A Re-examination of Al-ʔiʕlaal in Arabic: An Autosegmental Approach

Abdel Rahman Mitib Altakhaineh, Murdhy Radad Alshamari


This study analyses Al-ʔiʕlaal phenomenon which takes place in Modern Standard Arabic (henceforth, MSA) derivational processes. Based on the description of Arab traditionalists such as Al-Raagihi (1984: 155) and Al-Galaayiini (1991), Al-ʔiʕlaal is defined as “a change that occurs with vowel letters where they can be deleted or substituted by another letter in certain cases”. For example, the letter[1] w in daʕaw ‘prayed to God’ is substituted by the letter a in daʕaa (Al-Raagihi 1984). Clearly, the previous example analysed by Arab traditionalists demonstrates that the changes that take place are heavily reliant on the orthography of MSA, rather than the phonological system. For instance, /y/ and /w/ are regarded as vowels, rather than glides or semi vowels. Therefore, this study analyses examples of words in which Al-ʔiʕlaal takes place based on autosegmental or non-linear phonology; an approach in which phonological representations consist of several levels or tiers (Goldsmith 1979). The analysis of the words reveals that there is actually no substitution of sounds and the change that occurs in these words is phonologically motivated. Finally, the study recommends the reconsideration of the concept of Al-ʔiʕlaal in Arabic morphological literature to account for the phonological changes that occur in these words.

Keywords: Arabic, Autosegmental phonology, phonological alternations

[1] Note that traditional Arab morphologists use ‘letters’ to describe the sounds they represent.  

Full Text:



Al-Galaayiini, M. (1991). jaamiʕ adduruus al-ʕarabiyyah alguzuʔ alʔawwal ‘a set of Arabic lessons part one’. Beirut: Al-Maktaba Al’assriyya.

Al-Ilwaani, N. (2010). al-ibdaal assarfii assawtii fii siigat ftaʕal fii magmaʕ albayyan ‘morphological and phonological substitution in ftaʕal pattern in magmaʕ albayyan’. Majallat Allugha Al-Arabiyyah wa Aadaabuhaa, 9, 93-120.

Al-Raagihi, A. (1984). atattbiiq assarfii ‘morphological application’. Beirut: Dar Annahda AlArabiyyah.

Altakhaineh, A. R. M. (2014). The Interaction between Inflection and Derivation in English and MSA. Germany: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.2346.3766

Altakhaineh, A. R. M., and Zibin, A. (2014). Phonologically conditioned morphologically process in Modern Standard Arabic: An analysis of Al-ibdal 'substitution' in ftaʕal pattern using prosodic morphology. International Journal of English Language and Linguistics Research, 2(1), 1-16.

Goldsmith, J. (1976). An overview of autosegmental phonology. Linguistic Analysis 2, 23-68.

Goldsmith, J. (1979). The aims of autosegmental phonology. In D. Dinnsen (ed.) Current Approaches to Phonological Theory. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 202-222.

Goldsmith, J. A. (1990). Autosegmental and Metrical Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.

Holes, C. (2004). Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties. Washington: Georgetown University Press.

Katamba, F. (1993). Morphology. New York: St.

Katamba, F., and Stonham, J. (2006). Morphology (Modern Linguistics Series). London: Tottenham Court Road.

McCarthy, J. (1979). Formal Problems in Semitic Morphology and Phonology. Dissertation. MIT, Cambridge, MA.

McCarthy, J. J. (1982). Nonlinear phonology: An overview. Linguistics Department Faculty Publication Series: 50.

McCarthy, J. J. (2005). The length of stem-final vowels in Colloquial Arabic. Perspectives on Arabic linguistics XVII–XVIII: 1-26.

McCarthy, J. J. (1981). A prosodic theory of nonconcatenative morphology. Linguistic inquiry, 12(3), 373-418.

Pulleyblank, D. (1986). Tone in Lexical Phonology. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Roach, P. (2010). English Phonetics and Phonology Fourth Edition: A Practical Course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spencer, A. (1996). Phonology: Theory and Description, 9. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Weisler, S., and Milekic, S. P. (2000). Theory of Language. MIT Press.

Zibin, A., and Altakhaineh, A. R. (2016). Acquiring the English Causative Alternation: Evidence from the University of Jordan. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, 5(3), 7-15.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2010-2022 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD.

Advances in Language and Literary Studies

You may require to add the 'aiac.org.au' domain to your e-mail 'safe list’ If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox'. Otherwise, you may check your 'Spam mail' or 'junk mail' folders.