Arabic Grammar – 80

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An important phonological phenomenon that is apparently related to the shortening of terminal long vowels is the arbitrary closure of terminal heavy open syllables CVV > CVC.


The clearest example of the phenomenon is the pausal closure of terminal heavy open syllables by the hȃʔ of silence هَاْءُ السَّكْتِ .

§1. This is seen in the 2nd person masculine singular attached object pronoun –ka ــــكَ , which was in ʕĀliya·tu Naǵdiṋ عَاْلِيَةُ نَجْدٍ (the western part of Naǵd that abuts on the mountains of Ħiǵȃz) pronounced at pause –kah ــــكَهْ , from an original –kȃ ــــكَاْ that appeared when other connected pronouns followed it (Sibawayh volume IV, p. 163 and Chaim Rabin P. 151, §c). Similarly, the 1st person singular attached object pronoun –(n)iya ـــنِيَ/ــِــيَ has a pausal variant –(n)iyah ـــنِـيَهْ/ــِــيَهْ that is used in the Qurʔȃn, e.g. kitȃb-iyah كِتَاْبِيَهْ “my book” in Sura LXIX:19. An example mentioned by Sibawayh is ḍaraba-niyah ضَرَبَنِيَهْ “(he) hit me.” This is probably altered from *–(n)iyȃ ـــنِـيَاْ/*ــِــيَاْ*. The 1st person singular attached subject pronoun –tu ـــتُ has a pausal variant –tuh ـــتُهْ < *–tȗ ـــتُوْ*, e.g. ʔ·inṭalaq-tuh اِنْطَلَقْتُهْ for ʔ·inṭalaq-tu اِنْطَلَقْتُ “I set out.” The 2nd person feminine plural attached subject pronoun –tunna ـــتُنَّ has a pausal variant –tunnah ـــتُنَّهْ < *–tunnȃ ـــتُنَّاْ*, e.g. ðahab-tunnah ذَهَبْتُنَّهْ for ðahab-tunna ذَهَبْتُنَّ “you(fem. plur.) went.” The 1st person singular independent subject pronoun ʔanȃ أَنَاْ “I” has a variant ʔanah أَنَهْ (see the Lisȃn under ʔnn). Also the 3rd person independent subject pronouns huwa هُوَ “he,” hiya هِيَ “she,” and hunna هُنَّ have variants huwah هُوَهْ , hiyah هِيَهْ , and hunnah هُنَّهْ which probably come from *huwȃ هُوَاْ*, *hiyȃ هِيَاْ*, and *hunnȃ هُنَّاْ*(see Sibawayh volume IV, p. 161).

§2. The demonstrative θamma ثَمَّ “there” has a pausal variant θammah ثَمَّهْ . The interjection halumma هَلُمَّ “come” has a pausal variant halummah هَلُمَّهْ . The words ʔinna إِنَّ “yes,” layta لَيْتَ “I hope,” and la-ʕalla لَعَلَّ “I wish,” have pausal variants ʔinnah إِنَّهْ “yes,” laytah لَيْتَهْ “I hope,” and la-ʕallah لَعَلَّهْ (Sibawayh vol. IV, p. 161).

§3. The words ʔayna أَيْنَ “where” and kayfa كَيْفَ “how” have pausal variants ʔaynah أَيْنَهْ and kayfah كَيْفَهْ . The word مَاْ “what” has a pausal variant mah مَهْ that appears especially when is preceded by another syllable (and thus unstressed); for example, in li-mah لِمَهْ “for what,” bi-mah بِمَهْ “in/by what,” fiy-mah فِيْمَهْ “in what,” mim-mah مِمَّهْ “from what,” ʕalȃ-mah عَلامَهْ “on what,” and ħattȃ-mah حَتَّاْمَهْ “until what.” (More common variants are li-ma لِمَ , bi-ma بِمَ , fiy-ma فِيْمَ , mim-ma مِمَّ , ʕalȃ-ma عَلامَ , and ħattȃ-ma حَتَّاْمَ .)

