This week I’d like to talk about the Arabic definite article ال [a]l as used in Urdu. It is used in many Arabic loan words, especially Islamic names and titles. So if amongst your Urdu adventures you’ve ever struggled to pronounce an Arabic-derived name, this blog is for you!
Let’s start with the alif of ال [a]l. In Urdu, this article usually only appears in nominal and adjectival compounds where the second part is used with ال. The form looks like word-ال-word. If used in Arabic, the first part of the compound would have the correct case ending, -u, -i, or –a. In Urdu, the word before ال is always used with the nominative ending –u. Then the alif part of ال assimilates to the –u ending of the first word.
Then in Arabic, the second part of the compound word would have an –i (genitive) ending. Urdu just keeps the second part of the compound in its uninflected form. In formal Arabic “daaru-l-’uluumi” becomes in Urdu “daarul-uluum” meaning “educational institution.” Although the pronunciations differ, the written forms are the same in Arabic and Urdu.
Now let’s move to the second part of ال, the laam.
The laam of the article is pronounced if the word after the article starts with one of the following letters:
ا ب ج ح ع غ ف ق ف م و ی
The grammatical name of these letters is “moon” letters or qamri letters.
But if the word after ال starts with another group of letters below, the laam is not pronounced. Instead, the first consonant of the word after ال connects to the vowel –u of the preceding word and this consonant is pronounced doubled.
ت ث د ذ ر س ش ص ض ط ظ ل ن
حفظ الکبیر hifzul-kabiir
عبد الباری abdul-baarii
عبد الغفار abdul-ghaffaar
نصیر الدین nasiirud-diin
نواز الدين nawaazud-diin