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Exploring Phonological Differences between English and Arabic

Jun 13, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jun 13, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


Comparison of Phonology of English and Arabic

1. Stress

Stress is defined as the relative prominence given to specific words in a phrase and specific syllables in words. According to Halliday (1970), there are three-word levels of stress in the Arabic language. These include the primary, the secondary, and the weak levels. Swan and smith (2001) pointed out that stress in the Arabic language is regular and predictable. This means that an individual can determine and predict the stress of the words in Arabic. Furthermore, Swan and Smith (2001) asserted that the learners of Arabic often face difficulties in predicting stress in the English language, specifically in the stress of the word. The difficulty in word stress grasping in English may lead to changing of the word meaning. For example, a learner may try to pronounce the verb “convict” like the noun “convict” where the position of stress is different completely. Aiken & Pearce (1993) summarized the stress of Arabic in the following way:

  1. If a word has a super heavy syllable or even more, the stress falls on, as in the super heavy syllable
  2. If a word has light and heavy syllables, the stress falls on the heavy syllable just before the final syllable s in (non-final heavy syllable).
  3. If a word has light syllables, the stress falls as in, on the first syllable
  4. If a word is a past or present verb, the stress falls as in on the first syllable
  5. If a word is a feminine or masculine Arabic noun, the stress falls as in, on the second syllable

Jenkins (2003) suggested that just like the Arabic language, the words of English are also predictable, and many sets of rules that are complex have been put forward for stress prediction. In English, stress is very important as it is the main feature that distinguishes certain word pairs. According to The New Englishness 13 Nation & Newton (2009), English has the following rules of stress:

  1. The majority of the two-syllable words, on the first syllable, are where stress is placed. For example, many words have two different patterns of stress according to whether they are nouns or verbs, verbs or adjectives. For instance, the first syllable of adjectives and nouns are where stressing is done, while on the verbs, the second syllable is where stress is given.
  2. Derivational suffixes can be categorized into three types; that is stress-shifting, stress attracting, and stress preserving. Stress preserving suffixes does not change the placement of stress in words. For example “–full,” such as wonder changes to “wonderful.” moreover, the stress attracting type gets primary stress. For example, “-ee,” such as, employ becomes “employee.” Lastly, the stress shifting type makes the stress shift. For example “-ive,” such as reflex becomes “reflexive” (Pennington 1996).


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2. Rhythm

Rhythm, in speech, is defined as an effect that involves isochronous recurrence of some form of speech unit. Rhythm is also the regular recurrence in a speech of the stressed syllables (Celce-Murcia, Brinton, Griner. 2010). Yavas (2006) argued that the perception of various forms of rhythm has majorly to do with the syllable structure differences, type of stress, and the vowel reduction. According to Couper (2006, p.47), Arabic and its different dialects are stress-timed all. From the different articles and studies, there is a consensus amongst writers and researchers that the listeners of Arabic make use of the rhythm of speech in distinguishing Arabic speakers from North Africa and the ones living in the Middle East. Numerous studies have been conducted on the rhythm of Arabic. Dauer (2005, p.544) observed that one of the significant findings is the vocalic intervals highness, in the dialects of the eastern Arabs like Palestine, unlike the western dialects of the Arabs such as Tunisia.

In the English language, the alternation of unstressed and stressed syllables is actually stress-timed. Derwing (2008) asserted that rhythm is very important in English basically because many instances of miscommunication are attributed to the failure of a person to interpret words that are familiar as they are uttered with an unfamiliar rhythm pattern. As discussed earlier, words of English may contain one or several syllables. These words have stressed syllables that are clearer, louder than the unstressed others. Hansen & Zampini (2008, p.352) believed that combining of the stressed and unstressed syllables will result in the rhythms that are found in the words of English. This combination also brings out the pitch, length, and strength of syllables. Furthermore, English sentences, just like words also have rhythm. Halliday (1970) stated that if a person wants to get a good rhythm of the sentence, he or she should know how to join together the syllables into bigger units, in addition to the clear difference between unstressed and stressed syllables.

3. Intonation

Yates & Zielinski (2009) indicated that the definition of intonation is difficult. However, in general, intonation is the speech melody or the falling and rising of the pitch of voice in the conversation, and its analysis should be in terms of pitch variation. Intonation can point out different utterances types, such as questions, statements, attitudes commands, and the speaker’s emotions. Swan and smith (2001) indicated that English and Arabic have closely similar intonation patterns, especially in contour and meaning. Ashby (2005) summarized the stress of Arabic in the following way:

  1. Falling intonation, in Arabic, is used at the end of the declarative statements and in commands. In declarative statements is when it is on amid pitch, the voice starts, slightly rises on the syllable lastly stressed, and drops at the end to a low pitch as in. in command is when it is in the “Wh- questions.” That is the voice is high in the syllables stressed and quickly falls to the mid-pitch as in for the remaining part of the sentence.
  2. In Arabic, the rising-falling intonation is used normally at the end of the “yes-no questions as in,” and in the “vocatives as in.” In the yes-no questions, they are used in utterances that contain protest elements and surprise elements. That is the voice is flat and there is no fall or rise as in. in the vocatives, on the other hand, they are used in requests and the voice somewhat falls and rises, with as in optional pause.

