Imāla (also transliterated imālah; Arabic: إمالة, literally "slanting") is a vowel shift exhibited in many dialects of Arabic where the open vowel, whether 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 the dialects that have it, such as Lebanese Arabic.
Historically and anciently, imāla was a feature of the ancient dialects of Najd and Tamim, which had it in both verbs and inflected nouns. There are many cases for which imāla is appropriate; some of the most common are outlined below:
- It affects a word-final alif when it substitutes yāʾ or can be substituted by yāʾ in some inflections: الأعلى ([ælʔæʕleː], "the highest").[dubious ]
- Also, imāla occurs if alif follows /j/ immediately or is separated by only one letter. It occurs as well if they are two letters apart if the second letter is hāʾ). Imāla is generally tenser before a long yāʾ than before a short yāʾ: صيام ([sˤijeːm], "fasting")
- Similarly, imāla occurs if alif is preceded by a letter that is itself preceded by an /i/ sound: 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, if alone or followed byʾ hāʾ, does not stop the process: كافر ([keːfir], "nonbeliever").
Many qirāʾāt of the Quran implement imāla at least once. Some, like those of Hafs or Qalun, use it only once, but others, like those of Hamzah az-Zaiyyat and Al-Kisa'i, use it regularly. In the latter, imāla affects hundreds of words 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 but major imāla ([e]) in only one instance.
Effect on other languages
- Vowel height
- Andalusian Arabic
- North Levantine Arabic
- Tunisian Arabic
- North Mesopotamian Arabic
- Word-final imaala in contemporary Levantine Arabic : a case of language variation and change, Durand, Emilie Pénélope, University of Texas, Austin, 2011, read online