Al-Ahsa Dialect

Al-Ahsa Dialect

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1. INTRODUCTION. Hasawi is a variety of Arabic whose roots refer to the family of Central Semitic Languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hasawi dialect is spoken in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, exactly in Al-Ahsa (Al-Hasaa) province. Therefore, the dialect of Al-Ahsa, or Hasawi (HD), is also known as the Eastern Arabian dialect. In fact, it is considered the dominant dialect in the area although there are other local dialects found in the same area, such as Badawi which is spoken by some Bedouins tribes. In 2009, the number of Hasawi speakers was estimated as 200,000 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ('Arabic, Gulf Spoken, Ethnologu', 2009).
There are three reasons for selecting Hasawi for this study. First, there is little previous work related to Hasawi even though it is considered an enormous dialect because it is expanded to other Gulf countries, such as Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates. Thus, HD is also spoken as a minor dialect in the previous mentioned countries so that Hasawi is sometimes called Gulf Arabic 'Khaliji'. Secondly, the emergence of a new dialect a few years ago which is Modern Hasawi, a blend of old Hasawi and Najdi, threatens the existence of the original Hasawi in Saudi Arabia in spite of the massive expansion of the dialect to the neighboring countries. Finally, the dialect of Al-Ahsa is seen as a humorous matter among other Saudi dialects because it is hard to understand (Bassiouney, 2010). Probably the cause of such difficulty refers to the sociolinguistic impact of non-Arabian languages, such as Farsi 'Persian' and Turkish. However, it would be proven at the end of this paper that this unattractive dialect has unique acoustic features.
Hence, the overall goal of this study is to investigate the Hasawi plosive phonemes and how they shape different allophones. This paper is divided into five main sections: the first section is an introduction of the topic including an overview of the dialect; the second section is a review of the literature which includes brief previous related studies; the methodology used for this study is described in the third section; the fourth section demonstrates the findings of this study; and finally the conclusion.
• Does Hasawi dialect have various allophones of its plosive sounds? If so, what phonemes are pronounced differently?
• What are the phonetic facts of Hasawi allophones?

1.2. PHONOLOGICAL BACKGROUND. This part of the first section presents the inventory of Hasawi phonemes as a good reference for Results section.

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Twenty-nine consonants are found in HD categorized as follows: eight stops (plosives); two nasals; one trill; thirteen fricatives; two affricates; two glides (approximants); and one liquid (lateral approximant). As for the vowels, there are six vowels classified as short vowels [a, i, u], the diacritics of the speech, and long vowels [aa, ii, uu], the core vowels. See the next two Tables below:
Table 1. The inventory of Hasawi consonants.
Glottal Pharyngeal Uvular Velar Palatal Postalveolar Alveolar
Dental Labiodental Bilabial
ʔ Q k g t d b Stop

n m Nasal
r Trill
h ħ ʕ x ɣ ʃ s z θ ð f Fricative
sˤ ðˤ
tʃ dʒ Affricate
j w Glides
l Liquid
Note: The symbol to the right represents a voiced consonant, and to the left represents a voiceless one.

