Sun and moon letters
In literary Arabic and Maltese, the consonants are divided into two groups, called the sun letters (or solar letters) and moon letters (or lunar letters) (Arabic: حروف شمسية ḥurūf šamsiyyah and حروف قمرية ḥurūf qamariyyah, accordingly), based on whether or not they assimilate the ﻝ (l) of a preceding article. This naming scheme stems from the circumstance that the word for "the sun", aš-šams, assimilates the article, while the word for "the moon", al-qamar, does not.
When followed by a sun letter, the l of the Arabic definite article al- assimilates to the initial consonant of the following noun, resulting in a doubled consonant. For example, for "the Nile", one does not say al-Nīl, but an-Nīl. When the definite article is followed by a moon letter, no assimilation takes place.
Sun letters represented coronal consonants in the classical language. Since the article, al-, ends in a coronal consonant, it lends itself to assimilation with these sounds. The letter ج ǧ has three standard pronunciations: [ɡ], [ʒ] or [d͡ʒ] in accents of Modern Standard Arabic as well as varieties of Arabic today. However, it represented a palatalized voiced velar plosive, /ɡʲ/ or /ɟ/, in the Koranic Arabic. As a result, its sound does not assimilate the article and it is classified as a moon letter.
- ^ a b Abboud, Peter F. et al. (1983). Elementary Modern Standard Arabic 1. Cambridge UP. pp. 123–124. ISBN 0 521 27295 5.
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