consonants
Get to know the consonant inventory of Palestinian Arabic & all its varieties.

Inventory

In this section, we're going to discuss Consonants in Palestinian Arabic.

In theory, the consonant inventory of any Palestinian Arabic speaker includes — but is not limited to — all the consonants that exist in Standard Arabic; that’s because practically everyone has some command of Standard Arabic, in addition to natively speaking the dialect. However, that doesn’t mean that all the Standard Arabic consonants natively exist in Palestinian Arabic. Some only occur in formal terms that are essentially borrowed from Standard Arabic.

In the video that accompanies this lesson, I give pronunciation tips for the more unfamiliar sounds of the Arabic consonant inventory. In this written version of the lesson, I’ll focus on describing the situations in which the different consonants appear.

Native Consonants

The Palestinian Arabic consonant inventory consists of 25 consonants, which generally have a one-to-one correspondence with a letter of the Arabic abjad. In order of appearance, they are:

ب
/b/
ت
/t/
ج
/ʒ/
ح
/ħ/
خ
/x/
د
/d/
ر
/r/
ز
/z/
س
/s/
ش
/ʃ/
ص
/sˤ/
ض
/dˤ/
ط
/tˤ/
ظ
/zˤ/
ع
/ʕ/
غ
/ɣ/
ف
/f/
ل
/l/
ك
/k/
ن
/n/
م
/m/
هـ
/h/
ء
/ʔ/
و
/w/
ي
/j/

Points of Articulation

Some of these letters may seem hard to pronounce at first. One way to practice is to identify voiced-devoiced pairs — that is, consonants that are pronounced the same way, except that one is voiced and the other is devoiced. You should be able to alternate between the two consonants by just switching your voice on and off. If you can make both sounds without moving your mouth at all, you're doing it right.

CONSONANT PAIRS
DEVOC VOICE
ت د
ط ض
س ز
ص ظ
ح ع
خ غ
ش ج

Pharyngealization

Pharyngealization is a type of secondary articulation that may be added to any otherwise normal sound by raising the back of your tongue to the soft palate. It’s something you do independently from the main articulation of a consonant, meaning that theoretically any sound can be pharyngealized; for instance, the consonant /l/ is pharyngealized in English.

In Palestinian Arabic, there are four pharyngealized (a.k.a. “dark” or “emphatic”) consonants:

ص
/sˤ/
ض
/dˤ/
ط
/tˤ/
ظ
/zˤ/

When pronouncing these types of consonants, the front of the tongue produces the primary articulation while the back of the tongue is raised to the soft palate. When you say /tˤ/, the front of your tongue is basically in the same place as when you say /t/; the difference is that with /tˤ/ the back of your tongue is raised up.

Don’t underestimate how much of the work is actually being done by the vowels around the consonant. As I’ll discuss on the lesson on vowels, pharyngealized consonants affect the surrounding vowels, especially short /a/ & long /æ/ — which become short & long /ɑ/, respectively. Even if you can’t articulate the consonant correctly at all, if you use the right vowels the difference will be negligible.

Keep in mind that consonants in a word aren't pronounced independently from each other; your tongue is constantly moving into many different positions to articulate all these sounds. In reality, when there's a pharyngealized consonant in a word, the letters around it become pharyngealized too. So, don't over-articulate every consonant individually, but rather approach syllables & words as unit.

انبسط
/nbasatˤ/
[ɪnbɑsˤɑtˤ]

Non-Native Consonants

A few consonants from Standard Arabic don’t exist natively in the dialect, but are pronounced in formal terms. Even then, they may be altered.

Dental Fricatives

ث
/θ/
ذ
/ð/
ظ
/ðˤ/

In Arabic, there are three of these so-called dental fricatives. In the urban dialects of Palestinian Arabic, dental fricatives are pronounced as either alveolar fricatives or as alveolar stops; rural dialects maintain the original dental fricatives.

DENT FRIC STOP
DEVOC ث س ت
VOICE ذ ز د
PHRYN ظ ظ ض

With regard to borrowed terms, they're either pronounced the original way, or as fricatives. Natively, Palestinian Arabic realizes them only as stops.

ثقافة
culture
coming soon
إذا
if
coming soon
موظّف
employee
coming soon

Notice that there is no pharyngealized form of ز in Standard Arabic; the native form is an original new sound without its own designated letter.

Unfortunately, there’s no precise way to determine whether a word is a borrowed or native term, since the criteria of “formality” is rather vague. However, you can always check Wiktionary to see how any word is commonly pronounced in Palestinian Arabic. It helps that, since the orthography of the dialect is generally phonetic, the consonant letters themselves are often replaced too; this happens primarily to native terms, meaning they are most commonly substituted by stops.

تمّ
tumm
داق
dā2
نضّف
naḍḍaf

Qāf

ق
/q/

As is the case with the dental fricatives, /q/ is conserved in formal terms. Natively, though, Palestinian Arabic replaces it with one of a variety of other sounds. (The Druze community is the only group that maintains /q/ in their native dialects.)

مقالة
maqāle
قارن
qāran
DRUZE
بقول
biqūl

Indeed, the way you pronounce /q/ can strongly reflects your dialect and background. Notably, rural dialects pronounce /q/ as /k/, while urban dialects realize it as a /ʔ/. In Jordan, it’s very common to pronounce it as /g/, but in Palestine this is more specifically associated with the Bedouin community.

URBAN
قال وقُلنا
2āl w 2ulna
RURAL
قال وقُلنا
kāl w kulna
BEDOUIN
قال وقُلنا
gāl w gulna

Rural Dialects

All of the above regarding the consonant inventory of Palestinian Arabic applies specifically to urban dialects, whereas the consonant inventory of rural dialects introduces a few distinct differences. As already mentioned, rural dialects preserve the dental fricatives, and realize /q/ as /k/. As for the original /k/ itself, it becomes /tʃ/ (ch). Additionally, the pronunciation of /ʒ/ is affricated (/dʒ/), as in Standard Arabic. Here’s a summary of the sound changes in rural dialects:

ث
/θ/
ذ
/ð/
ظ
/ðˤ/
ق
/k/
ك
/tʃ/
ج
/dʒ/

And that's everything you need to know about Consonants in Palestinian Arabic!