Imāla (also transliterated imālah; Arabic: إمالة‎, literally "slanting") is a vowel shift exhibited in many dialects of Arabic where the open vowel, whether long or short, is raised to [ɛ] or even [e] in certain morphological or phonological contexts. Imāla occurs in modern colloquial as well as classical variants of Arabic, including several qirāʾāt ("styles of recitation") of the Quran. As a very noticeable phenomenon, imāla is often one of the most distinguishing features in the dialects that have it, such as Lebanese Arabic.

Classical Arabic

Historically and anciently, imāla was a feature of the ancient dialects of Najd and Tamim, which had it in both verbs and inflected nouns. There are many cases for which imāla is appropriate; some of the most common are outlined below:

Morphological reasons

  • It affects a word-final alif when it substitutes yāʾ  or can be substituted by yāʾ in some inflections: الأعلى ([ælʔæʕleː], "the highest").[dubious ]

Phonological reasons

  • Also, imāla occurs if alif follows /j/ immediately or is separated by only one letter. It occurs as well if they are two letters apart if the second letter is hāʾ). Imāla is generally tenser before a long yāʾ than before a short yāʾ: صيام ([sˤijeːm], "fasting")
  • Similarly, imāla occurs if alif is preceded by a letter that is itself preceded by an /i/ sound: إناث ([ʔineːθ], "females").
  • A non-pharyngealized letter, followed by /i/, can also induce imāla in an alif directly before it. As is the case with /j/, a consonant, if alone or followed byʾ hāʾ, does not stop the process: كافر ([keːfir], "nonbeliever").

In Quran

Many qirāʾāt of the Quran implement imāla at least once. Some, like those of Hafs or Qalun, use it only once, but others, like those of Hamzah az-Zaiyyat and Al-Kisa'i, use it regularly. In the latter, imāla affects hundreds of words because of a general rule of a specific qirāʾa or as a specific word prescribed to undergo imāla. Warsh's qirāʾa, from the way of Al-Azraq, implements minor imāla ([ɛ]) regularly but major imāla ([e]) in only one instance.

Effect on other languages

The accent of Andalusia in Moorish Spain had imāla, and many Arabic loan words and city names in Spanish still do so. Its largest city, Seville, has a name that is a notable example of imāla.

See also


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