Short and Long Vowels in Arabic

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Research question: How to distinguish between short(diacritics) and long vowels in Modern Standard Arabic?

Intro: Arabic short vowel is known as harakat or multillect; it adds diacritics in Arabic such as ( َ، ِ ، ُ )


My prediction is that the 2 participants will have different results in F1, and F1,


2 Qatari female participants were recorded saying Standard Modern Arabic words in short and long vowels. Short vowels [i], [u], [a] and long [i:], [u:], [a:]. They are 60 words in general, each consisted with a vowel either the initial sound or middle sound.


There are five vowels in the English language, a, e, i, o, and u. Pronunciation of each vowel will depend on whether it is either a long or a short vowel. Long vowels have a similarity in articulation with the name of the letter and have the vowel next to another vowel in the word whereas short vowels do not follow this rule. Short vowels sit in the middle of words and a consonant or consonants usually come after them. Take an example of the words “main” and “man”. The word main has its letter ‘a’ having the pronunciation of the long vowel [a:] i.e. said as ‘ayy’ while the word man has its letter ‘a’ having the pronunciation of the short vowel [a], i.e. said as ‘ah’.

Depending on the vowels position in the word and the pronunciation of the word, there is a likelihood of the length of the vowel to be different or change. Some letters will not produce similar sound in all words and that is how vowel is all about. Also, different people pronounce similar vowels differently. This difference in pronunciation impacts vowel length despite having a same ethnic and linguistic background. In our case, Arabic women will be trying to pronounce English vowels. Their mother tongue impacts the duration of their vowels’ pronunciation in English.

Literature Review

There are short and long vowels in Arabic’s. The short vowels in Arabic are not a section of the alphabet in Arabic but they are printed as symbols below or over the consonants and in some instances, underneath or over a long vowel. This can best be understood by looking at the instance in English. Canada, an English word is put down as CNDA. Though through the Alphabets in Arabic, the letter A amid C and N as well as the vowel A amid N and D are not there, however, the vowels are interchanged by tiny marks, particularly since they are merely short vowels (Ladefoged, 1996). There are small dashes that will be put on the top of C and N to indicate the vowels. They are known as FATHA in Arabic which means the short vowel A in English (Newman, 2002). N Arabic, instead of writing the short vowel, only FATHA is included on the top of the consonant to represent the short vowel. There are also symbols standing for the vowels “E” and “I” and also for “O”. It has the advantage of saving space. It is important to note that the alphabet D does not have a symbol on the top because the “A” after D is considered as a long vowel. All this can be seen in the word below both in English and Arabic.

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Short vowel example

There are also the long vowels in Arabic. Vowels are regarded long because of the stress that they have in the given vowel. This is also the same in English as words that have vowels such as proceed or shoot. There is a stress in the vowels “ee” and “oo”. It is important to note that these vowels are also regarded as some consonants (Tsukada, 2011). The table below shows the long vowels.

The SHADDAH is the symbol that is marked as number 1 on the below image. It is used when there are two consonants. An example can be seen in writing the name ABBY where there is double BB, it is only written as B and a SHADDAH written on the top of the B. In the second picture, the number 2 indicates the SHADDAH that have been positioned on upper part of the alphabet T in Arabic which is the translation of QATTA’A which stands for the term, to cut. The double T has not been written, but instead, a SHADDAH has been included in the top of it, QATA’A. Case number 3 and 4 are a further explanation of how the long vowels are indicated (Saunders, 1964).

In Arabic, it is surprising to see how the short vowels are rarely used though one can come across them when two words appear the same, and the writer requires one to differentiate them so that they don’t confuse.

Results and discussion

Evidently, both participating Qatari women have different pronunciations from each other.

The first Qatari woman (A) takes longer to pronounce the short vowel [u] than she does the long vowel [u:] for both F1 and F2. In the pronunciation of the vowel [i] and [i:], F1 pronunciation of long vowel [i:] takes less time to pronounce than its short counterpart [i]. However, pronouncing long vowel [i:] in F2 takes more time than the uttering of short vowel [i] except in one instance when the reverse is the case. Both F1 and F2 pronunciations of long vowel [a:] require less time than that of short vowel [a] in six of the ten instances. In the remaining four instances, the resultant times are variant and not consistent.

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The second Qatari female participant took longer in the pronunciation of short vowel [a] than Long vowel [a:] in Arabic in both F1 and F2. She also takes longer to pronounce short vowel [u] than she takes to pronounce long vowel [u:] for both F1 and F2. However, in the pronunciation of short vowel [i], the second female participant (H) takes longer than she took to pronounce long vowel [i:] in F1 while she took longer to utter long vowel [i:] than short vowel [i] in F2.

On average, participant A’s vowel length for both long and short vowels is more prolonged than participant H’s vowel length with regards to F1. The results for F2 are variant and show no apparent or evident disparity.


Different people have different pronunciation and as a result, have varying vowel lengths. The way individuals pronounce their vowels depends on their pitch and varying factors. However, some vowel sounds are universal and similar, thus the difference in the vowel lengths between the two participant Qatari women.


