1

ا (alif) and و when used as orthographic signs without phonetic significance are not represented in romanization.

  • fa‘alū فعلوا
  • ulā’ika أوقية
  • ūqīyah أولائك

ALA-LC guide to Arabic romanization (rule 4)

I was under the impression that in many ways, Arabic script is very phonetic. Yes, it is an (impure) abjad, so written words do not always reflect pronunciation precisely, and yes, Arabic has many regional variations of phonemes—but I never would have anticipated that its orthography would have features that are not at all reflected in the spoken language itself.

In what ways does Arabic use such letters as orthographic signs without phonetic significance?

Note: As an aspiring linguist, Arabic is of significan interest to me, though I do not know much about the elevated rules to forming Arabic sentences, inflecting nouns, etc. However, I can easily understand these concepts if they are outlined, regardless if I can emulate it myself.

3

I think the best way to understand this statement is to ask, why is فعلوا not pronounced [faʕalawā] (or various other possibilities like [fiʕalawā, faʕulawā, fiʕlawā]...). This omission of short vowels including the practice of leaving out sukun (no vowel) is one known non-phonetic aspect of the spelling system. As a speaker of Arabic, you would just know this. Wright's A grammar of the Arabic language provides a detailed account of orthographic conventions. If you are to write "ðū", it has to be distinguished from "ðaw", and if you don't include the short vowel marks, you need some other convention. ا is essentially a diacritic, which can support hamza = ʔ but can also indicate length (ā) as in حاب saḥāb and (ū) فعلوا. It is "non-phonetic" in the sense that it is used indirectly to indicate something else phonetic, as opposed to س which represents [s], period (though whether there is a vowel after it is another matter).

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  • This answer does not make any sense. The question was about the otiose alef الف فاصلة and other examples of letters that have no phonemic function. – fdb Oct 12 '18 at 15:40

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