Talk:Arabic definite article

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In names?[edit]

I have heard that the 'Al-' prefix has some kind of significance if put in a person's name. A while ago Private Eye criticised Mohammed Al-Fayed for using 'Al-' and I was wondering on what idea this was based. I heard it is considered by some to be an Arabic construct which means importance or respect - similar to 'san' in Japanese but used as part of a name - but I have also heard that it doesn't carry any specific meaning when affixed to an Arabic name, could this be explained in the article, or just to me if it is thought inappropriate for encyclopaedic entry. Obi-w00t 18:20, 11 October 2007 (UTC)

A lot of times the "Al-" is simply omitted when transcribing Arabic names into English -- al-Qaððafi becomes Gaddafi, etc. I'm not sure the prefix really has a consistent meaning in all proper-name contexts, since it's just the definite article. When prefixed to a nisba geographic adjective form, it basically means "the one from" -- i.e. al-Tabari == "the one from Tabaristan". AnonMoos 19:23, 11 October 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for the clarification, it looks like the article on Mohammed Fayed has since been updated to clarify the point that Private Eye were criticising the "Al-" part because using the definitive article seems a little arrogant (well, I think it does anyway). Still, thanks for clearing up my understanding on this subject. Obi-w00t 13:48, 18 October 2007 (UTC)
There is little misunderstanding here, Mohammed al-Fayed's name is correctly with the article, which does not indicate any high position or anything, it just indicates that he is "of" the Fayeds and it is normal in many Arab family names names; examples: Raafat el-Haggan, Nadje Sadig Al-Ali and Gad Elmaleh. What he tried (and failed) to do is ad another article, which indicates "the House Of" (as in the House Of Windsor); it is writted as آل and is not a prefex but a seperate part not connected to the name; it is also pronounced with a long a (aal, as opposed to the usual al). Example of families with aal: House of Saud, Al Buainain and Al Maktoum. --Maha Odeh (talk) 09:50, 19 June 2008 (UTC)
I had an American friend who spent time in an Arabic country teaching English and he added 'Al-' to his non-Arabic last name. Is this common for foreigners? It would seem to make sense, since no one would recognize a foreign name to be a name and adding 'Al-' would indicate it to be a name in the same way as adding 'Al' to an Arabic name that is also a noun distinguishes it as a name and not a noun. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 68.70.5.241 (talk) 10:06, 5 May 2012 (UTC)

All This "Al-" Thing[edit]

The article is nice as it goes, but what I want to know is if there is, as I suspect, a connection between the Romance "a la" and which is found in variations in Italian, French, etc.

I know that Arabic was heavily influenced by Greek and Latin of the Roman Empire; I also suspect that this "al-" thing is derived in from Latin. I do not believe that it is the other way around, simply because the Arabs did not conquer and rule all of Italy and France, as they had Spain and Portugal.

Also, the Hebrew is "Ha". Why are the Hebrew and Arabic words for "the" so different? I believe that "ha" and its variations are the Semitic originals, and that the Greeks and Latins copied "ha" from the Semites, while the Arabs copied "al-" from the Latins.

Can the true facts be verified?

Regards,

WikiSceptic 05:18, 3 July 2006 (UTC)

WikiSceptic, the etymology and relation to Hebrew usage are beyond my limited knowledge at the moment. I'll look it up for you. -Fsotrain09 01:17, 7 July 2006 (UTC)
Thanks, -Fsotrain09, I eagerly look forward to the information. Regards. WikiSceptic 14:50, 8 July 2006 (UTC)

You may find this discussion I had with a fellow user of some relevance to your question:

[START]I have a question about the article 'el', which language borrowed from which? Or is it just a mere coincidence that 'el' in both Arabic and Latin translates to 'the'? --Inahet

