Pronunciation of ayn ع/عين

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Jana337, Oct 24, 2005.

  1. Jana337

    Jana337 Senior Member

    A question for learners of Arabic who got the unfortunate sound right: HOW? :D

    For the time being, I either ignore it altogether, or I sound like I am in labor. :rolleyes:

    Many thanks.

  2. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    I believe Daniel can do the Ayn so you'll have to wait for him. I bet a large number of those learning Arabic fail to accurately reproduce that sound.
  3. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    You are right, Jonathan. Most people drop it because they simply cannot reproduce it. Quite a few learners, however, manage to produce it - or at least something tolerably close.

    I would also be interested in what strategies and methods learners have used - so that I know how to answer people who want me to teach them how to pronounce it!
  4. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    I am a native English speaker but I have taught myself to pronounce the sound even though I'm sure it still isn't like a native. I have heard many explanations as to how to reproduce this sound but the best explanation I heard was that "if you sound like you are being strangled you will have mastered the 'voiced pharyngeal fricative'." -- Russell McGuirk from "A Colloquial Arabic of Egypt." McGuirk also says to try to swallow the sound 'ah'. I thought about that for a while and then came up with my own technique (although it has probably been used before, but I have never heard about it.

    I think a better way to learn it (and this is how I finally got it) is to reduce your air flow by putting pressure on your throat with your hand, or, in essence, choking yourself.

    Start by saying the sound 'ah' as in father and then hold your open hand out in front of your face with the palm facing the floor -- in other words parallel with the floor. You will be looking at the profile of your index finger and your thumb. Now, while saying the sound 'ah' slowly move your hand towards your throat, above the Adam's Apple or below where the chin meets the neck. I imagine most who are reading this know how the 3een should sound like so, that said, when your hand reaches your throat keep pushing (slowly) until it sounds like you think it should. I looked at my profile in the mirror while doing this to try to judge how far I push my hand into my throat, but it is difficult to tell -- maybe anywhere from a half inch to an inch.

    Anyway, this is a good exercise just to get you familiar with producing the sound, the muscles that produce it, and what they need to do to produce it. Eventually, with enough practice, one should be able to produce the sound without choking him/herself.

    Using this technique try saying a few words, such as 3een (eye), 3ilba (box) or tin, 3ilaaqa (relation), or whatever. Produce the sound using the technique and then right before saying the rest of the word pull your hand away really fast so you can say the rest of the word.

    I guess you can tell I have put a lot of thought into this.
  5. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Josh - amazing! I tried your method and it seems to work. However, I may be inclined to say ع the way I normally say it as a native speaker and assume that correlation means causation. :) I'd be interested in hearing if it works for other learners on the forum.
  6. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    :thumbsup: Josh, the way you explain your method sounds fun, and SMART. I love it when people try new techniques to help themselves learn better.
    Personally i've never imagined this letter was hard for non-native untill i heard it from a French friend of mind, who could never produce it. And that helped me understand better that some of the things that seem so "natural" for some of us, don't have to look the same for others.
    Any way, good luck with your Arabic. And "chapeau" for the detailed explanation.
  7. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I'm not sure if I can, but I definitely can produce it better than the qaf sound, which is a nightmare for me. ;)

    Anyway, my method was to drop the jaw as far below as possible. When finished that face practice (;)), I tried to say the normal German long "a" (similar to the "a" in father, but a bit closer to the u in mum). It still sounds like a normal English "a" in my experience, so now comes the most difficult part: Try to bend the upper part of your lower lip over the incisors. Simultaneously, you have to touch your uvula with the tip of your tongue.

    Sounds complicated but I come close to the sound Josh has described. :)
  8. Would someone mind telling me what's the sound for ع ?

    I cannot figure it out from the IPA sign.

    Thank you in advance,
  9. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    Have you ever heard the sound of she-sheep?:)
  10. linguist786 Senior Member

    Blackburn, England
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    It is hard to explain because it's not a sound that exists in English (and most other languages for that matter!). It is like a guttural vowel sound. We usually use the number 3 to transcribe it here on the forum.