From the paper above, it is evident that short vowels are showcased as marks which are not essential to speak Arabic though they ease the process for someone that is trying to know the language. Furthermore, they assist in avoiding confusion between words that look the same. In comparing the F1 and the F2 of the long and the short Arabic vowel, it was evident that the short vowels had a shorter duration equated to the long vowels. The short to long vowels duration ratios ranged between 2.2 and 1.7. That is a significant gap.

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[i:] [i] [u:] [u] [a:] [a]
طيب— [tˤi:b]

F1: 389.8

F2: 2732.0

فِت— [fit]

F1: 537.8

F2: 2331.6

دود — [du:d]

F1: 384.3

F2: 1331.2

بُك — [buk]

F1: 433.9

F2: 1968.1

نار — [na:r]

F1: 716.2

F2: 1673.5

كلَ —  [kala]

F1: 647.9

F2: 1427.2

سيف —[si:f]

F1: 334.2

F2: 1274.5

سِر— [sir]

F1: 1154.3

F2: 2204.0

فنوز — [fnu:z]

F1: 366.6

F2: 1897.8

سُند — [sund]

F1: 1237.0

F2: 2350.5

فان— [fa:n]

F1: 714.1

F2: 1258.3

فلَ— [fala]

F1: 792.6

F2: 1657.7

طيح— [tˤi:ħ]

F1: 448.2

F2: 2708.8

هِر— [hir]

F1: 543.3

F2: 2216.3

نفوس — [nfu:s]

F1: 394.7

F2: 600.9

حُب[ħub] —

F1: 830.4

F2: 1744.6

تار — [ta:r]

F1: 722.5

F2: 1449.8

فنَ — [fana]

F1: 770.6

F2: 1697.0


F1: 481.1

F2: 2687.0

حِلم — [ħilm]

F1: 915.5

F2: 2588.4

فتون — [ftu:n]

F1: 441.0

F2: 1440.1

فُل[ful] —

F1: 1247

F2: 1941.9

لسان — [lsa:n]

F1: 738.7

F2: 1354.7

لمَ — [lama]

F1: 649.6

F2: 1683.6


F1: 471.3

F2: 2841.8

سِلم —[silm]

F1: 1105.9

F2: 2229.2

هتون — [htu:n]

F1: 467.5

F2: 1104.5

هُك[huk] —

F1: 837.3

F2: 1434.3

رمان —  [rma:n]

F1: 703.7

F2: 1246.9

فتحَ[fatħa] —

F1: 856.2

F2: 1582.6


Second Participant (H)

[i:] [i] [u:] [u] [a:] [a]
طيب— [tˤi:b]

F1: 512.3

F2: 2358

فِت — [fit]

F1: 1018.6

F2: 2247.8

دود— [du:d]

F1: 455.3

F2: 1028.5

بُك — [buk]

F1: 605.1

F2: 1473

نار — [na:r]

F1: 758.7

F2: 1380

كلَ —  [kala]

F1: 810.5

F2: 2012.5

سيف— [si:f]

F1: 497.4

F2: 2653.1

سِر — [sir]

F1: 1057.8

F2: 2256.3

فنوز— [fnu:z]

F1: 500.3

F2: 799.5

سُند — [sund]

F1: 1015.9

F2: 2253.7

فان— [fa:n]

F1: 708.2

F2: 1124.2

فلَ— [fala]

F1: 853.7

F2: 1895.6

طيح — [tˤi:ħ]

F1: 513.6

F2: 2514.2

هِر— [hir]

F1: 1552.6

F2: 2502.6

نفوس — [nfu:s]

F1: 461.3

F2: 753.2

حُب[ħub] —

F1: 830.1

F2: 2287.3

تار — [ta:r]

F1: 754.9

F2: 1207

فنَ — [fana]

F1: 794.4

F2: 1827.4

كريم— [kri:m]

F1: 460.1

F2: 2671.3

حِلم —ħilm

F1: 862.3

F2: 2605.8

فتون — [ftu:n]

F1: 554.5

F2: 1857.9

فُل[ OK] —

F1: 1160.6

F2: 2059.5

لسان — [lsa:n]

F1: 744.2

F2: 1407.9

لمَ — [lama]

F1: 817.9

F2: 1780.5

حريم —[ħri:m]

F1: 480.4

F2: 2802.0

سِلم — [silm]

F1: 921.5

F2: 2083

هتون — [htu:n]

F1: 501.3

F2: 1558.7

هُك[huk] —

F1: 895.8

F2: 1622.

رمان —  [rma:n]

F1: 747.1

F2: 1113.6

فتحَ[fatħa] —

F1: 847.8

F2: 1513.3


Did you like this sample?
  1. Tsukada, K. (2011). The perception of Arabic and Japanese short and long vowels by native speakers of Arabic, Japanese, and Persian. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 129(2), 989-998.
  2. Newman, D., & Verhoeven, J. (2002). Frequency analysis of Arabic vowels in connected speech. Antwerp papers in linguistics., 100, 77-86.
  3. Ladefoged, P. (1996). Elements of acoustic phonetics. University of Chicago Press.
  4. Saunders, W. H. The Larynx. Summit, N. J.: Ciba Pharmaceuticals Division. 1964.
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