ā / ’ (also ʾ )

First letter in the Arabic Alphabet


  • END: ـا
  • MIDDLE: ـا
  • 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/.

Other Notes

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 ’ 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.

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