    I'm sure there is a website where they pronounce each letter of the Arabic letter for you. Have a look at the resources sticky.
  11. I will. :) Actually, I've visited a few websites from the thread, but so far I've only found pronunciation of the name of the letter, that is 'ayn.
  12. HKK

    HKK Senior Member

    3010 Leuven, Be.
    The name of the letter starts with the sound ;)
  13. I know but that does not give me any clue. ;)
  14. Jagal New Member

    Maybe this'll help. When you get disgusted from something you may say "eew", right?. Or you may say "ya3" or "ya3i". Or just simply ask any Arabian person to pronounce it for you. ;)
  15. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    This is dangerous advice, because it's not a vowel sound. The first step in learning how to pronounce it is to realize that it's a consonant.
    That's not helpful because it's only Arabs that do that! :) I made the same mistake when I tried to help a foreigner pronounce "7" by telling her that it's the sound in "a77" or "a77uuu" which is what you say when you're cold. But of course, that's not what they say in all languages!

    Moderator Note: Majlo, I have merged this thread with a previous thread on the topic, one with posts that I trust will help you. Please remember to perform a search before starting a new thread. :)
  16. I know I should've searched before posting; that would've provided a lot of information. I'll do it next time.

    To what more standard sound is the 3 similar? I'll try to pronounce it anyway. :)
  17. Qcumber Senior Member

    UK English
    This is amusing. In the 1960s, my teacher, who was an Algerian ulema, advised me to begin by imitating a sheep, then he tuned me to the exact phone. Nowadays, when I have to quote a word that has it, native speakers say my pronunciation is correct, so his method was a good one. Baa. ;)
  18. suma Senior Member

    English, USA
    New learners must master this sound. It is very common and appears in many words.

    Try finding sound clips on the net. The bleating of sheep comes close as does Josh's explanation of the choking sound.

    The first obstacle to overcome is to train the ear to discern the sound; often we don't even hear it and mispronounce it as hamzah.
  19. mansio Senior Member

    A description of the 3ayn I found one day on the net: it is supposed to look like the sound of a car engine when you try to start it up by ten below zero.
  20. HKK

    HKK Senior Member

    3010 Leuven, Be.
    I have Some clue... I treat it rather like a stop, that is, a sound which for an instant blocks All air from passing through your throat. And I don't think that's the right way: it sounds okay in the beginning of a word like 3ayn or 3alaykum, but doesn't work well e.g. in sa3uudi.

    Can you use a stop or does some air still have to pass?
  21. Tariq_Ibn_zyad Senior Member

    It depends on who pronounces it.
    Iraqis,Bedwins and Maghrebis,prounounce it very hardly,and there's no way it can be heard like a hamza or any other letter.
    Levantine people pronounce it very softly,and to my Maghrebi ears,it sounds more like an emphasised "a" than "3ayn".

    Regarding my experience,There are many non-native Arabic learners in my university,and they all end up pronounced it correctly after a few mounth,while pronouncing "Qaf" correctly can take years!!
  22. Tariq_Ibn_zyad Senior Member

    Well,I can't feel any stop while pronouncing it...I think it's a bad way to learn it,because as you say it works in the beginning of a word,but not in other cases...You should be able to say the word "sa3uudi" whithout any stop.What I can feel when saying this word is my throat vibrating when switching from the "a" to the "uu" of sa3uudi"
  23. Qcumber Senior Member

    UK English
    It's not a stop; it's a fricative.
  24. Lugubert Senior Member

    The way I learned it: "A hoarse 'theatre whisper', but voiced." Say a ح , but engage your vocal chords.
  25. palomnik Senior Member

    I had no problem with this sound. I had to learn to make the same sound when I sang in choir as a child. In order to avoid slurring the sounds when singing melismas (a string of notes on one syllable) in Gregorian Chant, I had to learn to use the ayn sound to punctuate the transition from one note to the other. It sounds much better than using a glottal stop (which sounds choppy) or the h sound (which is OK when singing in a group but sounds as if you're laughing when singing solo). Students with some voice training will have an advantage.
  26. Qcumber Senior Member

    UK English
    I think part of the problem is due to its being represented by a single quotation mark in many Latin transcriptions as though it were not a consonant, but some secondary feature added to the vowel.
  27. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Hear hear!

    Although in their defense, there's not really a Latin character that could faithfully represent it, so the choice would be pretty random.
  28. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Pity, in most transliterations of Arabic names, `ayn is simply missing, as if there is no consonant there: `Oman, `Iraq, Sa`udi `Arabia; `Amman, San`a. Single or backquote is better than nothing at all, IMHO.

