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: حروف شمسيةḥurūf shamsiyyah) and moon letters or lunar letters (حروف قمرية ḥurūf qamariyyah), based on whether they assimilate the letter lām ( l)[1] of a preceding Arabic definite article al- (الـ), which is an important general rule used in Arabic grammar.

These names come from the fact that the word for 'the sun', al-shams, pronounced ash-shams, assimilates the lām, while the word for 'the moon', al-qamar, does not.

Rule[edit]

When 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. For example, for "the Nile", one does not say al-Nīl, but an-Nīl.

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:


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 mostly a coronal consonant such as [d͡ʒ] and [ʒ], or less commonly also [ɟ] and [ɡ] (only in Lower Egypt, and parts of Yemen and Oman). 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.

Most modern-written Arabic names (including personal names and geographical Arabic names) do not follow the consonant assimilation rule or the shaddah when latinized in Latin-spelled languages. Sometimes the sun and moon rules are not followed in casual speech.

E.g. personal name: الرَّحْمَن - Al-Rahman instead of "Ar-Raḥmān";

geographical name: الْجُمْهُورِيَّةُ التُّونِسِيَّة - Al-Jumhuriyah Al-Tunisiyah instead of "al-Jumhūrīyatu ’t-Tūnisīyah".

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'
Sun/ Solar Letters

(حروف شمسية - ḥurūf shamsīyah)

[case: agreeable with the definite article]

Moon/ Lunar Letters

(حروف قمرية - ḥurūf qamarīyah)

[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/ − التّـ

at-t...

التِّينُ

at-tīn(u)

= the fig

ء

ʼ

/ʔ/ − الْإـ, الْأـ

al-’a.../ al-’u...; al-’i...

الْأَخُ

al-ʼakh(u)

= the brother

الْأُذُنُ

al-’udhun(u)

= the ear

الْإِبْرِيقُ

al-’ibrīq(u)

= the jug

ث

th

/θ/ − الثّـ

ath-th...

الثَّعْلَبُ

ath-tha‘lab(u)

= the fox

ب

b

/b/ − الْبـ

al-b...

الْبَيتُ

al-bayt(u)

= the house

د

d

/d/ −الدّ

’ad-d...

الدُّبُّ

ad-dubb(u)

= the bear

ج

j

/d͡ʒ/ − الْجـ

al-j...

الْجَوزُ

al-jawz(u)

= the walnut

ذ

dh

/ð/ −الذّ

adh-dh...

الذَّكَرُ

adh-dhakar(u)

= the man, male

ح

/ħ/ − الْحـ

al-ḥ...

الْحَجُّ

al-Ḥajj(u)

=the Hajj pilgrimage

ر

r

/r/ −الرّ

ar-r...

الرَّبُّ

ar-Rabb(u)

= the Lord (Allah)

خ

kh

/x/ − الْخـ

al-kh...

الْخَوْخُ

al-khawkh(u)

=the peach

ز

z

/z/ −الزّ

az-z...

الزَّنْبَقُ

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/ − السّـ

as-s...

السَّمَاوَاتُ

as-samāwāt(u)

= the Heavens/ firmament, skies

غ

gh

/ɣ/ − الْغـ

al-gh...

الْغَرَامُ

al-gharām(u)

= the love, warmth, romantic

ش

sh

/ʃ/ − الشّـ

ash-sh...

الشَّرْقُ

ash-shar·q(u)

= the east

ف

f

/f/ − الْفـ

al-f...

الْفِكْرُ

al-fik·r(u)

= the thought

ص

// − الصّـ

aṣ-ṣ...

الصَّحْرَاءُ

aṣ-ṣaḥ·rāʼ(u)

= the desert

ق

q

/q/ − الْقـ

al-q...

الْقِرْدُ

al-qir·d(u)

= the monkey

ض

// − الضّـ

aḍ-ḍ...

الضَّبَابُ

aḍ-ḍabāb(u)

= the fog

ك

k

/k/ − الْكـ

al-k...

الْكَوْكَبُ

al-kawkab(u)

= the planet

ط

// − الطّـ

aṭ-ṭ...

الطَّاهِرُ

aṭ-ṭāhir(u)

= the pure

م

m

/m/ − الْمـ

al-m...

الْمَتْحَفُ

al-mat·ḥaf(u)

= the museum

ظ

/ðˤ/ − الظّـ

aẓ-ẓ...

الظُّهْرُ

aẓ-ẓuh·r(u)

= the noon

و

w

/w/ −الْو

al-w...

الْوَفِيَُ

al-wafiyy(u)

= the faithful

ل

l

/l/ − اللّـ

al-l...

اللَّوْنُ

al-lawn(u)

= the colour

ي

y

/j/ − الْيـ

al-y...

الْيَانْسُونُ

al-yānsūn(u)

= the anise

ن

n

/n/ − النّـ

an-n...

النِّسَاءُ

an-nisāʼ(u)

= the women

ه

h

/h/ − الْهـ

al-h...

الْهَوَاءُ

al-hawāʼ(u)

= the air, kiss of life

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.