This has been niggling at me for years, and now that the guy is back in Lebanon I’m inspired to ask my readers who know Arabic: is General Aoun‘s name, which I gather is عون in Arabic, pronounced the same as the identically spelled word ‘aun ‘help, aid; helper, aide, assistant’? This is one of those times when I know just enough to know that I don’t know enough.


  1. Yeah, it’s the same: AAAAAAHHHH!!! as in my tie is too tight, un as in uno.

  2. Thanks!

  3. Does Arabic have identically spelled words that aren’t pronounced identically (aside from the issue of vowel markings)?

  4. Aside from the issue of vowel markings, no.

  5. I’m not sure what “aside from the issue of vowel markings” means, but على, for example, can be pronounced /’ulan/, /’alā/, or /’aliy/, and vowel markings are not used in normal Arabic text.

  6. When vowels are fully written out, each word has a unique and (with very few exceptions) fully predictable pronunciation — that is, each spelling has one and only one pronunciation, and that pronunciation cannot be exactly represented by any other spelling. Of course, that’s not a lot of help for actually learning Arabic, since without the vowels any word will have multiple options.

  7. Well, yes, that’s pretty much what I was saying.

  8. And that was pretty much my understanding, which is why languagehat’s original question made me think I was missing something. If the words are identically spelled and have the same vowels, I didn’t understand why there was a question about whether they’re pronounced the same. But I guess the question was whether “aou” was representing the same vowels as “au”.

  9. You have to be careful what to call the “pointing” in Arabic. Because the sukun and the shadda also effect the pronunciation, are also usually left out, and are not vowels.
    In fact it seems to me that shaddas are more commonly used than vowels for disambiguation, and sukuns are rarely used at all outside the Koran, dictionaries, and teaching material.

  10. If the words are identically spelled and have the same vowels
    What you were missing is that “identically spelled” doesn’t involve the vowels, which are not written except in reference works. If you go to an Arabic newspaper page (as I did) and find the General’s name, you have no idea what the vowels are, except from the Frenchified version, which is not unambiguous.

  11. The reason I wrote both “identically spelled” and “have the same vowels” is that I understood that the first didn’t imply the second. What I was missing was that the Frenchified version is apparently not an unambiguous indication of the vowels.

  12. OK, so what about dialects? How many ways are there of writing Oum Kathoum?

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