Arabic phonology has several distinguishing features to it, most notably:
- The lack of the /p/ and /v/ sounds, replacing them with [b], often causing an agreement in voicingnote and [f] (realization as [v] is more common these days, though) respectively in loanwords.
- Examples: pronouncing ‘special’ as ‘i-zbecial’ (see below for that extra ‘i’), pronouncing ‘very’ as ‘ferry’.
- Abundance of pharyngealized consonants, even in some Western loanwords.
- Example: borrowing English ‘bus’ as باص [bʌːsˤ].note note
- Lack of word-initial consonant clusters, adding an epenthetic [i] in the beginning of the word.note
- Example: pronouncing ‘stone’ as ‘i-stone’.
- Lack of phonemic distinction between /e(ː)/ and /i(ː)/ and between /o(ː)/ and /u(ː)/,note i.e. no distinction between ‘ooh’ and ‘oh’. note
- Example: mixing up ‘salon’ and ‘saloon’ (see Real Life below).
These features are often exploited for the sake of comedy, as a Shibboleth, or for any other reason, and often appear in Funetik Aksent. Due to historic reasons, this appears nowadays quite often in, say, Israeli works,note but not so much in Western ones.
While this is certainly Truth in Television to some extent, this trope is averted in Real Life by some Arabic speakers who do pronounce both /p/ and /v/ in loanwords, either consistently or interchangeably with /b/ and /f/, and represent these phonemes orthographically, using the Persian letter ﭖ for /p/ and the adapted letter ڤ for /v/ instead of the Arabic ب for /b/ and ف for /f/. Enforced by purists who claim that these letters are ‘not Arabic’ and played straight when loanwords become naturalized in the language. Similarly, the /g/ phoneme (the "g" in "get") is often transcribed using other ‘adapted’ letters, depending on the dialect However, this varies as some Arabic dialects have the phoneme natively (Egyptian being the most for it).
Note that this trope often does not appear as a feature of Qurac, probably because people who are familiar with this are acquainted enough with Arabic culture to avoid the Qurac portrayal in the first place.
See Arabic Language for more on Arabic in general.
Due of its nature, this trope is mostly exclusive from Western, African and Middle-Eastern countries. Countries outside those regions (like Japan, South Korea, China, etc) has their own ways to stereotype Arabic language or sometimes they avoid this trope altogether.
- Jeff Dunham had Achmed the Dead Terrorist try to teach him to pronounce his name. Amusingly, not even Achmed himself pronounces the voiceless pharyngeal fricative properly. This makes sense, given that he was made in China.
- Israeli actor and comedian Shaike Ofir appeared in a skit in which he played an Arabic teacher of English, speaking with a thick Arabic accent, and telling the students the story of Hamlet.
Teacher: He was a brince, ya‘ani ibn malikArabic [that is, a king’s son]. ‘Brince’? Uh, B-R-I-N-C-E. WallakArabic [Oh come on], not B, I said ‘B’! Not B like ‘butter’, but B like ‘beoble’!
- The eponymous band in The Band's Visit are supposed to perform at Petakh Tikva. The problem is, the kh-sound (/χ/) is officially transcribed as <h>, and the band leader, being from Egypt, mispronounces the /p/ when asking how to get there, and so they wind up in the (fictional) town of Bet haTikva.
- Bizarrely averted in You Don't Mess with the Zohan, in which Hebrew sounds more like Yiddish and has random kh-sounds thrown in at random (Zohan claims he’s from ‘Khaustralia’), and, while a handful of Arabic and Hebrew dialogue shows up in the film, the fake Arabic sounds somewhat like Yiddish too (e.g. the Phantom’s ‘muchentuchen’).
- A woman who had just cried comes to a kiosk vendor and asks for some juice. The vendor asks, ‘Bakhit?’Hebrew (‘Were you crying?’ in Hebrew) She answers that it’s none of his damn business and that he should just give her the damn juice, so he says, ‘But, ma’am, I have to know: bakhit [sounds like Hebrew pakhítHebrew , ‘can’] or bottle?’
- An Arab comes to audition for a modelling agency. The interviewer asks, ‘‘Asíta buk?’Hebrew (‘Have you prepared a modelling portfolio?’) The man is startled and asks, ‘Why, can you smell it?’ (The joke here being that asita buk, from English book, sounds like asita pukHebrew , ‘Did you cut the cheese?’)
- Israeli writer Dan ben Amotz published a book of short stories named Abu Nimer Stories (link in Hebrew) he claimed to have heard from an old Arab storyteller from Jaffa, written entirely in Arabic Funetik Aksent with the occasional Arabic phrase thrown in. Ben Amotz explained that he did it to celebrate this vibrant ethnolect in opposition to its official suppression.
- Etgar Keret (of Wristcutters: A Love Story fame) once wrote a short story told in the first person by a man serving at the Border Patrol and enduring repeated insults by a young Palestinian. The Palestinian speaks with a thick Arabic accent, which is very prominent in the script both in the original and the English translation.
Palestinian: Zbecial Forces cocksucker!
- In the Discworld novel Jingo, Klatchians are given prominence as the Discworld reference for all things vaguely Arabic and Middle-Eastern. Native ‘Klatchian’-speakers speaking ‘Morporkian’ are distinguished by exaggerated guttural back-of-the-throat sounds breaking into their speech (similarly to the Arabic pharyngealized consonants), together with a take on the stereotypical formal ‘Effendi’ — only in Pratchett's world, this comes out as Offendi.