  • El did not exist in Latin. Latin had no definite article. Canis could mean "dog," "a dog," or "the dog" depending on the context. Spanish el comes from Latin ille, illa which was the self-reflexice pronoun. Cicero ille means "Cicero himself." Some people have argued that Spanish el is from and/or was reinforced by Arabic al, but it's hard to believe when you realize that French has Le, les etc. and Italian has il etc (I'm guessing Romanian has something similar, but I'm not sure). When the Romance languages moved away from being inflected languages and more in the direction of synthetic languages, they needed a definite article so they used the next closest thing that Latin had. This process was probably well under way before the split into separate Romance languaes. But I would be interested to see if you could dig up a source which posits Arabic al as an influential factor in this development.--Hraefen
Thank you for replying to my question. I assumed that perhaps the word for the Arabic definite article was borrowed from the Latin word for 'the' via another Semitic langauge (or the other way around), but as you point out, Latin had no definite article and the word el is unique to the Spanish language.
I did find a source that claims the development of the definite articles in each Romance language were heavily influenced by local factors [1], but it isn't specific as to what the local factors are. -Inahet [END] --Inahet 02:55, 12 August 2006 (UTC)
Hraefen, Romanian has a postfixed -ul (masc.), -la (fem.). Classic example, Drac-ul, "the dragon". The linguistics for the derivation from ille are pretty conclusive, there is no way that Arabic would have contributed. The inspiration for the creation of the Latin definite article is far more likely to be from Greek, which had definite articles since at least the 8-7th century B.C. As an aside, there is little correlation between inflection and articles, as both Greek (ancient and modern) and classical Arabic are both quite inflective. Concerning the point of the discussion, I don't know of any evidence of Arabic borrowing of ille from Latin, but it is not completely unlikely, since Classical Arabic was developed largely in (formerly Roman) Syria. Causantin (talk) 15:52, 16 May 2008 (UTC)

The change from ille from a demonstrative to the various definite articles in the Romance languages is par for the course, and does not require Arabic input. For example "the" in English was originally the masculine form of "that" (which was neuter); Greek 'ο changed from a pronoun (he, that) in Homer to an article in classical Greek; the Hebrew prefix ha- is likely to be related to the Aramaic pronoun hā (that).

On the other hand, the coincidences between the two language families in what consonants have pronominal force are spooky. Examples:
-l- (found in ille and its derivatives; and in al-, elleh (these), ula'i, etc.)
-h- (found in "he", 'ο etc; and in ha-, hā, hadha)
-dh- (found in "this", "the", and their Germanic cognates; and in hadha, zeh etc.)
-nu- (found in nos; and in -nu, the Hebrew suffix "our").

Still, not enough to base a theory on! --Sir Myles na Gopaleen (the da) (talk) 16:14, 16 May 2008 (UTC)


As a Levantine Arab,someone who consideres themselves an Arab, a Semite, and a member of the Mediterranean cultural and historic heritage... And considering that Arabs as some of the most major contributors to what we today collectively know as "The Mediterranean" and many other modern ideas we take for granted, I find the conversation which Wikispeptic started here very offensive and very flawed. I have no reason to believe that Wikiskeptic is anything more than a Racist, over-essentialist, Orientalist. Why do you assume so easily that there is no way Arabic could have had an influence on Romance Languages? And what makes you so confident to assume that it is most likely Arabic that would have taken it from Latin (especally considering Arabic, is a language which is renknown worlwide for having some of the fewest foreign borowwings and without dispute one of the purest Semitic languages and best views into the supposed "proto-Semitic" language (unlike Hebrew which relied on heavy foreign borrowings in its reform stage).... I find it very very very offensive that it would come so natural for you to assume such a thing, and for no one to have set you straight immeditately and shut you up for such a racist assumption, and it really does show the extent of your supposed "historical knowledge" and the world view which you have, and the tainted Eurocentric ahistoric lenses with which you see the world. Since all history shows the influences were quite in the opposite direction from which you like to believe, Don't worry your entire heritage will not be dissolved because of the scary hairy "Arabs"!!!! —Preceding unsigned comment added by 99.224.137.191 (talk) 02:29, 25 November 2008 (UTC)

