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i just started self-studying arabic and i'm having trouble producing some of the sounds, specifically ض (ḍad), ظ (ẓa), ص (ṣad) and ط (ṭa). all four are pharyngealized fricatives/plosives and although i've looked up videos, i'm still unsure about how to produce them.

does anyone have any tips or resources on how to produce pharyngealized sounds?

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Learning from a native speaker is obviously the best way, but unfortunately there are no native speakers of classical Arabic.

Believe it or not, the best sources of instruction here are the ancient ones, al-Farahidi and Sibawayhi.

First, all four are double stops. Both the back and the front of the tongue constrict the air flow. Saud, tta, and zha air fairly easy. Daud is a whole 'nother story - there's a reason they called it the language of Daud, it's a little unusual. When you make a Daud, you drive air on the sides of your tongue, while making a double stop.

So the trick is to drive air on both sides of the tongue. To see (feel) what this means, play around with English /l/. It ain't easy but try to make the air flow on the left side, then the right side, then both sides of your tongue. Once you can do that, you can do Daud- and I promise the locals will be awed (pun intended).

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  • P.S. I respectfully but strongly disagree with @fdb. It's enormously helpful to have a good description of what the vocal organs are doing. The sound of a language are vocal gestures, physical movements. We speak with our (entire) bodies. Would you take piano lessons from a teacher who said "just listen to what I play and try to imitate it"? Never. Treat your task as a mechanical one, just like teaching your fingers to play a C chord. Eventually it will become second nature, but until then pay close attention to what your mouth is doing when you try to make sounds. Adjust to taste.
    – mobileink
    Apr 28 '16 at 21:35
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    P.P.S. The YouTube video suggested by @Greg Lee is grossly inaccurate. Just one example: it is not the case that ta and tta have the same point of (front) articulation! The latter is not a variant of the latter, any more than English /d/ is a variant of English /t/. Or that Arabic /q/ is a variant of Arabic /k/! Beware of people who try to use English to explain Arabic.
    – mobileink
    Apr 28 '16 at 21:53
  • I agree totally with your last point.
    – fdb
    Apr 28 '16 at 22:46
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I do not think that suggestions on where to put your tongue or the like are going to be very useful. You need to listen to how Arabic speakers produce them and try to imitate it. Start with the dark l in الله and move on from there. If you want to get a good classical pronunciation listen to the Qur’an recitation on sites like http://www.quranexplorer.com/Quran/ and pick the slowest styles of recitation.

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If you are not able to produce the pharyngeals by themselves, I would start there. This may sound frivolous, but I tell my students that in order to get a feel for these sounds, pretend that you are trying to cough up a piece of popcorn stuck in your throat! Once you get a feel for it, then try to sustain the sound for a short time. It's like an /h/ but higher. Since these are fricatives, you should be able to maintain them. Next, holding that same articulation, try voicing at the same time: sort of like "humming" the pharyngeal "h". Once you master that, try holding the pharyngeal while simultaneously making a /t/, /d/, or /s/.

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  • Do you know any Arabic at all? Are you really claiming that you produce ط by simultaneously saying ح and ت?
    – fdb
    Feb 13 '16 at 22:43
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Disclaimer: I don't know Arabic, but this Youtube video video sounds good, to me. Except, I suspect there may be some confusion in the articulatory explanation given. What the speaker is describing is an articulation produced by retracting the root of the tongue, which I think is better described as uvularization than pharyngealization. Both of these are ways to narrow the pharynx, but retracting the tongue root does not necessarily use the pharyngeal muscles in the throat, which are used in swallowing.

For uvularization, the "deepening" of the tone, and the association with lip rounding, can be explained as being due to enlarging the cavity of the mouth. When the tongue is retracted, its front portion occupies less room in the oral cavity, and the larger cavity produces a lower pitched resonance. Lip rounding also produces a lower pitched resonance, but in a different way, since the oral cavity is in effect lengthened in front of the lips.

But I don't see why contracting the pharyngeal muscles should have this "deepening" effect on tonality.

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The most important thing to have is good recorded materials, made by a native speaker (which nixes that YouTube vid). Qur'anic and Classical Arabic have no first-language speakers, but there are good Qur'an recitations (quite a number) as fdb mentions. The downside is that Qur'anic recitation is not natural speech, plus the room acoustics are not ideal for language learning. The Foreign Service Institute materials for Written Arabic are available online, which includes recordings: they also have Saudi and Levantine materials (also not ideal recordings, but more useful). The UCLA Language Materials page also links to various sources for Arabic, which largely reduce to the Georgetown materials, The UCLA phonetic archive has recordings of speakers of different dialects (not MSA, since there are no first language speakers of MSA). The transcriptions in the latter can be a bit idiosyncratic (I'm being nice -- one would need to re-transcribe some of the data), but the recordings are of some value in being acoustically reasonable-quality and covering a range of dialects.

Pronunciation of ظ is particularly variable, and one can encounter both [ðˤ] and [zˤ], but also it may be pronounced the same as ض which may be as [dˤ] or [zˤ] when produced by a native speaker of a dialect that historically merged those two phonemes.

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