Arabic Grammar – 49

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►II.11. INITIAL HAMZA·T

An initial hamza·t which lacks the sign ء is called a junction hamza·t (hamzah junctionis) هَمْزَةُ وَصْلٍ . Junction hamza·t is only pronounced after a pause. Otherwise its dropped from speech along with the short vowel following it.

Junction hamza·t is never an original part of any Arabic word (except in the rare cases where it emerged from the demonstrative/preformative element ʔa–, such as in the definite article ʔ·al–). Junction hamza·t only carries a prosthetic vowel ʔV– that is attached to words with initial consonant clusters CC– > ʔVCC– (V means an unspecified short vowel, usually it is i, but in imperative verbs it can also be u; C means an unspecified consonant; the phrase A > B means a change of A into B, the phrase A < B means the opposite).

Standard Arabic, as probably did Proto-Semitic, does not allow word-initial (or syllable-initial) consonant clusters. Such clusters appeared in some native Arabic words because of vowel syncope CVC– > CC–. The prosthetic vowel ʔV– is added in front of such clusters to maintain the normal syllabic structure. This prosthetic vowel requires a hamza·t to be pronounced after a pause, because Arabic syllables do not begin with vowels.

In Arabic terminology the rule says that a word cannot begin with a “still letter” حَرْفٌ سَاْكِنٌ , that is, a letter not followed by a vowel. Thus, a “moving” junction hamza·t is attached to certain types of words that otherwise would be beginning with still letters.

Most of the modern spoken dialects of Arabic still do not allow initial consonant clusters and employ the prosthetic junction hamza·t to eliminate them. Maghreb dialects, however, are noted for not having this restriction and having syllables with initial consonant clusters as the common types of syllables.

An initial hamza·t that carries the sign ء is called a disjunction hamza·t (hamzah disjunctionis) هَمْزَةُ قَطْعٍ . This hamza·t is never dropped in speech. It can be either part of the root or part of a derivational or inflectional prefix.

On this website junction hamza·t will be transliterated ʔ· (with a dot after the sign ʔ) to distinguish it from disjunction hamza·t.

Syllable Transliteration Sound Syllable Transliteration Sound
أَلْ ʔal ʔal اَلْ ʔ·al ʔal
أُنْ ʔun ʔun اُنْ ʔ·un ʔun
إِسْ ʔis ʔis اِسْ ʔ·is ʔis

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