Sun and moon letters

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Sun letters (red) and moon letters (black)

In Arabic and Maltese, the consonants are divided into two groups, called the "sun letters or solar letters" (Arabic: حُرُوفُ ٱلْشَّمْسِيَّة - ḥurūfu 'sh-shamsīyyah) and "moon letters or lunar letters" (Arabic: حُرُوفُ ٱلْقَمَرِيَّة - ḥurūfu 'l-qamarīyyah), based on whether they assimilate the letter lām (ل)[1] of a preceding definite article al- (ال).

These names come from the fact that the word for 'the sun' - al-shams (الْشَّمسُ), is properly pronounced "ash-shams" which assimilates the lām (ل) following a shaddah (ّ–ّ ّ ) [= however, omitted in modern writing for the sake of simplicity but in religious texts, it is clearly written which states and defines this diacritic for phonetic assimilation], while the word for 'the moon', al-qamar (الْقَمَرْ), does not assimilate the lām (ل) without the shaddah (-ّ ّ ).

Rule[edit]

When the Arabic definite article (ال) followed by a sun letter, the /l/ of the Arabic definite article al- assimilates to the initial consonant of the following noun, resulting in a doubled consonant. Example, for "the Nile", one does not say al-Nīl, but an-Nīl (الْنِّيل).

When the Arabic definite article (الْـ) is followed by a moon letter, no assimilation takes place. The sun letters represent the coronal consonants according to the phonology of Classical Arabic, and the moon letters represent all others.

The sun and moon letters are as follows:

(for the sake of convenience and understanding, the "shaddah - rule of assimilation" mentioned above will be applied in the table below)

Sun/ Solar Letters

(حُرُوفُ ٱلْشَّمْسِيَّة - ḥurūfu 'sh-shamsīyyah)

[case: agreeable with the definite article]

Moon/ Lunar Letters

(حُرُوفُ ٱلْقَمَرِيَّة - ḥurūfu 'l-qamarīyyah)

[case: unagreeable with the definite article]

Letter IPA Assimilated of "lām" in definite article "al"

along with shaddah (الْـّ)

Examples Letter IPA NOT Assimilated with "lām" in definite article "al"

(الْـ)

Examples
ت

t

/t/ − الْتّـ

at-t...

الْتِّينُ

at-tiyn(u)

= the fig

ء

ʼ

/ʔ/ − الْإـ, الْأـ

al-’a.../ ’al-’u...; ’al-’i...

الْأَخُ

al-’akh(u)

= the brother

الْأُذُنُ

al-’udhun(u)

= the ear

الْإِبْرِيقُ

al-’ibriyq(u)

= the jug

ث

th

/θ/ − الْثّـ

’ath-th...

الْثَّعْلَبُ

’ath-tha‘lab(u)

= the fox

ب

b

/b/ − الْبـ

’al-b...

الْبَيتُ

’al-bayt(u)

= the house

د

d

/d/ −الْدّ

’ad-d...

الْدُّبُّ

’ad-dubb(u)

= the bear

ج

j

/d͡ʒ/ − الْجـ

’al-j...

الْجَوزُ

’al-jawz(u)

= the walnut

ذ

dh

/ð/ −الْذّ

’adh-dh...

الْذَّكَرُ

’adh-dhakar(u)

= the man, male

ح

/ħ/ − الْحـ

’al-ḥ...

الْحَجُّ

’al-Ḥajj(u)

=the Hajj pilgrimage

ر

r

/r/ −الْرّ

’ar-r...

الْرَّبُّ

’ar-Rabb(u)

= the Lord (Allah)

خ

kh

/x/ − الْخـ

’al-kh...

الْخَوْخُ

’al-khawkh(u)

=the peach

ز

z

/z/ −الْزّ

’az-z...

الْزَّنْبَقُ

’az-zanbaq(u)

= the lily

ع

ʻ

/ʕ/ − الْعـ

’al-‘a.../ ’al-‘u.../ ’al-‘i...

الْعَقْلُ

’al-‘aql(u)

= the mind

الْعُشْبُ

’al-‘ush·b(u)

= the grass

الْعِيدُ

’al-‘id(u)

= the holiday/ festival

س

s

/s/ − الْسّـ

’as-s...