Table 2. The inventory of Hasawi vowels.
uu U Ii I aa A Features
high High High high low Low Height
back Back Front front front Front back-ness
rounded rounded unrounded unrounded unrounded Unrounded Roundedness
long Short Long short long Short Tense
Note: [aw], [eɪ], and [oʊ] are the diphthongs of HD.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW. In this section, important information and facts of previous researches will be summarized briefly to clarify the pointes presented in Section 4.
The set of voiceless consonants in most Arabic varieties consists of [t], [tˤ], [k], [q], and [ʔ]. Newman (2002) states that [t], [k], [q], and [ʔ] are voiceless sounds articulated in four different places of articulation. Aljumah (2008) also discusses that [t], [tˤ], [k], [q], and [ʔ] are the five voiceless consonants found in HD; however, [b], [d], and [g] represent the set of voiced stops in HD. Many researchers agree that those sounds are considered voiced sounds in many languages. According to Aljumah (2008), HD has three voiced stops, namely [b], [d], and [g]. Likewise, the English voiced stops are [b], [d], and [g] (Lisker and Abramson, 1967).
On another hand, ejectives is a term that refers to stop consonants produced with an egressive glottalization (Ladefoged and Johnstone, 2011). Ejectives are found in South Semitic languages, such as in Mehri (Watson and Bellem, 2010) and Ethiopian (Crass, 2008). Similarly, ejectives may appear in Central Semitic languages as in Arabic, particularly in Hasawi Arabic. Moreover, ejectives sometimes occur in English as allophones (Ladefoged and Johnstone, 2011); they do the same in Hasawi Arabic.
Another significant feature of Arabic phonetics is gemination. According to Ladefoged and Johnstone (2011), gemination is identified by a doubled consonant that consequently adds a length to the segment. Some Hasawi phonemes might be geminated in order to emphasize several utterances. In fact, Ladefoged and Johnstone (2011) describe that lengthy geminates are totally allophonic in many English accents.
Another key point that is related to a theoretical concept will be used as an illustration of how sounds are operating. This theory is called voice time onset (VOT).VOT is defined by Ladefoged and Johnstone (2011) as the delay between the release of a consonant and the voicing. For the most part, it will be used to identify the production of sounds, such as voiced vs. voiceless consonants and aspirated vs. unaspirated plosives.
3. METHODOLOGY. Four parts are discussed in this section: the problem being addressed by the study in section 3.1.; the methods of data analysis in section 3.2.; the participants of this study in section 3.3.; and the instrument used to measure the data in section 3.4. below.
3.1. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM. The rationale of this study is to investigate several allophones of stop consonants in the dialect of Al-Ahsa and exhibit a practical analysis using spectrograms.
3.2. METHODS OF DATA ANALYSIS. The data that are provided for this study is single words used in the colloquial language. Despite the fact that the origin of some of these words belong to the Standard Arabic, their pronunciation has been changed by the society in order to fit the modern use of the dialect. Furthermore, the collected date shows every stop consonant found in HD in different word positions for better measuring.
3.3. PARTICIPANTS. Two Hasawi speakers were asked to read written words. The first speaker (FAO) is a 19-year-old female representing the original Hasawi dialect. The other speaker (NOS), on the other hand, is a 21-year-old female whose dialect is the modern eastern Hasawi which is considered a blend between Hasawi and Najdi. Both speakers were
born and grew up in Al-Hafouf city (Hofuf), the capital city of Al-Ahsa province. In fact, NOS was recorded to represent the optional allophonic difference between two native speakers.
3.4. EQUIPMENT. Praat was used to record and measure the data by observing the voice bar and the consonant release. The participant (FAO) was asked to read the tested words for every phoneme in a regular speed. During the process of reading, she was recorded on Praat for later measuring. If needed, NOS was also asked to repeat some of those words in order to ensure the accuracy of the measurement.
4. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION. In this section, the findings of the study for plosive phonemes and allophones in HD are presented and followed by a practical analysis of the collected date using VOT. Phonetic facts of Hasawi plosive allophones are described below.
To begin with, voiced stops [b, d, g] are partially voiced in HD when they are in word-final positions, as in [xaraab̥] 'devastation', [ħaad̥] 'sharp', and [ħag̥] 'own' (see Figure 1). Holes (1990) also discusses that devoicing voiced stops in word-final positions is an inclination in Gulf Arabic where voiced stops are recognized as partially voiced. In addition, the voiced [b] is devoiced in Arabic if it is close to a voiceless sound (Newman, 2002). Hence, the voiceless [p] is possible to appear in both HD and SA as an allophone of the voiced [b], as in [ktapt] 'I wrote'.
As shown in Figure 1, the consonant [b] in the word-final position starts to lose voicing after a voicing duration of .38 milliseconds where the voice bar (F0) disappears.

Figure 1. Spectrogram illustrating a partially voiced stop in word-finally: speaker FAO.

On the other hand, voiceless stops [t, tˤ, k, ʔ], excluding the uvular [q], are aspirated in any syllable-position (see Table 3). However, the consonant [q] is always unaspirated (Newman, 2002). Look at the following Figures:
Table 3. Aspirated stops.
Word-initial Position Word-Medial Position Word-Final Position
[tʰamr] 'date' [ʃitʰa] 'winter' [maatʰ] 'died'
[tˤʰiin] 'soil' [mtˤʰar] 'rain' [mtlaxbitˤʰ] 'confused'
[kʰuub] 'cup' [bukʰrah] 'tomorrow' [smiikʰ] 'thick'
[ʔʰibrah] 'needle' [laʔʰiim] 'evil' [dʒariiʔʰ] 'bold'

Figure 2. Spectrogram illustrating aspiration in word-initial position: speaker FAO.

Figure 3. Spectrogram illustrating aspiration in word-medial position: speaker FAO.

Figure 4. Spectrogram illustrating aspiration in word-final position: speaker FAO.

