Vowel markers

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by rudi, Jun 28, 2006.

  1. rudi Member

    I have recently began to study Arabic as an adult after spending 3 years in Egypt as a child (and learning only the basics.....what a shame!!)

    I am sure this question has been asked before in this forum regarding vowel markers.

    My perferred method of learning a language is to read real material in the target language I am studying with a dictionary nearby for help. This strategy has served me well with German, Spanish, and Portuguese however I am at a loss for how I can make this work with Arabic. I am familiar with the sounds of the letters however because the majority of reading material online does not contain vowel markers I am not sure how to pronounce the words.

    What is the recommended method for overcoming this problem? Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
  3. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Hi Rudi, I am a beginner in Arabic but this problem is similar to languages, which are not completely phonetical like Chinese or Japanese. There is no quick fix. I would build my confidence with textbooks, trying to also memorise how to read words without vowel markers and what grammatical endings (or sometimes even middle vowels) could be depending on the situation. For words without clear pronunciation you would need to learn how to use dictionaries based on root consonants (usually -99%? 3 consonants). The consonants or long vowels, which are NOT part of the root are the variations, which could be added to the front, end or in the middle.

    You probably read about this theoretically but this, actually should work for looking up unknown words. Lookfor resources how to use dictionaries like Hans Wehr and you can use the same method you used for learning European languages but it will take more time to practice with dictionaries.

    Difficulty here is to identify the root, identify non-root letters and finding the words. If you know most of the words in a sentence, then it's easier, you can tell the grammatical role of the word. If you are a beginner like me, with low vocab, stick to romanised or vowelised textbooks for some time.

    There are no annotation tools for Arabic and romanisation tools won't work accurately.

    I almost finished my conversion program when I found this:

    Here's a romanisation conversion tool I found (a Java applet):


    Here's the result with no vowels, seems there are some errors

    If someone could expand on how to identify the root, look up words, it would be great. I don't have to use dictionary to often (textbook vocabs are enough) but I think I saw somewhere, which consonants can make up the root and which ones can never be in the root.
  4. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    I think the errors can be in 'l'rlq, I'd write like this 3-r-q (sorry about the "3" ع, it doesn't have an equivalen in English letters); and rdnnull which should be 2rdn (2 for the hamza أ)

    As for the rule for looking up word in Arabic dictionaries, you're most welcome to open a thread for it :)
  5. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    It's not as hard as it seems. Consider this:


    Long vowels ا - و - ي are always written, therefore it's not all too hard to guess "lubnaan" (labnaan/libnaan) and "al-3iraaq" (..-3araaq/3uarraq). The combination alef-laam at the beginning of a word is most likely the definite article (always pronounced al- in MSA). And a hamza on an alef can stand for either "a" or "u". The hamza below an alef stands for "i" only.

    You see, it's not very hard to read Arabic words. The only difficulty for me is the distinction between active and passive voice. Another difficulty is the distinction between the regular masculine plural and dual ending for the genitive and accusative case = ـين (iina/ayna).
  6. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    First off, I would like to say that "rdng wtht vwls sn't tht dffclt.":)

    Anyway like others have said, you will have to memorize the words and their pronunciations (or at least some words), but then after that you will know how to deduce the word by the concept of word recognition -- and you will not need the vowels to be included. Actually, we do a similar thing in English (understanding this concept helped me excel in Arabic) -- we read largely by word recognition and we don't necessarily read the entire word. Consider this:

    "The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid! Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt."

    I'll bet you were able to read that with little difficulty. By seeing the approximate length of the word and the first and last letters of the word we are able to deduce what the word is (in a split second). We are able to read so fast (in English) because of this phenomenon. If we actually read every letter of every word our reading speed would be significantly slower.

    Furthermore, and this is why I wrote "(or at least some words)" in parentheses above, Arabic is a language of roots and patterns. So, you can guess the pronunication (and the meaning) of a previously unknown word if you are familiar with its underlining pattern.

    Here is a thread in which we briefly discussed it:

    So, by applying the logic of word recognition, as well as the idea that Arabic is based on roots and patterns, learning to read it will not be that difficut.
  7. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    I know these words, just demonstrated the tool, how it can be used for getting just the consonants, then applying the logic to put in vowels but it's buggy, didn't work well for "Jordan". Anyway, this tool doesn't help if you know the letters but don't know how to read the words.

    As for the root systems, it's related to Rudi's original question, I hoped to get help here without opening a new thread. Say, we analyse a sentence from an online newspaper and how we go about translating it using dictionary. Not just knowing the root system for looking up words but applying the grammar rules. I am not good at typing Arabic yet and I can only type words I know. :) If Rudi is still reading, please post an example of a difficult sentence.

    Whodunit mentions the issue with similarly written grammatical forms. It looks, one would need to know more about grammar. If the context doesn't help then vowels should be written to avoid ambiguity.

    With long vowels there could be plenty of ambiguity as well. Although, they are always written, they could mean a consonant, if there is a short vowel in front or behind them بيت bayt, not biit.
  8. cherine

    cherine Moderator

    Alexandria, Egypt
    Arabic (Egypt).
    If you use an Arabic dictionary, you'll still need to know how to determine the root of a given word, not just the grammar. Actually, grammar doesn't really play a significant role in looking for Arabic words' meanings in dictionaries.

    How bold ! ;) Don't you prefer starting with something simple ? :)

    I agree with you here. Context is very essential in making the difference between similar words, like those mentioned by Whodunit.
    For example, I'd most definitely know if the word is a masculine plural or dual, from the context and with no much need for vowelization.
  9. abusaf Senior Member

    But isnt that part of the grammar though?

    I mean, if someone comes across the word يصل in a text and wants to know what it means, then the knowledge of معتل الفاء verbs, is useful, and this would be considered grammar, I suppose.

    Or am I wrong? Maybe you were intending something else though.
  10. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thanks all!

    My previous post was in a hurry (so is this one :) ) but you guys almost understood what I meant. "Deciphering" Arabic text by a foreigner is a skill, which takes time and the more you know, the better but what I was hoping to get hints for is how to vowelise unknown words in a sentence by use of a dictionary, which is the main topic of this discussion. My point is, if you know the other words, you can tell whether it's a verb, noun or a whatever, by using a dictionary with root systems (Hans Wehr), not the phonetical one, you would be able to find both the meaning and the pronunciation of an unknown word, of course you would need to take away the prefixes and suffixes to look up the root.

    Yeah Cherine, I meant a difficult one from Rudi's point of view not yours, of course. Rudi is not here but I am interested to hear some ideas.

    The other day I read an interesting example with this geographical name (of course there are plenty of those):
    `Amman (Amman)? `Umaan (Oman)?
    (` is a ع here)
  11. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Actually, it is عمان .

    Yes, the only difference is the use of a shadda in the capitol of Jordan, so context is essential.
  12. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    Thanks, Josh
  13. CarlosPerezMartinez Senior Member

    Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
    Spain, Spanish
    Your method is good but you should use books with written vowels like books for children or religious books. The Holy Qur'an and the Bible in Arabic have all the vowels you may need to proceed with your method. It helps a lot if you already know some of the texts in your own language.

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