That's ridiculous. Even when complaining about supposed racism against you, you're totally racist against Europeans and you can't even resist a slam agains the Jews. Adam Bishop (talk) 03:46, 25 November 2008 (UTC)
Back to the subject. It is certain that "el", "il", "le" etc. come from Latin ille and not from Arabic al-, and that ille goes back to the earliest stages of the Latin language. It is equally certain that Arabic al- is ancient Semitic and does not come from Latin ille. It is a matter of pure speculation whether there may have been a demonstrative -l- in some ultra-prehistoric stratum of protolanguage so as to underlie both. There may be plenty of other borrowings, in both directions, between the two language families, but this is not one of them. Nor is there any reason to assume that a language without borrowings is superior to a language with borrowings, or vice versa. (As an Arab Jew myself, I see nothing anti-Semitic in pointing out that modern Hebrew includes European borrowings.) So there is no need for accusations of racism, in either direction. So cool it, everybody. --Sir Myles na Gopaleen (the da) (talk) 10:57, 25 November 2008 (UTC)

Article Tone[edit]

Is the way the intro is currently written, with the usage examples incorporated into the prose, acceptably encyclopedic? Or does it sound too much like an attempt to teach the language? Any thoughts would be great. -Fsotrain09 22:04, 12 August 2006 (UTC)

I suppose that it could be perceived as paedagogical. There were examples in the prose before I overhauled it, but I did expand on them. I imagine that this article is being read by someone who has little or no knowledge of Arabic, and I feel that issues about placement of the article, prefixing it to attributive adjectives and its gemination of sun letters are difficult to comprehend without examples. I suppose the examples could be removed from the prose and added below the relevant paragraph as a list of examples with minimal explanation. — Gareth Hughes 22:15, 12 August 2006 (UTC)


ALL IN ALL THE TONE IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND AND EXTREMELY ELITIST IN ITS CHOICE OF WORDS< NOT EVERYONE READING THIS ARTICLE IS A LINGUIST!!! FURTHERMORE AS A SPEAKER AND WRITER AND READER OF ARABIC< IT IS OBVIOUS THAT THIS ARTICLE CAN BE RE-WRITTEN IN A MUCH MORE INFORMATIVE MANNER, AND MUCH MORE COMPREHENSIVE WORD ORDERING> SENTENCE FORMAT> AND CHOICE OF VOCABULARY —Preceding unsigned comment added by 99.224.137.191 (talk) 02:33, 25 November 2008 (UTC)

The vowel of "al"[edit]

The article explains nicely the assimilation of the article to a following "sun letter". However, a question of mine did not get answered: What are the rules for the vowel of the article? In some words, e.g., Hizb ut-Tahrir, the vowel shifts from a to u without any change in the written Arabic form حزب التحرير (ḥzb altḥyr). Can someone explain? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by 88.73.12.254 (talkcontribs).

Yes, this should be explained in the article. It isn't that the vowel of 'al-' is changing, but that it is assimilated with the preceding vowel. What is not mentioned is that 'al-' begins with a همزة الوصل ('hamzatu l-waṣl'). This means that unless it begins a sentence, the vowel following this hamza elides with the preceding vowel. This doesn't cause much of a problem in Modern Standard Arabic, but it does in Classical Arabic. In Classical Arabic, the endings of the nominative, accusative and genitive cases are still used. Thus, in MSA البيت الكبير is 'al-bait al-kabīr', but classically it is 'al-baitu l-kabīru'. However, some classical pronunciation is often retained for proper names. Most notably, عبد الله is '‘abdu llah', but not '‘abdu llahi' — only the internal case ending is retained. The 'i' is ابن ('ibn') also has the same hamza. — Gareth Hughes 12:50, 24 August 2006 (UTC)
Thanks a lot for your explanation. 88.73.128.4 21:14, 8 September 2006 (UTC)
I'm sorry Gareth, but your information is incorrect; in the so-called MSA, it would be pronounced "al-baitul-kabber", not "al-bait al-kabeer", which is actually difficult, if not impossible, to prounounce. --Maha Odeh (talk) 10:01, 19 June 2008 (UTC)
No, he's completely right, and the point about the mis-separated case endings needs to be added to the article.
You seem to have misunderstood the transcription Gareth was using. You are using a spelling based on English, which he did not; that accounts for your confusion. In fact, 'al-bait al-kabīr' is pronounced like ul-baitul-kabeer, with English u indicating a schwa-like vowel like in but (in isolation, the vowel of al- is pronounced more like a schwa, which is why it originally disappeared and was replaced by the preceding old case ending). Gareth's transcription uses u to mean a Spanish [u], as in English pull or put. --Florian Blaschke (talk) 22:08, 7 October 2011 (UTC)
It's already there, sorry. It's a bit hidden in the section Al-#The vowels in al-. This is the real reason why even in scientific transcription of case-less MSA, the article, normally transcribed as al-, can also appear als ul- or il-, with a full [u] or [i], not an attempt to spell the schwa with which al- is pronounced in isolation (the schwa pronunciation, however, is the reason for the variant spelling el-, and the outcome il- in Maltese – l- before nouns starting with vowels). --Florian Blaschke (talk) 22:16, 7 October 2011 (UTC)