    In Somali language the ﻉ is represented simply by letter C, if some diacritics were added to the letter (Ċ - C with a dot above), it could serve as a Roman letter for `ayn, like Ġ (G with a dot above) serves to represent ﻍ
    What do you think: Ċiraq, Ċuman, Saċudi Ċarabiyya? (if you can see the character correctly). A bit unusual?

    I find it difficult to pronounce `ayn at the end of a word, e.g in "shari`" - street.
  29. HKK

    HKK Senior Member

    3010 Leuven, Be.
    That may be a problem for people who aren't interested in Arabic, but we learned very soon that the 3ayn is a sound to be reckoned with :)

    By the way, in casual transcriptions, there isn't even a sign of 3ayn. Same for ghayn in Dutch: we write Bagdad.

    The "voiced 7aa" doesn't sound right at all to me. But these things help, better than the "sheep sound" hints (In Dutch a sheep just says Baaaa, or something like Bahahaa). How about: a voiced near-hamza / a ghayn but even deeper and without vibration of the tongue / ...?
  30. Qcumber Senior Member

    UK English
    ElRoy, Anatoli, it goes without saying that I was deploring this in scholarly publications, not in newpapers.
    By the way, for my own research I use <ĥ> to transcribe <ع>, e.g.
    ĥain aš šams عين الشمس
  31. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    My teacher told us to constrict our throat. The result is very much like Josh's recommendation.

    Take heart, Jana. I don't know if I sound like I'm in labor, but I usually have the impression that I'm swallowing my tongue. Sometimes I get it right at the beginning of a word, but rarely at the end. Whenever my teacher tells me I got it right I'm always too shocked to remember what I've just done. :cool:
  32. mansio Senior Member


    That's exactly the transcription I use personally.
    I write the 3ayn as "c" because that letter has otherwise no use in transcription and because it looks like the Arabic letter.
    Another reason is that it derives from the quotation mark/reverse apostrophe used by scholars except that it is written on the same line as the others letters.
    I didn't know that the Somali language had the same symbol.
  33. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I wonder if I can request recordings of some files containing ع.

    The sounds causes a lot of difficulty to foreign learners. One native speaker said I was 80% correct when saying some words with `ayn. :) That's not good enough, I need 100%. :)

    I have no confidence when saying it in the final position like shaari` - شارع. For some reason, it's also easier for me to pronounce e.g. عمان (`Umaan) than عراف (`Iraaq). Maybe because it's a bit harder when `ayn is followed by an "i' (ee) sound.
  34. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I am attaching my pronunciations of شارع and عمان and العراق.

    I hope this helps.

    Attached Files:

  35. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thanks a lot, Elias! :)

    I am sure this will help others in this thread as well!
    (I haven't listened to the audio yet, I'll copy the files onto my mobile phone aka mp3 player and listen on the way home).
  36. Tariq_Ibn_zyad Senior Member

    After hearing your recording elias,I'm 100% conforted in my idea that "3ayn" is very different depending on the region.Your " 3ayn" is to my ears VERY soft:).
  37. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Tariq_Ibn_zyad, have you got a microphone? :):)
  38. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I was going to say the same thing. :)

    It would be interesting to compare pronunciations.
  39. HKK

    HKK Senior Member

    3010 Leuven, Be.
    This thread is very interesting! Elroy, your sound file was nice to hear after the many horror stories about strangling oneself and exploring the inner sheep ;) Just like in Ka3boul (if you remember), I found the 3 in Al-3iraq very hard to distinguish.

    Is it a hassle to use the microphone? Otherwise I'd like to make a little request too:eek: Or maybe for another fluent microphone-owner: a "minimal pair" with hamza and 3ayn, two words between which only these sounds are the difference. If it exists... Thanks!
  40. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    It's not too much hassle, but the problem is that there is a limit to the number of kilobytes a user can attach. Nevertheless, I think this recording is small enough to be within the limits, but I don't think I'll be able to attach any others.

