Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 314-318
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access
Arabic Emphatics: Phonetic and Phonological Remarks
Majed Al-Solami
Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Received July 24th, 2013; revised August 26th, 2013; accepted September 4th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Majed Al-Solami. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Arabic has a set of complex coronals, /s/, /d/, /ð/ and /t/, which are the emphatic sounds of their plain
counterparts /s/, /d/, /ð/, and /t/. These emphatic sounds in Arabic are problematic both phonetically and
phonologically. Phonetically, the secondary articulation of these sounds is disputed. Phonologically, they
are grouped with the rest of Arabic guttural class in some studies while excluded by others. This paper
touches on these arguments and argues that phonologically, these sounds are not part of the Arabic gut-
tural class.
Keywords: Arabic Emphatics; Gutturals; Phonetics; Phonology
Arabic has a set of complex coronals, /s/, /d/, /ð/ and /t/, see
Table 1. These sounds are said to be the emphatic sounds of
their plain counterparts /s/, /d/, /ð/, and /t/. The literature on
Arabic emphatics shows a number of challenges, both phoneti-
cally and phonologically.
Phonetically, while it is agreed that emphatic consonants ar-
ticulation involves a coronal articulation, analyses of the sec-
ondary articulation varies from one study to another. Research-
ers have posited that emphatics are velarized (Trubetzkoy,
1969), uvularized in Jordanian Arabic (Zawaydeh, 1998) or
pharyngealized in Iraqi Arabic (Ali & Daniloff, 1927; Gianni &
Pettorino, 1982).
Phonologically, some proposals group Arabic emphatic
sounds with Arabic gutturals, laryngeals /ʔ and h/, pharyngeals
/ʕ and ħ/ and uvulars /ʁ and x/, Jakobson, 1957; Zawaydeh,
1999, while other proposals posit them as a different subclass,
McCarthy 1994, Bin-Muqbil 2006.
The aim of this paper is to provide phonological evidence
that shows that Arabic emphatics should be excluded from
Arabic Guttural Natural Class.
This phonological evidence is then extended to phonetic evi-
dence to see whether emphatics can be excluded from Arabic
Guttural Natural class phonetically as well. This is achieved by
investigating the tongue shape and movement during the ar-
ticulation of pharyngeals, uvulars and emphatics reported in the
literature. Laryngeals are excluded from this study since they
do not have any supraglottal constriction of their own.
Another aim of this paper is to examine current phonological
representations of Arabic emphatics and gutturals in the light of
the phonological and phonetic evidence provided in this paper.
Phonetics and Phonological Representation
The first position states that there is no relationship between
phonetics and phonology. This view sees that each has a dif-
ferent representation with no mapping between them (Fudge,
1967; Foley, 1977).
The second view indicates that the two should be discussed
under a unified model where phonetics and phonology have a
direct mapping (Flemming, 1995; Hayes, 1997).
The last view is between the other two positions. It considers
phonetics and phonology as two separate fields, yet they are
connected to one another (Keating, 1988; Anderson, 1981).
In this paper, the position taken is that experimental phonetic
methods play an important role in verifying formal phonologi-
cal representations. Such a view is beneficial in investigating
the question of whether emphatic sounds in Arabic are part of
the guttural class or not. This approach is manifested in what is
called Laboratory Phonology. Kingston (2007) indicates that
phonetics interfaces with phonology in three domains. First,
distinctive features are defined using phonetic terms. Second,
many phonological patterns have phonetic grounding. Third,
phonological representations are needed for phonetic research.
Ohala (1990) explains that phonetics and phonology are needed
in any study of language to complement each other rather than
being independent. He characterizes phonology as the mental
representations of knowledge that speakers have about lan-
guage and phonetics as the implementation of control signals
from the phonological component. Because phonetics and
phonology are closely related, Ohala suggests using the term
integration rather than the term interface. He gives the follow-
Table 1.
Arabic emphatics, their plain counterparts and gutturals phoneme chart.
Dental Alveolar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
q ʔ
s x
ʁ ħ
ʕ h
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ing benefits of including phonetics and phonology in language
study. First, integrating phonetics and phonology in language
study achieves simplicity. This can be reached by accounting
for phonological processes phonetically. One example he pro-
vides is accounting for stop devoicing and the affrication of
stops before high closed vowels using aerodynamic factors.
