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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.

Classical Arabic[edit]

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:

Morphological reasons[edit]

  • 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 ]

Phonological reasons[edit]

  • 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[edit]

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[edit]

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.

See also[edit]