Arabic Alphabet: Lesson 8

The Arabic letter J looks like the English letter J but backwards. Only it is a cross between a capital J and a lowercase j. It has the stroke across the top of a capital J, and also the dot of the lowercase j. The dot goes INSIDE the J rather than on top.

ﺞ ﺝ

You may have heard some people say there was no J sound in Arabic. Actually there is no J sound in the EGYPTIAN dialect, but the other dialects all have a normal English J sound. For example the Hajj means the famous pilgrimage to Mecca. Jihad means crusade (in any sense of the word) or literally "The Struggle". So there is definately a J in Arabic, and this is it.

In Egypt the J is pronounced like the letter G instead. So they say "Hagg" and "Gihad". There is no letter G in Arabic. So all those G sounds you learned in Egyptian Arabic are spelt with a J. For example Gamal (meaning Camel) is spelt "Jamal" with a J, and pronounced "Jamal" outside Egypt. In English we obviously borrowed the Egyptian pronounciation.

Unfortunately the J only looks like a J when it is at the end of a word, or when the previous letter can’t link to it. Because when it is in the middle of a word, the bottom is chopped off. The dot is still there below the letter though. So with the bottom chopped off, it looks like this:

Much harder to recognise as a J. At the start of a word, it doesn’t have that bit in the bottom right connecting it to the previous word, so it looks like this:

Now it looks a bit like a squashed J, with a dot under it. Although to me J looks more like a wave breaking when it is not at the end of a word.

So here is the word "Jamal" (Which Egyptians pronounce Gamal) meaning Camel:

جمل

And the very similar word "Jamyl" (Gamyl) meaning beautiful:

جميل

If you remove the dot from the J it stops being a J, and starts being a very breathy H. With no dot it is the H described as breathing on your glasses. It is the H in MaHmoud. In English it is often written as a capital H. It is different from the ordinary English h and different from the KH sound from European languages. Here are four H’s in a row:

ﺣﺤﺢ ﺡ

What is this word?

حج

Translate this:
Your answer:

Note that double letters are never written down in Arabic. The first one has no dot, so it is a capital H, and the second one has a dot inside, so it is a J.

There is also another change you can make to this letter. If you put a dot ABOVE the letter, instead of in the middle or below like the J, then it becomes a KH instead of just a H. The KH is much easier for English speakers to say, because it is the KH or CH in European languages like German, or Dutch:

ﺧﺨﺦ ﺥ

For example, look at the word for "my brother" (akhuya). Note that the -ya ending is written exactly the same as the -ee ending, with a Y, because the vowel on the end isn’t written. In this case the Y is a consonant rather than a vowel. Here is how you write "my brother":

أخي

Here the Alif has a mark above it. You can ignore the mark, because it just indicates that the word starts with a glottal stop. A glottal stop is basically silent. English speakers won’t notice any difference between a word starting with a glottal stop and a word starting with a vowel. But the difference is that a glottal stop means the vowel starts more suddenly, rather than gradually like it normally would.

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