Second, phonological hypotheses can be tested empirically if
phonetics and phonology are integrated. Ohala indicates that no
postulation in phonology that is undoubtable. Therefore, it is
good to further investigate assumptions in phonology phoneti-
Phonological and Phonetic Evidence for Arabic
Guttural Class
In the phonology of the Holy Quraan, referred to as Tajweed
henceforth, laryngeals /ʔ and h/, pharyngeals /ʕ and ħ/ and uvu-
lars /ʁ and x/, behave as a natural class. They undergo a process
called ʔhar in Tajweed tradition. In this process, a nasal /n/
does not assimilate if followed by any of these six sounds, see
Table 2 for examples. This is referred to as distinct pronuncia-
tion by Gouda (1988). He states that the nasal /n/ is articulated
fully and clearly in this process. This process occurs within the
same word and across word boundaries. Although ʔhar is a
process cited from Classical Arabic, it is found in some Arabic
dialects such as in Sudanese Arabic (Hamid, 1984).
Emphatic sounds and uvular /q/, on the other hand, undergo a
different process in Tajweed if preceded by a nasal /n/, as can
be seen in Table 3. This process is called ʔixfaa. This process
takes place when the tongue does not quite touch the alveolar
ridge, and the vocal cavity holding the shape of the preceding
vowel and the total sound articulated through the nasal cavity,
(Gouda 1988). As in ʔhar, ʔixfaa occurs within the same word
and across word boundaries.
Another evidence for the natural class of gutturals in Arabic
is given by McCarthy (1991, 1994). McCarthy, citing Green-
Table 2.
Examples of ʔhar from Tajweed.
ʔɪn huwa (53:4) “it is no less than”
ʔanʕamta (1:7) “those whom Thou hast favored”
fasayunʁɪdun (17:51) “Then will they shake their heads”
yanʔawana (6:26) “avoid”
yanħɪtun (15:82) “they used to hew out dwellings from the hills”
ʔalmunxaniqah (5:3) “the animal that has been strangled”
Table 3.
Examples of ʔixfaa from Tajweed.
miŋ qarar (14:26) “possessing no stability”
miŋ tin (23:12) “an essence of clay”
maŋdud (56:29) “clustered”
riħaŋ sarsara (41:16) “raging wind”
ðilaŋ ðalila (4:57) “We shall make them enter a dense shade”
Note: The numbers between brackets in Tables 3 and 4 refer to chapter and
verse numbers in the Holy Quraan.
berg (1950), indicates that in Arabic there is a tendency to pro-
hibit the occurrences of roots that contain two guttural sounds,
as in *ʁmʕ. This restriction does not apply to roots that have a
guttural sound and an emphatic one, as in tmʕ “greed”, nor does
it apply to roots that have guttural sounds and uvular /q/ as in
qmʕ “suppression”. Cases where emphatics and the uvular /q/
co-occur with a guttural sound are found in Arabic as in qtʕ
Another argument for excluding emphatics from Arabic gut-
tural class is illustrated by the avoidance of gutturals in syllable
final position in Arabic dialects. In Bedouin Hijazi Arabic, /ʔ
and h/, pharyngeals /ʕ and ħ/ and uvulars /ʁ and x/ are prohib-
ited form coda position while emphatic sounds and uvular /q/
are allowed in this position. An underlying word of the form
CVGCV, where G is a guttural, surfaces as CGV.CV with me-
tathesis as in a-f in Table 4. In examples g-j in Table 4 uvular
/q/ and emphatics occur in coda position.
Articulatory and Phonetic Exponents of Emphatics,
Uvulars and Pharyngeals
The articulation of Arabic pharyngeals, uvulars and emphat-
ics involve a general property of tongue retraction. However, the
general shape and movement direction of the tongue are differ-
ent in the following studies. Generally speaking, pharyngeals
retract tongue root independently, while uvulars and emphatics
retract tongue root as a result of tongue body retraction in gen-
eral. These two different movements have different acoustic
The articulation of emphatic consonants involves a coronal
articulation and a secondary articulation involving the back of
the tongue. Analyses of the secondary articulation vary from
one study to another. It is accepted, however, that the secondary
articulation is a result of the retraction of the tongue body (Ali
& Daniloff, 1972).
Similar to emphatics, uvulars retract tongue body in general
(Catford 1977). So, it seems that the main articulator in these
sounds is the tongue body and tongue root retraction in these
two sets is a result of tongue body retraction. Tongue root does
not retract independently in these sounds, which is supported
by the fact that these sounds have low F2 in adjacent vowels as
their main acoustic cue rather than high F1 (Al-Ani, 1970).