Yavas (20011) summarized the rules of intonations in English in the following manner:

  1. Rising and falling intonation is usually used at the end of simple facts statements, which is the declarative statement. For example, commands or questions that begin with interrogative words.
  2. Rising intonations are usually used in the following scenarios; for instance, at the end of the yes-no questions such as requests.
  3. In utterances that contain an element of surprise or protest


Learners Profile

I am a teacher who teaches English to 20 to 30 young SaudiArabia boys aged 13 to 15 years as their foreign language or second language. Some of my students study in private schools that use English as their mode of teaching. Other students also study in international schools which belong to people who work in Saudi Arabia and are from other overseas countries. In Saudi Arabia, there are special institutions that teach English in detail. This means different aspects of English are taught and they also develop a positive attitude to learning the English language.

My students learn English only in school but they do not use it at home or in the streets because they lack English speakers whom they can converse or talk with since the local language is Arabic. However, the slight chances of speaking English are in some hospitals and also in some restaurants, but not from the natives. Similarly, other places where an individual can hear or speak English are in the institutions of higher learning such as the universities, and some companies that use English as their mode of communication. These are mostly international companies and use a policy that English is the mode of communication in the company.

These multinational companies, often give scholarships to their employees who are interested in learning English or developing their jobs to enhance their personalities. Moreover, learning English enables them to develop intellectually and in their professional abilities.

As a teacher, I am entitled to teach my students to:

  1. Learn the English language basics that would form the foundation of the mastery of the language in future
  2. Learn the basic structures of the English sentences
  3. Learn and understand the vocabularies that are recommended to every stage of learning
  4. listen and understand the simple language of English
  5. Orally express themselves using the simple language of English
  6. Read and understand the materials of simple English language
  7. Write simple guided sentences in the language of English


Evaluation of Resources

The essay will evaluate two online resources for teaching prosody to ESL/EFL learners. The resources include the Classical Arab Language and an online video resource.

1.Arab Linguistics: an Introductory Classical Text with Translation and Notes

This resource has been written in both English and Arabic languages. This makes it beneficial to both the learners and the teacher who is teaching English to the Saudi Arabic students. The resource is also beneficial for learning since it uses simple English and Arabic languages that are suitable for beginners. However, some of the limitations of the resource are that it does not detail all aspects of the prosody, thus it is limiting in terms of information.

Some of the elements of prosody that have been presented in this online learning resource include the accent and stress. The other elements have not been included, Stress and accent are very relevant in teaching English to the Saudi Arabic student especially to the young ones. The accent is important to the learners and the teachers because it is impossible to know where stress should be placed on a syllable in a word, and it becomes even more complicated in the English language since the stress can fall on any syllable (ShirbīNī & Carter 2014).

Although the resource has been written and explained in continuous prose, the language is realistic, simple, and easy to comprehend. The resource has also allowed the students to read, listen to the teacher, practice, receive feedback, and to make pronunciation communicatively. This has been enabled by the provision of clear guidelines with examples. This has simplified pronunciation for the students if they practice and also listen to the pronunciations.

Similarly, the resource by ShirbīNī & Carter (2014) has enhanced learning by making the prosody elements have different presentations. The resource has also used tables to present some data to the learners and also to make comparisons between the two languages. Lastly, after going through the guidelines, practicing, there are few exercises for the learner to do and get feedback on their progress and mastery of the two languages. This is good for the students and also for the teachers as it enables the learners to gauges their level of understanding and also makes the teachers know the progress of their students.

2. The Arabic guide to Standard English

This is an audiovisual resource that explains in Arabic and English. The audio and the visual video is helpful to the learners as it explains the English words to Arabic words. The elements of prosody that have been included in this online visual resource are rhythm, stress, and intonation.

The online visual resource has many benefits to the learner as well as the teacher. Some of the benefits it has to the learners are that it gives the visual pictures of objects and name them audibly in English. This is very beneficial to the learners as they learn to understand how to pronounce some English words and also where stress should be put in an English word. The resource also gives the sound that is required when teaching students ESL especially young Saudi Arabia boys. However, online video resource has some limitations. First, the video takes only seven minutes and also has limited resources that will equip a learning student. Averagely a lesson should go for 40minutes to 1 hour and therefore a resource of 7 minutes is limiting to the students (n.a 2014).

The presentation also contains new vocabulary for the students of my class. It shows new words in the lesson with their meaning in English. Similarly, there are new grammar items for the visual lesson, new idioms, phrasal verbs, proverbs, and expressions. Lastly, the resource provided drills and practice for my students. This step is intended to reinforce the items the teacher has explained. The drills are in form of exercises, and there are also some exercises given to the students as part of their homework for them to apply what they have learned at school. The prosody elements that were presented were relevant and also comprehensible to young Saudi boys’ learners. The language used by the presenter is appropriate, realistic, easy, and simple to understand by young learners of English. The video has used a monologue form of presentation where the presenter shows different words, pronounce and also explain some. Additionally, visual support has been provided to the learner and these include; word spellings, visual objects, tables,s and the moving cursors that point and directs learners to objects and words for easy understanding.

This material by n.a (2014) gives the students many opportunities to listen, to practice, and also to get feedback. The audio part of the video is there for the students to listen and hear the words clearly and to comprehend. The students can also practice the words since the video can be rewound and forwarded. The feedback part is left for the teacher since it has exercises for the practice of the students. Lastly, the presentation of the video is made in a manner that is appropriate in pronunciation in a communicative manner.


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