Article | Phonetic transcription

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Why phonetic transcription?

Why have I transcribed the Arabic words into Latin letters, rather than using the Arabic alphabet?
– The practical response is that most people wanting to look up a word they have heard will not necessarily read Arabic easily, and will find it easier to identify the word as it appears in “English” transcription. I do, however, recommend learning to read and write the elegant Arabic script, which will provide you with a vital stepping stone to (eventually) learning Standard Arabic.
– There is another, more scientific reason for preferring transcription: Arabic script suits the Standard Arabic language, with its comparatively limited range of sounds. The sounds of colloquial spoken Arabic are more plentiful, and more complex: its vowels are more numerous and more variable than those of Standard Arabic. When Arabs write colloquial Arabic (as they often do in captions to newspaper cartoons and in the “balloons” which emerge from the characters’ mouths) they do so in rather a hit-and-miss style. There are no rules which must be strictly adhered to, and so the reader has to be familiar with the particular dialect used in order to read the words exactly as they were intended to be read. Colloquial Arabic as written in Arabic script is an accepted form of shorthand which can be properly understood only by someone who already knows the spoken language well. “English” transcription, on the other hand (with the addition of a few diacritical signs), allows us to give the vowels their due and to depict the sounds of spoken Arabic with great precision. All books on Arabic dialects make use of transcription.