Despite this similarity between them, uvulars and emphatics
Table 4.
Examples of metathesis in Bedouin Hijazi Arabic.
a. /naʕ.dʒah/ [nʕa.dʒah] “goat”
b. /laħ.mah/ [lħa.mah] “piece of meat”
c. /maʁ.rib/ [mʁa.rib] “sunset”
d. /raχ.mah/ [rχa.mah] “coward”
e. /gah.wah/ [gha.wah] “coffee”
f. /saʔ.lat/ [sʔ] “she asked”
g. [ʔaq.rab] “nearer”
h. [ʔit.laʕ] “come out”
i. [ʔ.rub] “I hit”
j. [mas.laχ] “slaughter house”
Open Access
have some differences. The tongue body is depressed further
during emphatics than uvulars. Also, uvulars have a more re-
tracted tongue dorsum than emphatics (Ghazeli, 1977).
Pharyngeals are articulated with a retraction of the tongue
root in the lower pharynx, (Ghazeli, 1977). As a result, acous-
tically, Arabic pharyngeals are associated with a high F1 in
adjacent vowels (Al-Ani, 1970; Alwan, 1989). Also, tongue
root movement in pharyngeals is independent, unlike that of
uvulars and emphatics (Ghazeli, 1977).
From the discussion so far it is clear that Arabic emphatics
cannot be excluded from Arabic Guttural Class articulatorily,
however the phonetic differences highlighted in this section
have some implications on the phonological representations of
Arabic gutturals and emphatic sounds, as shown in the follow-
ing section.
Feature Geometry Representations of Emphatics
To see how emphatics are represented in recent feature ge-
ometry studies, two proposals are included in the discussion;
which are (McCarthy 1994) and (Zawaydeh 1999). The reason
for including the work of (McCarthy 1994) is because it is a
pioneering work that has been followed by a number of similar
works and discussions. Zawaydeh’s work is one of the few
works that implement a modern method to investigate articula-
tory and acoustic properties of Jordanian Arabic.
First Proposal
McCarthy (1994) agrees that Arabic gutturals present a
problem for articulator theory because they are articulated in
different regions of the pharynx. As a result, he forms the fea-
ture [pharyngeal] to refer to their place of articulation rather
than their common articulator. To McCarthy, this feature in-
cludes all the sounds articulated in the region from the larynx to
the oropharynx. So, as he indicates, the acoustic cue of these
sounds is a high F1, which is thus the acoustic cue for all gut-
turals. The feature [pharyngeal] identifies secondary articula-
tion found in emphatic sounds as well, see the feature tree sug-
gested by McCarthy (1994) given in Figure 1.
As shown in Figure 1, guttural sounds would avoid co-oc-
curring within the same root as a result of the projection of the
feature [pharyngeal].
Emphatics have the feature [pharyngeal] as their secondary
articulation, which is achieved by constricting the pharynx.
Figure 1.
McCarthy’s feature geometry proposal (1994:221).
Also, [dorsal] is included in the representation of uvulars and
emphatics to account for the fact that they are articulated with
tongue dorsum retraction. McCarthy concludes that emphatics
are uvularized due to the acoustic similarity between uvulars
and emphatics. The feature [dorsal] is between parentheses to
suggest that this feature is redundant for emphatics and not part
of their underlying representation.
Second Proposal
Zawaydeh (1999), based on her articulatory and acoustic ex-
periments, reports that every post velar sound in Jordanian
Arabic is part of the Arabic Guttural Natural Class, which in-
cludes laryngeals, pharyngeals, uvulars and emphatics. She
groups these sounds based on the fact that all of these sounds
have a constriction in the pharynx except for laryngeals. La-
ryngeals are included based on a common acoustic cue, high F1,
in all of these sounds, as she suggests. She asserts that uvulars
and emphatics are articulated by retracting tongue dorsum to
uvula region. As a result, she innovates the feature [Retracted
Tongue Back] to use in the representations of uvulars and em-
phatics, as shown in Figure 2.
As can be seen in Figure 2, her proposal splits the place
node into a lower vocal tract node (LVT) that dominates
pharyngeals and laryngeals and an upper vocal tract node (UVT)
that dominates oral features. She differentiates between primary
place of articulation (1 place) and secondary place of articula-
tion (2 place).