Will someone get the porn off the page?[edit]

An article about an Arabic prefix is not the place for porn. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Lolilikepigslol (talkcontribs) 22:49, 8 December 2006 (UTC).

Please explain what you are referring to. -Fsotrain09 23:41, 8 December 2006 (UTC)

Alphabetic sorting[edit]

Since al- is an article, is it correct to alphabetically sort by the noun, ignoring "al-"? In Arabic and in English? Michael Z. 2007-07-29 20:58 Z

Yes, probably in most cases (especially when it's hyphenated). However, don't confuse it with أهل ahl (a very different word which also occurs as a prefix in Arabic names, and which is sometimes also transcribed into the Latin alphabet as "Al-"). AnonMoos 17:05, 14 October 2007 (UTC)

Plur-al?[edit]

Can al- come before plural nouns, as the can in English? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Fishal (talkcontribs) 23:11, August 28, 2007 (UTC)

Yes -- it's invariable, and not "declined" for number, gender, or case... AnonMoos 16:50, 14 October 2007 (UTC)

'Al' in dynasty names[edit]

It's nigh impossible to find any information on this, but I believe that Arabic dynasty names use a more emphasized version of this, which implies "House of __", and which does not combine with the following noun: for example, the House of Saud (آل سعود transliteration: Āl Suʿūd). --Xyzzyva (talk) 22:32, 19 February 2008 (UTC)

Are you thinking of "ahl", which means "people" but can, I think, mean dynasty? Adam Bishop (talk) 01:43, 20 February 2008 (UTC)
I don't think so, see House of Saud. It's pretty clearly lam-alif, but I really wonder if this is related to al-. There are also some dynasties that seem to begin their names with a connected آل, like آلبوسعيد, but this could also be something else. --Xyzzyva (talk) 02:46, 20 February 2008 (UTC)
Hmm, I don't know...there is a discussion about this on Talk:House of Saud, maybe it would be better to ask there. Adam Bishop (talk) 06:51, 20 February 2008 (UTC)

The Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic places āl under root alif-waw-lam, while others connect it with ahl from root alif-ha-lam. In either case, it doesn't have any ascertainable connection with the definite article that I can see... AnonMoos (talk) 09:27, 20 February 2008 (UTC)

Semitic etymology section[edit]

What I am concerned about in the section is the following:

Supporters of this theory sometimes cite the Arabic word 'this': hadhā (هذا), which, when combined with a definite phrase, is shortened in some accents of Levantine Arabic from hadhā al-bayt (this house) to hal-bayt (هذا البيت becomes هلبيت)[verification needed]. However, this could be an influence from other Northern Semetic languages on the Arabic dialect of Levantine Arabs[original research?].

