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Arabic has many dialects, but in general the /R/ in Modern Standard Arabic is an alveolar trill (or is it not?) - like the Spanish perro - according to Wikipedia and it is also what I have heard from many native speakers.

  1. I came across this teacher who seems to render it as an alveolar flap (?).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBYnYG2FumM

Is it the correct /R/ in Modern Standard Arabic? In fact, I often hear such an alveolar flap from native speakers, especially in fluent speech. I think in Arabic there are no rules about it, it simply a matter of how much you try to stretch the /R/ - if it's quite short then it will only be a flap.

But this teacher says that this is the way to render it - whether you speak fast or slowly.

  1. Then I came across this teacher

https://youtu.be/eryiUhSLjgA?list=PLpgw0XSlp306iQAXjkos67yawWV4_c6th&t=260

Here the /R/ sounds like neither a trill nor a flap. What is it actually?

Is it considered a more correct form of /R/ in Modern Standard Arabic?

Or are both these teachers refer to other dialects of Arabic?

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  • What do you mean by "correct"? Though I think the second vid is just plain wrong unless this is a new dialect "MSA for Americans".
    – user6726
    Jul 2, 2018 at 20:48
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    @user6726 Whatever it means in one's best judgment. I do not know who has the authority to decide when it comes to Arabic.
    – rapt
    Jul 2, 2018 at 20:59

5 Answers 5

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https://archive.org/details/ThePhoneticsOfArabic-W.H.T.Gairdner

arguably still the best book on Arabic phonetics, gives a detailed description of /r/ on pp. 21 sqq. There is even a picture of the correct tongue position.

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According to Sabir and Alsaeed 2014 as well as Wikibooks and Wikipedia (*), the underlying phoneme is considered to be an alveolar trill /r/, with the flap being a very common realization (especially in Egypt and the Levant). The same variation is seen in Italian and several other Romance languages which preserved the Latin trilled /r/.

(*) Admittedly, none of these are particularly authoritative sources, but I haven't turned up anything more scholarly yet.

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  • How would you describe the sound in the 2nd video?
    – rapt
    Jul 28, 2018 at 17:50
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    @rapt Definitely some kind of approximant, it sounds like somewhere between [ɹ] and [ɰ].
    – Draconis
    Jul 28, 2018 at 19:03
  • I have never thought of that sound (the 2nd video) before, but when I do now it sounds very familiar from listening to Arabic religious texts read by experts (as in a mosque). It is somewhat close to American [ɹ], which is strange when I think about it (although it is not exactly that), but it also sounds more like Quran readings I remember listening to; while the 1st video sounds more like how people talk. Maybe someone could comment on this.
    – rapt
    Jul 29, 2018 at 17:52
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Both are correct. One describes modern use and the other one liturgical "ancient"/"classical" use, that sometimes is also used by very old people in certain communities.

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The phoneme is [r] and sometimes depending on the prevoius sound and/or talking speed can become its allophone, which I cannot write here because it does not recognise the character. But sounds quite like the "tt" in "butter" (Amererican pronunciation or the "r" in "pera" (Spanish pronunciation). Some speak about hard "ra"and light "ra" as well, but that will probably not be very clear for non natives. All this is modern use.

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  • Welcome to Linguistics! Please note that you can edit posts instead of posting a new answer.
    – Glorfindel
    May 9, 2022 at 18:53
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Both of these teachers are teaching for purposes of tajwid, or proper Qur'anic recitation. It's arguable whether that would be considered the source for "correct MSA." In terms of MSA, you have a few good answers here already, the gist being is that it's a tap, often realized as a trill. But the best would just be to listen to lots of people speaking. I think both in MSA and Classical Arabic, and even in the dialects, you'll find most speakers using something between the Spanish and leaning more towards the former. Some people definitely prolong it, though. Search YouTube for the football announcer Faris Awad (فارس عوض) for an example.

As to the second video, you should note that in tajwid, <ر> has two forms (referred to as "light" and "heavy") based on context which affect the realization of the consonant and the following vowel. In the video you posted, this is the heavy version. (And I agree his "heavy" ر is very distinct.) If you want to see the same person recite the light version - which is more clearly alveolar, check these two videos: 1,2.

In the tajwid tradition (and in the Arabic grammatical tradition) they always talk about takrir or takrar ("repetition") as one of the attributes of <ر>, but one "to be avoided." The apparent meaning here is that there should be some trilling/rolling, but not excessive (not sounding like more than one letter). Sometimes, you will find some teachers who emphasize the avoiding more than the including, which can lead them to avoid contact between the tongue and the top of the mouth altogether. But the place of articulation and other attributes of the letter as specified in the tradition make it clear that there should be contact and it should be a light trill. Maybe you will appreciate the diagrams and animation in this video. He illustrates some of the extremes as well as demonstrating what he thinks is correct. Around 2:20, you can see how he uses the fingers of his hand to demonstrate the front of the tongue with air escaping over the tip to make the trill.

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