Phonetic and Phonological Problems
The representations of pharyngeals, uvulars and emphatics
fail to account for some phonetic differences between these
sounds. Also, these proposals cannot explain or account for
some phonological processes discussed previously. These
problems are discussed in this section.
These two proposals include a pharyngeal component to ac-
count for the fact that these sounds are articulated in the phar-
ynx region. As explained previously, pharyngeals are articu-
lated by tongue root retraction. This movement does not include
any movement of any other part of the tongue. So, the active
articulator in these sounds is the tongue root. Uvulars and em-
phatics, on the other hand, are articulated by movement of the
entire tongue, no independent tongue root movement is observed.
Figure 2.
Zawaydeh’s feature geometry proposal (1999:82).
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Furthermore, the articulations of uvulars and emphatics are not
the same. Tongue body is retracted further during emphatics
and tongue dorsum is raised further during uvulars.
McCarthy (1994) acknowledges that emphatics and uvulars
are articulated with tongue dorsum retraction, as suggested by
the feature [dorsal]. However, he does not refer to this active
articulator in emphatics, the feature [dorsal] is redundant in his
proposal, rather he refers to the place of articulation [pharyn-
geal]. He includes the active articulator [dorsal] in the repre-
sentation of uvulars, which gives the impression that uvulars
and emphatics are different although he suggests that the sec-
ondary articulation in emphatics is uvularization.
Zawaydeh (1999) acknowledges the difference between em-
phatics and uvulars and pharyngeals. To account for this dif-
ference she proposes the feature [Retracted Tongue Back] for
uvulars and emphatics and not for pharyngeals. The feature
[Retracted Tongue Back], however, is not clear in the represen-
tation of uvulars. It is implemented twice in two different regions
of the vocal tract, as the articulator of [dorsal] in upper vocal
tract and the articulator for [Retracted Tongue Back] in lower
vocal tract.
As discussed previously one of the phonological evidences
for Arabic guttural class is OCP, where two guttural sounds do
not co-occur within the same root. The two proposals account
for this by including a terminal feature that is found in all gut-
tural sounds. This feature is [pharyngeal] in McCarthy (1994)
and (Lower Vocal Tract) in Zawaydeh (1999). As can be seen
in Figures 1 and 2, these features are also found in the represen-
tation of emphatics. As a result, we expect that these proposals
predict that emphatics would show the same co-occurrence
restriction as other guttural sounds. However, emphatics and
guttural sounds can co-occur within the same root without any
restriction as discussed previously.
McCarthy (1994), to remedy this problem, includes the ma-
jor class feature [approximant] in the representation. This
would limit the OCP to guttural sounds which are approximants,
unlike emphatics, as he suggests. However, Ladefoged and
Madison (1996) indicate that not all Arabic guttural sounds are
approximants. So, McCarthy’s (1994) presupposition that all
gutturals in Arabic are approximants is not accurate.
While she did not discuss this point in her thesis, I think that
OCP problem can be accounted for in Zawayde’s proposal by
limiting the applicability of OCP to primary place of articula-
tion (1 place) and not to secondary place of articulation (2
place). This proposal, however, would raise another problem.
Velars and emphatics, although gradiently, show some co-oc-
currence restrictions. This restriction is the result of the secon-
dary articulation in emphatics and not the primary coronal one.
So, this proposal of limiting OCP to primary place of articula-
tion does not hold for all sounds in Arabic.
This section discussed some phonetic and phonological prob-
lems of two feature geometry representations of emphatics in
Arabic. These proposals fail to account for some phonetic facts
and phonological processes found in Arabic.
This paper is motivated primarily by the analytical problems
found in existing formal representations of Arabic emphatics
and Arabic guttural class. Part of these inadequacies is a result
of misunderstandings of the articulatory and phonological dif-
ferences between emphatics and guttural sounds. This paper
aims to highlight these problems found in feature geometry
representations of these sounds by providing some insights of
the articulatory and phonological behavior of Arabic emphatics
and gutturals.
This paper also attempts to provide an argument for exclud-
ing Arabic emphatics from Arabic guttural class. To reach these
points, the paper gives phonological evidence that shows that
Arabic emphatics do not show similar phonological processes
as the guttural class. Also, the paper seeks to find phonetic
evidence to support this phonological patterning.
Future direction of this study is to provide an alternative
formal representation that shows more understanding of the
phonetic properties and phonological behavior of these sounds.
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