The Dark S
- s and S - Two Entirely Different Letters

There are two s sounds in Arabic - sin and sad. Sin sounds pretty much like the English s and is used in words such as sa`iid (happy), taqsim (improvisation) and salam (peace).

Sad is the dark or thick s. It is more plumy and emphatic. The tongue is against the lower palate rather than against the teeth. It is not a sound used in English - and difficult for English speakers to hear. What usually gives it away is the effect it has on the surrounding vowels - which thicken.

For instance saif (with the sin)) is pronounced "safe" but Saif (with the sad) sounds more like "soyf".

So what you ask? Well, "saif" means "sword" but "Saif" means "summer". Similarly, "sa`iidi" means my happiness, "Sa`iidi" means belonging to upper Egypt.

s's

The other place you often come across the dark s is in "raqS" - meaning "dance". With that dark s it said more like "rocks" than "rah-kks". In raqS aSSaya (cane dance) you get a double dose to get "rocks ah-sigh-yah"

References:
English-Arabic Arabic-English Concise Romanized Dictionary (2000), New York:Hippocrene Books, Inc
Wehr, H. (1994) Arabic-English Dictionary, 4th ed, Ithaca, NY: Spoken Languages Services
Wickens, G.M. (1980) Arabic Grammar - a first workbook, New York: Cambridge University Press

Article 1 - Sa`iidi      Article 3 - Reading Arabic part 1

Also see Common Arabic Words and Dance Terms
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