʊɣma] or [ˈd͡ʒo̞ɣma] with the former pronunciation being more common.
- tense [u] at the end of words or before [w] or when isolate, although short [o̞] can occur at the end of foreign words depending on the speaker.
- short /i/
- [ɪ] or [e̞] in word initial or medial syllables, e.g. قِرْفَة /girfa/ ('cinnamon') pronounced [gɪrfa] or [ge̞rfa] with the former pronunciation being more common.
- tense [i] at the end of words or before [j] or when isolate, although short [e̞] can occur at the end of foreign words depending on the speaker.
The close vowels can be distinguished by tenseness with long /uː/ and /iː/ being more tense in articulation than their short counterparts [ʊ ~ o̞] and [ɪ ~ e̞] in medial position, except at the end of words where they are all tense, e.g. short في [fi] ('in') and long فيه [fiː] ('in him', 'there is').
|Phoneme||Allophones||Position in the word||Example||Phonemic||Phonetic||Meaning|
|/a/||[a] or [ä]||all||فَم||famm||/ˈfamː/||[ˈfam] or [ˈfäm]||'mouth'|
|/u/||[u]||final or before [w] or isolate||ربو||rabu||/ˈrabu/||[ˈrabu]||'asthma'|
|[ʊ] or less likely [o̞]||initial or medial||حُب||ħubb||/ˈħubː/||[ˈħʊb]~[ˈħo̞b]||'love'|
|/i/||[i]||final or before [j] or isolate||لوني||lōni||/ˈloːni/||[ˈlo̞ːni]||'my color'|
|[ɪ] or less likely [e̞]||initial or medial||طِب||ṭibb||/ˈtˤibː/||[ˈtˤɪb]~[ˈtˤe̞b]||'medicine'|
|/aː/||[aː] or [äː]||all||فاز||fāz||/ˈfaːz/||[ˈfaːz] or [ˈfäːz]||'he won'|
The linking conjunction و ('and') pronounced [u] is often linked with the consonant (before it) or the vowel (before or after it) or for emphasis only left as it is :-
- ِانا و إنتِ /ana u inti/ ('me and you') is either pronounced as [anaw e̞nti] where the [u] connected to the vowel before it or pronounced as [ana wɪnti] where the [u] connected to the vowel after it or left as it is for emphasis [ana u e̞nti].
- واحد و خمسين /waːħid u xamsiːn/ ('fifty one') is either pronounced [waːħe̞du xamsiːn] or for emphasis [waːħe̞d u xamsiːn].
- خمسة و سبعين /xamsa u sabʕiːn/ ('seventy five') is either pronounced [xamsaw sabʕiːn] or for emphasis [xamsa u sabʕiːn].
- Abdoh, Eman Mohammed (2010). A Study of the Phonological Structure and Representation of First Words in Arabic (PDF) (Thesis).
- Omar, Margaret k. (1975). "Saudi Arabic, Urban Hijazi Dialect" (PDF). Cite journal requires
- Watson, Janet C. E. (2002). The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic (PDF).