ā / ’ (also ʾ )
First letter in the Arabic Alphabet
- END: ـا
- MIDDLE: ـا
- BEGINNING: ا
- NORMAL: ا
Alif can represent many phonemes in Literary Arabic:
1.Without diacritics: ا initially: a, i /a, i/ or sometimes silent in the definite article ال (a)l- medially or finally: ā /aː/.
2.Alif with hamzah above: أ initially: ʾa, ʾu /ʔa, ʔu/ medially or finally: aʾ /ʔa/.
3.Alif with hamzah under: إ initially: ʾi /ʔi/; doesn't appear medially or finally (see hamza).
4.Alif with maddah : آ initially, medially or finally: ʾā /ʔaː/.
The letter ’alif originated in the Phoenician alphabet as a consonant-sign indicating a glottal stop. Today it has lost its function as a consonant, and, together with ya’ and wāw, is a mater lectionis, a consonant sign standing in for a long vowel (see below), or as support for certain diacritics (maddah and hamzah). Arabic currently uses a diacritic sign, ﺀ, called hamzah, to denote the glottal stop [ʔ], written alone or with a carrier: alone: ء ; with a carrier: إ أ (above or under a ’alif), ؤ (above a wāw), ئ (above a dotless yā’ or yā’ hamzah).
In academic work, the hamzah (ء) is transliterated with the modifier letter right half ring (ʾ), while the modifier letter left half ring (ʿ) transliterates the letter ‘ayn (ع), which represents a different sound, not found in English. Letters lacking an initial or medial version are never linked to the letter that follows, even within a word. The hamzah has a single form, since it is never linked to a preceding or following letter. However, it is sometimes combined with a wāw, yā’, or ’alif, and in that case the carrier behaves like an ordinary wāw, yā’, or ’alif. The shape of the final yā’ is always undotted ى in both print and handwriting in Egypt and Sudan, mainly.