The part about Levantine Arabic sounds a lot like folk-linguistics blather we hear on daily basis in the Arab world. I think the editor is writing his own musings about proto-semitic. Especially that the same contraction (hal) exists in Libya as well. -- 19:59, 28 March 2008 User:Hakeem.gadi

The hal- bit (insofar as it was a hypothesis about early Semitic etymology) was in fact based on an interpretation of ancient Dadanitic (North Arabian) inscriptions; however, it seems to have fallen out of favor in recent scholarship. See the article "Ancient North Arabian" by M.C.A. MacDonald in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages (2004) ISBN 0-521-56256-2. AnonMoos (talk) 20:40, 28 March 2008 (UTC)
Thanks for the quick reply. I am ok with the proto-semetic *hal-. It is the explanation and the rejoinder to the explanation that sound like improvizations to me. Anyway I tagged them with [verification needed] and [original research?]. Hakeem.gadi (talk) 04:48, 29 March 2008 (UTC)

Long "a" (ā)?[edit]

Should "al" be properly transliterated in standard Arabic as "āl" (with macron over the "a"), as is done for other words containing ا? Badagnani (talk) 20:15, 7 April 2008 (UTC)

Or should it be transliterated as 'ā? Shouldn't the alif have a hamza over it if written properly? Badagnani (talk) 22:55, 7 April 2008 (UTC)

It's not a long a, it's a seat for the hamza, which just isn't written in this case. Adam Bishop (talk) 01:04, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

The Arabic definite article doesn't have either a long vowel or a hamza (glottal stop) -- with the minor exception that all forms which would otherwise begin with a vowel have a preceding glottal stop when they occur at the beginning of a sentence (however, such glottal stops are not written in the standard orthography). AnonMoos (talk) 05:23, 8 April 2008 (UTC)


So, the ا in the Arabic definite article is simply shorthand for the one with the hamza on top? And the hamza on top, although it's written as a hamza and looks exactly like a hamza, isn't a hamza in this case but is a "hamzatu l-waṣl," which doesn't have a glottal sound? And the pronunciation of both is just "a" (not long "a" or glottalized "a")? Is that right? This kind of thing can be very complicated for a beginner to understand so I think we should spell it out in the very clearest language possible in the article, as it's such an important word. The explanation of the "hamzatu l-waṣl" in the article is just way too opaque as it reads right now; can we refine it for clarity? Badagnani (talk) 05:27, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

Just think of it as the only way in standard traditional Arabic orthography to indicate that a word usually begins with a vowel is to put a letter alif at the beginning of the word... AnonMoos (talk) 05:33, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
I'm only talking about one word, "al," and you didn't answer my questions. Badagnani (talk) 05:36, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Whatever -- you're kind of over-analyzing it in the absence of the relevant linguistic and historical background. If you really want to know, the letter alif is ambiguous in Arabic, since it can write a glottal stop consonant sound (its original meaning in earlier alphabets), it can also write a long a vowel (a meaning that developed in Aramaic as a Mater lectionis), or it can write words which begin with a vowel sound in Arabic in most cases (but which would have begun with a glottal stop in other Semitic languages which are stricter than Arabic in always requiring words to begin with a consonant sound -- classical Arabic only requires each sentence to begin with a consonant sound, but some related languages required each individual word to begin with a consonant sound).
Later, this ambiguity of the meaning of alif was partially resolved by use of the hamza diacritic (however, the hamza was not invented for this purpose, but actually because the distribution of glottal stops was different in Muhammad's dialect recorded in the Qur'an versus what was later considered to be the most "correct" form of standard classical Arabic). The definite article is never written with hamza in the usual orthography, because the definite article does not begin with a glottal stop (except when at the beginning of a sentence).
There's little ambiguity between alif in the definite article and alif marking a long vowel, because of the simple fact that alif at the beginning of an orthographic word never represents a long vowel in modern Arabic orthography unless it has a madda diacritic... AnonMoos (talk) 06:12, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Right. No hamza. My mistake. Adam Bishop (talk) 07:46, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
I have an instruction book here and it spells the definite article with a hamza (which it calls hamza al-wasla, or simply "wasla") over the alif. Badagnani (talk) 08:08, 8 April 2008 (UTC)
Wasla (which looks a little like a miniature letter sad) is a special diacritic which is used to mark a word-initial letter alif which has neither a glottal-stop consonant sound nor a vowel sound associated with it. This is quite different from hamza in the ordinary sense (which looks a little like a miniature initial letter `ayn), the diacritic which specifically marks the presence of a glottal stop consonant sound. However, wasla can be referred to as همزة الوصل, while ordinary hamza is referred to as همزة القطع , which could be confusing... AnonMoos (talk) 13:59, 8 April 2008 (UTC)

Re-doing this article[edit]

I am a senior undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. I am in the process of writing an essay on the definite article, Al-. It is extremely comprehensive and I've done substantial research. I am thinking of replacing this article with one more comprehensive which cites reliable sources. Although I am very new to Wikipedia editing, I think my article will be a welcomed replacement. The first draft will be ready within the next few days as of this post. I have read the discussions on this page.