N.B. Sibawayh says in vol. IV, pp. 164-165 that mah مَهْ is an obligatory pausal form of ma مَ , which is a shortened variant of مَاْ “what.” It seems that مَاْ had originally two forms, a short junctional form ma مَ and a long pausal form مَاْ . The form mah مَهْ is a variant of the pausal form.

§4. The dual nȗnation suffix –ni has a pausal variant –nih (e.g. ḍȃribȃnih ضَاْرِبَاْنِهْ for ḍȃribȃni ضَاْرِبَاْنِ “two hitting [persons]”), and the sound masculine plural nūnation suffix –na has a pausal variant –nah (e.g. qȃʔilȗnah قَاْئِلُوْنَهْ for qȃʔilȗna قَاْئِلُوْنَ “saying [male persons]”) (Sibawayh vol. IV, p. 161).

§5. The energetic ending –anna has a pausal variant –annah, e.g. ʔ·iʕlamannah اِعْلَمَنَّهْ for ʔ·iʕlamanna اِعْلَمَنَّ “know [you](masc. sing.)” (Sibawayh vol. IV, p. 161).

§6. Indicative imperfective verbs of roots III=w/y end with *–aw/*–ay > –ȃ, –ȋ, or –ȗ. The jussive and imperative conjugations of these verbs usually end with shortened vowels –a, –i, or –u, but possible pausal variants are –ah, –ih, or –uh. For example, the imperative verbs ʔ·ixšah اِخْشَهْ , ʔ·irmih اِرْمِهْ , and ʔ·uɣzuh اُغْزُهْ are possible pausal variants of ʔ·ixša اِخْشَ “fear [you](masc. sing.),” ʔ·irmi اِرْمِ “throw [you](masc. sing.),” and ʔ·uɣzu اُغْزُ “raid [you](masc. sing.)” (Sibawayh, volume IV, p. 159). The jussive verb taqih لا تَقِهْ is a possible pausal variant of taqi لا تَقِ “do not [you](masc. sing.) protect.” Imperative verbs that consist of a single open syllable CV always have the pausal form CVh, e.g. *rȃ > rah رَهْ “see (you)(masc. sing.)” and *qȋ > qih قِهْ “protect (you)(masc. sing.).”

N.B. Sibawayh says that the pausal hȃʔ of silence is obligatory in the jussive of roots I=w/y + III=w/y, such as taqih لا تَقِهْ “do not [you](masc. sing.) protect” and taʕih لا تَعِهْ “do not [you](masc. sing.) comprehend,” but السيرافي says that the forms taqi لا تَقِ and taʕi لا تَعِ are also possible.

§4. The change CVV > CVh has sometimes produced lexical variants. For example, the word šafahuṋ شَفَهٌ “lip” is apparently altered from šafȃ شَفَىْ , the pausal form of šafan شَفًىْ “margin.” According to Sibawayh (vol. IV, p. 182), the demonstrative hā-ðȋ هَذِيْ “this(fem. sing.)” had a pausal form hā-ðih هَذِهْ in the dialect of Tamȋmu تَمِيْمُ (in eastern Arabia). However, Sibawayh says that in the Ħiǵȃz (western Arabia) and Qaysu قَيْسُ (the tribes of western Naǵd) this pausal form was used also as a junction form. This statement by Sibawayh perhaps refers to the demonstrative hā-ðihi هَذِهِ which always has a terminal –h, but this –h is followed in junction by a vowel –i. It is possible that this vowel was originally an anaptyxic vowel that served especially to separate the demonstrative from a following definite article. Alternatively this vowel could have been added to the terminal –h by analogy with the 3rd person feminine pronoun hiya هِيَ . Chaim Rabin (p. 152 §f) suggests that the pronoun hā-ðih > hā-ðihi was borrowed by the western Arabians from the eastern Arabian pausal form. The native equivalent in western Arabia could have been tȃ/tȋ تَاْ/تِيْ . The form تَاْ was used in early Islam by the Ṭayyiʔ طَيِّئٌ of northwestern Naǵd. The written form ty (which can mean either * or the older form *tay) was used in the Namȃra·t inscription of 328 AD.

In Aleppo Arabic the word lah لَهْ is an exclamation that means “oh no!” This is probably altered from لا “no, not.”

