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Mutah University

Topics in Phonology and Morphology

Winter 2012/2013

Dr. Ahmad Sakarna

Major Research Project in Phonology and Morphology

Arabic Assimilation in the view of Lexical
Morphology Theory

Ahmad H. Al-Khatatneh

This paper investigates the phonetic assimilation in Arabic language as it considered
as one of the most general processes in word building in the language. There are many
types of Assimilation, but in this research I tried to concentrate on two types of it which
are Ikfaa and Iqlab. The result shows that these two processes are aare post lexical
rules. They are automatic, have no exceptions and can apply in any context (inside word
or across word boundaries).

1 Introduction
1.1 Back ground: Arabic is Semitic language and one of the most widely spoken
languages in the world. Its spoken by more than 422 million people in a wide arc of
territory stretching across the Middle East and North Africa. Arabic language is very
important for Muslims because its Quran language.
1.2 Arabic Phonology: Arabic sound system is divided into two categories: vowels and
consonants. It has six short vowels /a i u/ and corresponding long vowels /a i u/. There are
also two diphthongs: /aj/ and /aw/. It also have 24 consonants sounds. The following figure
show it:

1.3 Arabic Binyanim

In Arabic language, words may be formed by modifying the root itself internally and
not simply by concatenation of affixes (affixation) and roots (compounding) or
conversion instead infixing and modification of the root are the norm.

Data From McCarthy (1981):

2.1 Lexical Morphology

Lexical Morphology was developed and articulated by Paul Kiparsky in 1982, What
distinguish this model on other theories of phonology is that word is regarded as the key
unit of morphological analysis. The major claim made by proponents of this theory is
that there is symbiotic relationship between the rules that build the morphological
structure of a word and the phonological rules responsible for the way word is
pronounced. And these rules are found in the lexicon as blocks called strata (levels)
which are arrange one under other.
Basic principles of the Lexical Phonology/Morphology Model :
1. Level ordering: affixes are added at different strata/levels.
2. Each stratum/level has associated with it a set of morphological rules that do the
3. The morphological rules are linked to phonological rules that indicate how the
structure built by morphology is supposed to be pronounced.
4. Underived lexical items are listed in the lexicon

Kiparsky (1982) model of lexical morphology:

This theory develops distinction between Lexical and post-lexical rules. Post-lexical
rules are automatic processes and can apply across word boundaries e.g. : The flapping
rule the convert intervocalic dental stop to a sonorant [d] such as : wha[d] is wrong . But
the Lexical Rules have exception and cyclic. Kiparsky divided lexical rules into two
categories: primary and secondary affixes. Primary affixes happens in the first level and
they include all irregular inflection and derivation e.g. (ablaut) . Secondary affixes
happens in level 2 , they are regular inflection and derivation affixes such as (plural s) .
2.1 Differences between Lexical and Post Lexical Rules.
As the name suggests post-lexical rules apply outside of the lexicon but the lexical rules
only apply between word boundaries.
1. Post-lexical rules can apply in any context. Unlike lexical rules they can apply
across word boundaries, taking the phrasal context into account lexical rules only
apply inside the word (phonological rules only in derived environments)
2. Lexical rules are cyclic At each level in the lexicon it is necessary to go through the
morphological and phonological rules of that level, especially phonological rules may be
triggered repeatedly but Post-lexical rules apply only once.
4 lexical roles are automatic .

Lexical rules may have many exceptions but Post Lexical are automatic and apply
without exception to all forms with the requisite phonetic properties, morphology being
irrelevant (no access to morphological structure).
4. lexical rules are structure-preserving .
A lexical rule may not produce a form that could not be a phonologically well-formed
word in the language (if a rule introduces or refers to a no contrastive segment, then it
can only apply outside of the lexicon

2. Arabic Assimilation in the view of Lexical Morphology Theory

2.1 (Assimilation I) (Iqlab)
(Assimilation I):Arab phonetician as Aljamal (2000) state that 'Iqlab' means that
three nasal sounds of 'attanween'; //, /un/, /in/, in silent /n/ will be changed to the nasal
semi-bilabial /m/ whenever they are followed by the bilabial stop /b/ in a word-initial
position (in two words) or in one word. This happens as a result of the anticipatory coarticulation of /b/ since we the preceding one.

+final syllable

when followed by
the bilabial stop


The Iqlab may occur word internally or between word boundaries and its automatic
and can be applied anywhere without any exceptions. It is not cyclic and can apply only
once and without any exceptions. Its also not structure preserving because when two
words are adjacent and there are iqlab the both words combined in one words.

For Example:

[m ]

1. Sami:un basi:r()

Sami:umbasi:r (Who hears and sees)

2. ?lanba:? ()


2.2 Assimilation Type 2 (Al-Akhfaa)

When the alveolar nasal /n/ of the 'silent n' or 'attanween' is followed by one of some
sounds, a process of assimilation will take place. The sounds are:
1. The stops: /t,d,k/
2. The fricatives: /s,z,f,,, /
2.The affricate: /j/
3.The emphatics: / s/ / = / /, /d/ = / /,/t/ = / /,// = / / and /q/ = / /
In such a case the /n/ will change its place of articulation, but retain its quality of
nasalization. To state it differently, the tip of the tongue will not touch the upper alveolar
ridge but it will move nearer to the place of articulation of the following sound. Then it
will stay in a neutral position opposite to the place for sometime enough to produce the
nasalization which gives the hearer an implicit feeling of the /n/ sound
'Ikhfaa' occurs either within a word or across word boundaries whenever the silent /n/
is followed by one of the above mentioned 15 sounds. Whenever / silent n/ followed by
one of the above mentioned 15 sounds, a process of assimilation will occur. The tip of
the tongue will not touch the upper alveolar ridge but it will move nearer to the place of
articulation of the following sound. For example:
1. ?nzala

(get off)

2. al?ensa:n

(Human being )

3. man ja:?

(who came)

Assimilation is a universal phonological linguistic process by which a sound
becomes similar to an adjacent sound. There are many types of Assimilation in Arabic:
my research concentrate only on iqlab and ikhfaa in the view of lexical morphology. We
can find that both of Iqlab and Akhfaa are post lexical rules : they are automatic, can be
applied word internally, and across word boundaries.

3. References

1. Katamba, F. (1993). Morphology: lexical morphology. St. Martins Press;

New York: USA.
2. Al Jamal, A. (2000). Mukhtasar Al Mughni fi Ilm Attajweed. Ghaza: The
Islamic University
3. Matar, A. (2005). The Phonetic Assimilation in the Qur'an. Unpublished
4. Smrz, O. (2007) Functional Arabic Morphology. Doctoral Thesis. Prague:
5. Al-Ani, S.( 1970). Arabic phonology. The Hague: Mouton