The Short vowel sounds
(fathah, kasrah, and dammah)
In this lesson we will cover:
- We will see how vowels in English work.
- We will learn what the three basic short vowels are in Arabic.
- We will apply these short vowels in small examples to see how they function.
- We will understand the important concept of sound lengths in Arabic.
- We will learn the difference between the letter alif and hamzah and how short vowels apply to them.
Vowels in English:
- The vowels in English are a, e, i, o, u.
- These vowels give sounds to the alphabet.
For example, the alphabet ‘j’ can be given the sound ‘ja’ by adding the word ‘a’. So that is the purpose of vowels. It generally gives the sounds to your letters.
Short and long vowels:
In the Arabic language, we have short and long vowels. Some of them give long sounds and some of them give shorter sounds.
The short vowels give sounds to the Arabic alphabet that are ‘one length’. And in this course, we will use (x1) as a notation for short vowels.
The long vowels tend to give the sounds to the Arabic alphabet that are ‘two lengths long’. And we will use (x2) as a notation for long vowels.
In this lesson will only learn about the short vowels.
The short vowels:
Here we have a letter:
جَ :this is a letter jeem with a small slanted line which is normally placed above the alphabet itself and this is one of the short vowel sounds and it gives the sound of ‘a’ to the letter. when you add this small line to the alphabet jeem, you get the sound ‘ja’. So, you take effectively the sound of the alphabet name first, and then add ‘a’ to it. Hence, jeem becomes ‘ja’. The small line above the letter is known as fathah and when you say it effectively, you should see that your mouth opens i.e. when you say ‘a’ your mouth opens.
The next one is the short vowel which is a small line drawn under the alphabet i.e. جِ and this gives the sound of letter ‘e’ and making the letter jeem into the sound ‘je’. The little line drawn underneath is known as kasrah and hint to pronouncing it correctly is trying to smile while you say the ‘e’ sound. Try to say jeem with a little smile.
And the third short vowel marking is the small sign which is drawn above the letter i.e. جُ. This is a small loop with a tail going down and it looks like a small wao, but it is a short vowel. It gives the sound ‘u’ to the letter. So, the letter jeem with this small symbol becomes ‘ju’. The symbol itself is known as dammah. When you make the sound i.e. ‘u’ you make a small circle with your lips.
Hence these are the short vowels known as fathah, kasrah and dammah giving the sound ‘a,e,u’ respectively.
It means opening because the ‘a’ sound causes your mouth to open.
It means to break or crack because this causes the mouth to break open slightly i.e. when you make the ‘e’ sound shape with your mouth, it looks like a smile which effectively is like a small crack shape.
It means rounding because when you make the ‘u’ sound, the lips form a round shape.
Importance of Sound Lengths:
Changing the length of a sound so that the meaning of what is recited is changed. So, when you recite the Holy Quran, if you accidentally change the length of the sound of your letters then you may change the meaning of what you are reading.
qaa-la’ means ‘He said’.
Here the letter ‘qaa’ is 2 times longer and the letter laam sound is one time long. This word means ‘he said (one male)’.
Now we will change it into another word which is
qaa-laa’ means ‘those 2 men said’.
Grammatically, we have changed from one male to two males and the only difference is the length of the letter ‘la’. In the first word, it was ‘la’ and in the second word it is ‘laa’. So, if we accidentally read the first word as ‘qaa-laa’ we will change the whole meaning of the sentence and in Tajweed this is known as the major mistake and you are not allowed to make these major mistakes.
So, when you are pronouncing your vowel sounds, you must concentrate and be careful that you know what length of sound you are pronouncing.
Length of short vowels with Lam:
Here we have a letter لَ. So, we have fathah and we get the sound ‘la’.
And now لِ this is called laam with kasrah giving the sound ‘li’.
Remember to smile here again. And we have the lam with dammah لُ giving the sound ‘lu’. Remember all of these letters are one time long. So, we have la, li and lu and we should not say these letters as ‘laa, lee, and luu’ because it is too long.
Short vowels i.e. fathah, kasrah and dammah must be kept to one length long.
And this is all relative to how you recite the Holy Quran, but you must keep it relatively one long when compared to the longer sounds.
Alif and Hamza:
One thing to remember is that the alif never has a short sound on it but a hamza does.
Here is the alphabet ا. Now one must be careful in the Holy Quran this is used as a long vowel. So, it helps to lengthen the ‘a’ sound from one long to two long. It does not function as a consonant on its own. The one you will see is the hamza sitting on the top of Alif.
So, here we have
أُ أَ أِ
Hamza on an alif with fathah, hamzah on an alif with kasrah and hamza on alif with dammah. So, you will never see these short markings either short vowel markings on top of an alif. When you see them on top of this alif sign, it will always be a hamza. Now in Uthmaani script, they will show you this small hamza’s when they are there.
In the Majeedi script sometimes they drop the little hamza sitting on the alif, but they keep the alif sign itself. So, this alif ends up looking like the long vowel alif but they will still be hamza’s and we will do a detailed analysis of the Majeedi verses the Uthmaani script towards the end of this course. But just be aware in proper Tajweed technical terms, the long vowel alif can never have short vowel sound on them because itself is being used as a long vowel to lengthen, generally the fathah sound.
So, these hamza’s with the fathah, kasrah and dammah give sound ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘u’. and ءَ it is hamza on its own giving the sound ‘a’. For the above example, we have drawn the little Hamza above the alif when it carries a kasrah. But actually, this is used with hamza sitting underneath of an alif. We will see later on when we do this in more detail.
This little hamza will switch and it will be underneath of the alif. So normally, when you have the hamza and the alif with a kasrah, the hamza will move to the bottom of the alif. So, we have just drawn it here just to keep things simple at the moment. So, this is incorrectly written letter. And hamzah will be on the top of alif when it carries a fathah or dammah. When you have hamza on its own it can have the fathah, kasrah or dammah on it.
Final note on fathah:
In this lesson, we have only introduced the short vowel sounds. So, we have not done a proper analysis of those short vowel sounds on every alphabet. We have just touched on it. It is just an introduction to get you used to what short vowel sounds are.
In future lessons dealing only with fathah, so we are going to some lessons that are very in-depth on the pronunciation of fathah with other alphabet and how it is applied to each alphabet.
Also, we will see that it can give a slightly different sound than ‘a’.
so this is one thing to be aware of when you are putting the fathah on the top of the alphabets, the sound will not always be an ‘a’ sound and we will cover that in the lessons later on and it is something to do with what we call ‘Tafkheem and Tarqeeq’ which is fattening and thinning of some of the alphabet letters and their sounds.
- We have learned what fathah, kasrah, and dammah are and how they function.
- Now we know the importance of pronouncing the short vowel with the correct length.
- In future lessons, we will learn how to pronounce the entire alphabet with each short vowel.