It can be noticed in Figures 2, 3 and 4 that a duration of over .55 milliseconds is able to reveal the location of the aspiration. Furthermore, the noise is completely obvious in the indicated areas.
Interestingly, the [t] sound is produced as an alveolar ejective [t'] when it occurs in the first syllable of the word, and the nasal [m] has an initial position in the same syllable. Also, the word must not include neither gemination nor long vowels [aa, ii, uu]. However, this case could be applied upon the speaker's tendency (see Table 4 and Figure 5). Hence, the [t] will not be pronounced as an ejective sound if the previous conditions were not met. Now consider the following examples where [t] is not produced as an ejective:
• [t] is preceded by another consonant rather than [m], as in [ʃtʰabi?] 'what do you want?'.
• Gemination is included in the word, as in [ħattʰa] 'even'.
• A long vowel is included in the word, as in [mtʰðˤaajig] 'upset'.
Figure 5. Spectrogram illustrating [t'] vs. [tʰ] in two different varieties of Hasawi.

As shown in the bottom of Figure 5, there is a remarkable gap between the closure of the consonant and the release. This gap is a big evidence for the production of the ejective [t'].

Table 4. [t'] vs. [tʰ] in two different varieties of Hasawi.
'late' [mt'ʔaxir] [mtʰʔaxir]
'sure' [mtʼʔakda] [mtʰʔakda]
'educated' [mtʼʕalim] [mtʰʕalim]

Also, gemination could be added to the alveolar [t] if the consonant is followed by a final syllable [haa] as shown in Table 5. To apply this process of gemination, there are four steps to follow. First, the consonant [h] is omitted. Secondly, the long vowel [aa] in the final syllable is replaced by the short one [a]. Next, the glottal stop [ʔ] is inserted as it has a word-final position in the word. Finally, the alveolar stop [t] is doubled [tt]. It is worth mentioning that this case is optional in the dialect of Al-Ahsa (see Figure 6).

Table 5. [ttʰ] vs. [tʰ] in two different varieties of Hasawi.
'hers' [ħaggattʰaʔ] [ħaggatʰhaa]
'I found it' [liɡeɪttʰaʔ] [liɡeɪtʰhaa]
'I saw her' [ʃaajfattʰaʔ] [ʃaajfatʰhaa]

Figure 6. Spectrogram illustrating [ttʰ] vs. [tʰ] in two different varieties of Hasawi.

As seen in the top of Figure 6, geminate [t] has a lengthy duration that equals .153 milliseconds while the duration of aspirated [tʰ] is only .117 milliseconds. Just like geminate [t], if the pharyngealized alveolar [tˤ] is preceded by the pharyngealized dental [ðˤ], it is easier for some Hasawi speakers to replace both consonants by a geminate [tˤ] in many cases as the following examples:
[ðˤtˤ] → [tˤtˤ]
[ʔiðˤtˤihaad] → [ʔitˤtˤihaad] 'injustice'
[muðˤtˤarib] → [mutˤtˤarib] ' anixous'
Another common case of Hasawi allophones is that there is a tendency based on the speaker to switch between some sounds. One example is that the velar stop [k] is sometimes converted to the affricate [tʃ], as in the word [mbakir] 'early' which can be pronounced also as [mbatʃir]. Another example is replacing the uvular [q] by the velar [g] in some words, as in [tˤariiqah] and [tˤariigah] 'method'. Aljumah (2008) also points out that such shift between the mentioned sounds occurs in HD.
Finally, the glottal stop [ʔ] is usually deleted when it occurs in a word-final position in SA. For instance, the words [hawaaʔ] 'air' and [dawaaʔ] 'medicine' in SA are naturally pronounced as [hawaa] and [dawaa] in HD.
5. CONCLUSION. As mentioned previously, the aim of this paper is to investigate the different allophones of plosive phonemes in the dialect of Al-Ahsa. The results of the study provide a comprehensive analysis of the data to describe how stop sounds may differ in pronunciation. For future studies, I would suggest to investigate other phonemes with different manners of articulation.

Aljumah, A. H. (2008). The Syllable Shape of Al-Ahsa Dialect: An OT Perspective. Poznań Studies in Contemporary Linguistics, 44(2), 155-177.
Arabic, Gulf Spoken, Ethnologue. (2009). Ethnologue: Languages of the world. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from
Bassiouney, R. (2010). Arabic and the media linguistic analyses and applications. Leiden: Brill.
Crass, J. (2002). Ejectives and pharyngeal fricatives: Two features of the Ethiopian language area. Baye Yimam et al, 6-11.
Holes, C. (1990). Gulf Arabic. Psychology Press.
Ladefoged, P., & Johnstone, K. (2011). A course in phonetics. CengageBrain. com.
Lisker, L., & Abramson, A. S. (1967). Some effects of context on voice onset time in English stops. Language and Speech, 10(1), 1-28.
Newman, D. (2002). The phonetic status of Arabic within the world's languages: the uniqueness of the lughat al-daad. Antwerp papers in linguistics., 100, 65-75.
Watson, J. C. E., & Bellem, A. (2010). A detective story: emphatics in Mehri. In Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies (Vol. 40, pp. 345-356). Archaeopress.

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