Please advise as to whether a completely new article would be welcome or not. Thanks. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Nickjamil (talkcontribs) 02:52, 30 December 2008 (UTC)

However, be aware that if you've arrived at a broad sweeping new theory, then it may not be appropriate for inclusion in Wikipedia. AnonMoos (talk) 08:36, 30 December 2008 (UTC)
I understand. So let me replace the article, and I would appreciate as many improvements and peer reviews as possible. If, however, the community finds that my article is terrible and beyond edit (as determined by the discussion on this page), then I'll revert back to the current version. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Nickjamil (talkcontribs) 18:26, 30 December 2008 (UTC)
I think that looks pretty good. We often get a lot of text dumps from high school essays that are impossible or not even worth the effort to clean up. It's nice to see this one already wikified. (Of course, I trust NMC students to know what they're doing - nice to see another U of T student, I'm on the other side of campus in medieval studies.) Adam Bishop (talk) 03:01, 31 December 2008 (UTC)

The section "The 'hamza' in al-" ...[edit]

is gobbledygook. It starts off in the middle of a seemingly arcane subject. What are you talking about??!! — Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.101.43.48 (talk) 13:29, 4 July 2011 (UTC)

Phonology[edit]

In fact, this whole section is gobbledygook. Can't someone present the basic morphophonological rule? I.e., "al" becomes "ar" before certain sounds, "an" before certain sounds, and so on? — Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.101.43.48 (talk) 13:32, 4 July 2011 (UTC)

For that, you want the second paragraph, about the -l part, and the linked article sun and moon letters. I wouldn't say it's gobbledygook, it's just a little more complicated than you might think (for both the a- and the -l, and the al- together). Adam Bishop (talk) 15:56, 4 July 2011 (UTC)

Marginal etymological theories[edit]

Under Etymology, a 19th-century theory by Jacob Barth is mentioned that holds that al- comes from the Arabic negation . As far as I can tell, this is an oddball theory, included by Testen in his dissertation for the sake of completeness, but so marginal that we can safely omit it here.

It is also mentioned that some unspecified supporters of a proto-Semitic hal- origin view the fact that hādhā al- can be shortened to hal- as supporting evidence, while some equally unspecified grammarians balk at that idea. I have to agree with the grammarians; obviously the fact that hādhā al- can be shortened to hal- in no way provides support to the theory that al- stems from hal-. Can we leave out this unsourced amateur stuff as well?  --Lambiam 07:36, 22 October 2011 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived discussion of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. Editors desiring to contest the closing decision should consider a move review. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the move request was: page moved. Armbrust The Homunculus 00:29, 31 January 2014 (UTC)


Al-Definite article in Arabic – Or Arabic definite article, or some other natural and intuitive description of what the article is about. The current title "Al-" is meaningless to many until they read a few lines of the lead. Wikipedia prefers article titles like "Question mark" and "At sign" over "?" and "@". Besides, the Arabic definite article is not always and in all senses "al-". While its spelling is invariable in Arabic, pronunciation-wise that's not the case - the consonant "l" is assimilated by a following sun letter, and the vowel "a" may be dropped in connected speech, and these are sometimes reflected in romanizations, especially in linguistic scientific contexts. Theurgist (talk) 19:37, 23 January 2014 (UTC)

The above discussion is preserved as an archive of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page or in a move review. No further edits should be made to this section.

"al-" versus "al" in names[edit]

At the beginning of place names, may be also in names of persons, there may or may not be a hyphen between "al" and the noun. Does the hyphen (or the absence of it) have a special meaning? Difference between geographic names, names of persons, and names of objects? --Wickey-nl (talk) 10:58, 12 June 2014 (UTC)