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Imāla (also transliterated imālah ; Arabic: إمالة, literally "slanting") is a vowel shift exhibited in many dialects of Arabic, where the open vowel, be it long or short, is raised to [ɛ] or even [e] in certain morphological or phonological contexts. Imāla occurs in modern colloquial as well as classical variants of Arabic, including several qirāʾāt ("styles of recitation") of the Quran. As a very noticeable phenomenon, imāla is often one of the most distinguishing features in dialects in which it occurs, such as Lebanese Arabic.
Historically, imāla was a feature of the ancient dialects of Najd and Tamim, where it occurred in both verbs and inflected nouns. There are many cases in which imāla is appropriate; some of the most common are outlined below:
- It affects a word-final alif when it is substitute for yāʾ , or when it can be substituted by yāʾ in some inflections.
Example: الأعلى ([ælʔæʕleː], "the highest")[dubious ]
- Just as well, imāla occurs if alif directly follows /j/ or is separated from it by only one letter. This can also occur if they are two letters apart, but the second letter has to be hāʾ . Imāla is generally more tense before long yāʾ that it is before short yāʾ .
Example: صيام ([sˤijeːm], "fasting")
- Similarly, imāla occurs when alif is preceded by a letter which is preceded by an /i/ sound.
Example: إناث ([ʔineːθ], "females")
- A non-pharyngealized letter followed by /i/ can also induce imāla in an alif directly before it. As is the case with /j/, a consonant or consonant + hāʾ between the two does not hinder the process.
Example: كافر ([keːfir], "nonbeliever")
In the Quran
Many qirāʾāt of the Quran implement imāla at least once. Some, like those of Hafs or Qalun, use it only once, whereas others, like those of Hamzah and Al-Kisaa'i, implement it regularly. In those, imāla affects hundreds of words, either because of a general rule of a specific qirāʾa, or as a specific word prescribed to undergo imāla. Warsh's qirāʾa from the way of Al-Azraq implements minor imāla ([ɛ]) regularly, and major imāla ([e]) in only one instance.
Effect on other languages
The Andalusi accent of medieval Moorish Spain used to implement Imālah, and many Arabic loan words and city names in Spanish retain that property. Seville's name is a notable example of this phenomenon.