    In this one I pronounce the minimal pair علم and ألم. I trust you'll be able to tell which is which. :D

    Attached Files:

  41. HKK

    HKK Senior Member

    3010 Leuven, Be.
    Thank you for the trust you place in me ;) It's clear indeed, thanks.
  42. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thank you, Elias for recording and posting the audio files. I can hear `ayn clearly but I am not so good and imitating it exactly. I'll practice a bit more. :)
  43. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Yes, thank you, Elias. I'll be practicing with the files, too!
  44. DrLindenbrock Senior Member

    Italy; Italian & Am. English
    I agree with most of what you guys said... but it would be hard to quote anyone, so please feel free to see your contribution throughout these lines even if I do not acknowledge it explicitely! :) After all, what is in forum is shared knowledge anyway! :)
    I think the method my Arabic grammar (in Italian, the first one I used) suggested to learn how to pronounce 3ayn is very close to Josh's method.
    But in the end, the book's explanation wasn't very clear for me, especially because it told us to basically pronounced a voiced 7aa2! Although I've read enough stuff to know that this is correct linguistically, it just doesn't make sense to my ears... :eek:
    So, my method essentially consisted in listening to my lecturers and watching al-Jazeera television, and trying to imitate them! :D
    I think that by now I can at least pronounce something that is - in Elroy's words - tolerably close to 3ayn.
    And as Anatoli suggested, there are some occurences of 3ayn which are easier to pronounce that others.
    I think it is an ascertained fact that 3ayn is easier to pronounce when followed by a fat7a than when followed by a kasra or a Damma.
    If you guys wish we could discuss this further... I realise this is not the purpose of this thread.
    Anyway, I think I get it pretty good in words like 3amal, 3ayn, 3uyuun, isti3maal, a little less well in words like 2usbuu3, shaari3, and definitely in a poor way in 3inaB, 3iraaq, 3umq ... I guess there are some general conclusion on this, i.e. an initial 3ayn followed by fatHa seems to be pretty easy for me, whereas... well, I'll let the examples I made speak for me. :)
    Lastly, I agree with Whodunit... although 3ayn is a sound I - as an Italian and English speaker - had never encountered before, after a month or two I think I was able to imitate well enough to make it clear that was what I was pronouncing (of course, there's no way I could seem like a native), but I think other sounds are much harder - at least for me.
    An MSA qaaf is definitely the hardest - I really have to concentrate to pronounce it in a single word, but when speaking "quickly" it basically just sounds like a "weird" kaaf.:)
    Then, there's ghayn (3'ayn), which I probably get well enough, but still gives me some problems.
    So, for me, the degree of difficulty is as follows:
    1 - qaaf
    2 - 3ayn
    3 - ghayn

    All, this is finally the end of my post... I realise I talked about me and my way of learning 3ayn, but I felt this was what Jana, Elroy and the rest of you were mostly interested in.
    See you around,
    Have a nice day (or morning or evening or night, choose what applies to you:) )
  45. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Since Cherine's "quick, off-topic note" blossomed into a little discussion, we now have a new thread:

    Arabic غ vs. French r

    Please restrict your comments in this thread to ones about the pronunciation of the letter ع. Thanks. :)
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 24, 2010
  46. Bilbo Baggins

    Bilbo Baggins Senior Member

    Manhattan, NY
    American English
    Mod note:
    I merged this new thread to the older one to avoid repetitions. Please don't forget that the forum rules require that we search the forum for older thread before starting new ones.

    How would you describe the proper pronunciation of ayn. According to my materials, ayn, independently, makes a sound similar to an animal call (no offense....but that's how it sounds to me) and when it's in words, it's hard for me to really pick up on its proper pronunciation. It seems that ayn actually has a slight range within it. Any thought? Thanks!
  47. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

  48. Alchemy Member

    England, English.
    Wow, that is really different to how I've interpreted descriptions on how to pronounce it. What a unique sound.

    Could you write down (transliteration) what's being said on the clip?

  49. ayed

    ayed Senior Member

    Just click on the clip and look at the following words
    عين ، عا، عا
    مزارع - مزرعه -شارع-سبعه-عمرو-عين
  50. Sidjanga Senior Member

    German;southern tendencies
    My experience is that the basic thing is to push/press the lowest point possible of the back of your tongue against the back wall of your throat (it helped me a great deal when I read in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (by David Crystal) that this is the actual point of friction, for ع as well as for ح).
    For some reason, you get to read and hear loads of rather vague indications all over, at times quite entertaining, like the one from the Wikipedia about ع, which recommends singing the lowest tone you can master within your personal register, and then one lower... (the result is at least interesting).

    I think the "swollow the [a:]" advice is also rather useful*, and I reckon that that one in combination with "the lowest point possible of the back of your tongue pushed/pressed against the back of your throat" should work fine for most people [prepared to invest a bit of patience and dedication].

    * without having read or heard about it before, that was actually (a bit) the impression I had whe I had the feeling I had (basically) "got there".
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2009

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