الْسَّمَاوَاتُ

’as-samaāwaāt(u)

= the Heavens/ firmament, skies

غ

gh

/ɣ/ − الْغـ

’al-gh...

الْغَرَامُ

’al-gharaām(u)

= the love, warmth, romantic

ش

sh

/ʃ/ − الْشّـ

’ash-sh...

الْشَّرْقُ

’ash-shar·q(u)

= the east

ف

f

/f/ − الْفـ

’al-f...

الْفِكْرُ

’al-fik·r(u)

= the thought

ص

// − الْصّـ

’aṣ-ṣ...

الْصَّحْرَاءُ

’aṣ-ṣaḥ·raā‘(u)

= the Sahara

[notably where the word derives from "desert"/ "deserted"]

ق

q

/q/ − الْقـ

’al-q...

الْقِرْدُ

’al-qir·d(u)

= the monkey

ض

// − الْضّـ

’aḍ-ḍ...

الْضَّبَابُ

’aḍ-ḍabaāb(u)

= the fog

ك

k

/k/ − الْكـ

’al-k...

الْكَوْكَبُ

’al-kawkab(u)

= the planet

ط

// − الطّـ

’aṭ-ṭ...

الْطَّاهِرُ

’aṭ-ṭaāhir(u)

= the pure

[also used as a name]

م

m

/m/ − الْمـ

’al-m...

الْمَتْحَفُ

’al-mat·ḥaf(u)

= the museum

ظ

/ðˤ/ − الْظّـ

’aẓ-ẓ...

الْظُّهْرُ

’aẓ-ẓuh·r(u)

= the noon

[also the name of Islamic noon prayer of Zuhr]

و

w

/w/ −الْو

’al-w...

الْوَفِيَُ

’al-wafiyy(u)

= the faithful

ل

l

/l/ − الْلّـ

’al-l...

الْلَّوْنُ

’al-lawn(u)

= the colour

ي

y

/j/ − الْيـ

’al-y...

الْيَانْسُونُ

’al-yaānsuūn(u)

= the anise

ن

n

/n/ − الْنّـ

’an-n...

الْنِّسَاءُ

’an-nisaā‘(u)

= the women

[also the name of 4th chapter of Holy Qur'ān]

ه

h

/h/ − الْهـ

’al-h...

الْهَوَاءُ

’al-hawaā‘(u)

= the air, kiss of life

[notably where the word derived from the name Hawwā‘ (Eve)]

Sun letters
t th d dh r z s sh l n
t θ d ð r z s ʃ ðˤ l n
Moon letters ء ه
ʼ b j kh ʻ gh f q k m w y h
ʔ b d͡ʒ ħ x ʕ ɣ f q k m w j h

Jīm[edit]

The letter ج jīm is pronounced differently depending on the region of the speaker, representing a coronal consonant such as [d͡ʒ] or [ʒ], but also [ɡ] or [ɟ]. However, in Classical Arabic, it represented a palatalized voiced velar plosive /ɡʲ/ or a voiced palatal plosive /ɟ/. As a result, it was classified as a moon letter and it never assimilates the article.

Orthography[edit]

In the written language, the ال al- is retained regardless of how it is pronounced.[1] When full diacritics are used, assimilation may be expressed by putting a shaddah on the consonant after the lām. Non-assimilation may be expressed by placing a sukūn over the lām.

Unfortunately, most modern-written Arabic names (personal names, geographical Arabic names) latinized in English for the sake of convenience, does not follow this "rule of assimilation with the definite article" or with the shaddah, including the "sun and moon letter rule" completely omitted.

E.g. personal name: الْرَّحْمَان - Al-Rahman instead of [correctly: "Ar-Rahman"];

geographical name: الْجُمْهُورِيَّةُ الْتُّونِسِيَّة - Jumhuriyah Al-Tunisiyah instead of " [correctly: "Jumhūriyyatu ’t-Tūnisiyyah/ Jumhouriyyat At-Tounisiyyah"]

Examples
Sun letters Moon letters
الشَّمْس ash-shams 'the sun' الْقَمَر al-qamar 'the moon'
الثِّقَة ath-thiqah 'the confidence' الْمُرْجَان al-murjān 'the coral'

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Abboud, Peter F.; et al. (1983). Elementary Modern Standard Arabic 1. Cambridge UP. pp. 123–124. ISBN 0-521-27295-5.