►II.19.C.b. CVV > CVʔ

According to Sibawayh (quoting his master ʔ·Al-Xalȋl), “some Arabs” (from the Ṭayyiʔ طَيِّئٌ ?) said at pause raǵulaʔ رَجُلَأْ for raǵulȃ رَجُلَاْ “a man (acc.),” ħublaʔ حُبْلَأْ for ħublȃ حُبْلَىْ “pregnant,” and yaḍribu-haʔ يَضْرِبُهَأْ for yaḍribu-hȃ يَضْرِبُهَاْ “(he) hits her” (Sibawayh vol. IV, p. 176).


Sibawayh maintains that –h is added to those terminal vowels that are not changed by inflection, while –n (the nūnation التَّنْوِيْنُ ) is added to those that are inflected (vol. IV, p. 164).

وأما “أَحْمَرُ” ونحوُه إذا قُلْتَ “رَأَيْتُ أَحْمَرَ” لم تُلْحِقْ الهاءَ، لأن هذا الآخِرُ حَرْفُ إعرابٍ يَدْخُلُهُ الرفعُ والنصبُ، وهو اسمٌ يدخله الألف واللام فيُجَرُّ آخرُه، ففرقوا بينه وبين ما ليس كذلك، وكرهوا الهاء في هذا الاسم في كل موضعٍ، وأدخلوها في التي لا تزول حركتها، وصار دخول كل الحركات فيه وأن نظيره فيما ينصرف مُنَوَّنٌ عِوَضًا من الهاءِ، حيث قويتْ هذه القُوَّة‏َ.‏ وكذلك الأفعالُ نحو “ظَنَّ” و”ضَرَبَ”، لَمَّا كانتْ اللَّاْمُ [أي الحرف الأخير من الجذر] قد تُصَرَّفُ حتى يَدْخُلَها الرفعُ والنصبُ والجزمُ شُبِّهَتْ بأحْمَرَ‏.‏

The refutation of Sibawayh’s proposition is found in Sibawayh’s book itself. When he talks about chanting poetry التَّرَنُّمُ (in vol. IV, p. 204) he says that the terminal long vowels are lengthened. However, in non-chanted poetry (فَإذَا أَنْشَدُوْا وَلَمْ يَتَرَنَّمُوْا) there were three possible methods:

  1. Some people would recite the poetry without lengthening the terminal vowels, as in normal speaking (of those people).
  2. The people of the Ħiǵȃz would still lengthen the terminal vowels, as in chanting.
  3. Many of the Tamȋm تَمِيْمُ (in eastern Arabia) would replace the lengthening of the terminal vowels by nūnation, regardless of whether the lengthened vowels are nūnated in normal speech. Thus, they would say ʕasȃ-kan for ʕasȃ-ka عَسَاْكَ “hopefully you [are],” ʔ·að-ðurafan for ʔ·að-ðurafa الذُّرَفَ “the flowing(acc. plur.) [tears],” and ʔanhaǵan for ʔanhaǵa أَنْهَجَ “be(came) tattered.”

The third method is called in Arabic linguistics the nūnation of chanting تَنْوِيْنُ الْتَّرَنُّمِ (a Latin translation would be nunatio canentis). The existence of this nūnation disproves Sibawayh’s proposition that nūnation is limited to inflected endings.

In fact, there are countless examples in Arabic and other Semitic languages of terminal long vowels being nūnated for no obvious reason. One example in Arabic is the particle ʔiðaṋ إِذًا/إِذَنْ “therefore.” Some speakers pronounced this particle ʔiðan at junction and ʔiðȃ at pause, just like a case-inflected ending (it was disputed among the linguists whether it should be written إِذَنْ or إِذًا ).

It seems likely that all nūnated endings are altered form original long vowels. The nūnated case-endings –uṋ, –aṋ, and –iṋ were originally mere phonetic variants of –ȗ, –ȃ, and –ȋ.

►II.19.C.d. Cȃ > Caw/Cay

The change ȃ > aw/ay seems to have been common in the prehistory of the Semitic languages. This change is not limited to the word-terminal position but can happen in any position in the word.


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