- In A. B. Yehoshua’s The Lover, the Arab boy Na‘īm speaks Hebrew with clear Arabic influences. While the text doesn’t use Funetik Aksent, it’s quite obvious he doesn’t pass as Jewish when he tries to buy pajamas and claim his parents are from Poland (it’s implied that this trope is in full effect, since ‘Poland’ and ‘pajamas’ are both loanwords in Hebrew), and the salesman treats him with derision and sells him terribly tacky pajamas, partially because Arabs have terrible taste, according to an Israeli stereotype.
- In The Throne of Fire, Sadie and Walt come across an oasis in an Egyptian desert while looking for clues regarding how to find Ra and find an ad for Pepsi, except that it, to Sadie’s amusement, is spelled ‘Bebsi’.
Sadie: So we have to drink Bebsi after eating Bizza?
- In episode 8 on season 3 ‘The One from the Online Comment’ of the Israeli sitcom Naor’s Friends, the eponymous main protagonist’s friend Mali got a job teaching Palestinian collaborators and would-be Jewish converts to pronounce the Hebrew /p/ sound properly to fit in better in Israeli society, to help with their conversion process.
- The Israeli skit show Ktzarim featured this twice:
- In a skit in which a group of musicians, who said they sing ‘classical music’, turn out to sing old Israeli songs instead. Near the end of the skit, their leader tells the woman who hired them that for her, ‘Bach’ might be a great composer, but for them, it’s where Arabs throw away their trash (pakhHebrew being the Hebrew word for trash can).
- Another skit had a group of decoders in the intelligence trying to decode a message using various methods such as counting every third letter and substituting letters, none of which yield anything. Finally their commander is frustrated and reads the message aloud—it turns out to be a clear threat to bomb a certain place at a certain time, but written in an Arabic Funetik Aksent. Everyone is still in the dark, even after that.
- Another Israeli skit show, The Chamber Quintet, featured this skit, in which an armchair racist visits his Arab grocer after a bloody terrorist attack and insults Arabs crudely, saying they should all be massacred, somehow missing the fact that the grocer is an Arab, despite his thick accent. After he apologizes profusely, saying that he wasn’t thinking straight because of the bombing, he asks for some potatoes, and the grocer goes back to get him some; while he does, the customer urinates in the grocer’s pickle barrel (while still apologizing); meanwhile, the grocer urinates into the bag of potatoes, passing it off as the fresh dew from the fields. Once the customer leaves, the grocer calls his wife and asks her to throw away the pickles, saying, ‘That pissing arsehole was here again.’ He pronounces the Hebrew word for ‘piss’, pipi,Hebrew note with a clear /p/, but this trope is often played straight in people’s recollection, adding another layer of humor—bibi is a common nickname for the right-wing politician Benjamin Netanyahu, deeply resented in the left (among other things) for his amiable attitude towards xenophobic nationalists (the skit aired relatively shortly after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzkhak Rabin, which Netanyahu has been accused of promoting).
- The Daily Show had Jessica Williams tell Jon in this skit about the dangers of the new terrorist groups, ‘Al-Kil Ya'al’ and ‘Al-Fa'ak Yu'ap’. The resemblance to Arabic phonology is clearly somewhat shallow, though.
- Israeli satire show Eretz Nehederet’s impression of Muhammad Abu Tir occasionally used this trope. He was portrayed as trying to re-brand Hamas as a cool organisation mostly into partying to lure Israelis into the Palestinian Territories, and at one point he gave the show’s host a flyer for a ‘party’ he was supposedly throwing. The host read the flyer as ‘mesiba lebanim’Hebrew (‘a party for boys’), but Abu Tir explained it says ‘mesiba labanim’ (misspelling/pronouncing Hebrew mesiba lapanim, ‘kickass party’).
- Israeli newspaper Yedi‘ot Akhronot’s weekend extra 7Days has a column featuring WhatsApp group conversations among a kindergarten teacher and the parents of the children she teaches. The 2015-04-09 column dealt with a child using foul language at another over losing a competition they had in kindergarten and how to explain to the kids what the foul language means. One of the mothers mentioned having to explain to her daughter what kus emek (Arabic for ‘your mum’s cunt’; regarded as far milder in Hebrewnote ) meant. She said it referred to ‘mummy’s כוס’, creating some shock and confusion, until she clarified she was referring to her kosnote , ‘cup’, as in her morning cup of coffee. When asked how she explained the different vowel, she said, ‘That’s how it is in Arabic and they invented coffee.’
- Parparím meparperímHebrew , (slightly non-standard)note Hebrew for ‘fluttering butterflies’, used to be a common Shibboleth used by the IDF. Conveniently, Barbarím mebarberimHebrew is (slightly corruptednote ) Hebrew for ‘babbling barbarians’.
- In 2007, an e-mail asking people to wear a black shirt on a particular date to show solidarity with kidnapped soldier Gil‘ad Shalit went viral in Israel. It turned out to be a trick to fool Israeli Jews into participating in the Nakba Day unwittingly. One of the things that made it clear was that it was a trick was that the writer of the e-mail mixed up /p/’s and /b/’s on occasion.
- Some Hebrew signs in Arab towns and villages in Israel often fall victim to this (for instance, advertising ‘combuters’ or Bikachu’), prompting a lot of sniggering from Hebrew-speaking Israelis.
- The Israeli Authority for the Development of the Galilee launched the Kfar Bikártem program, meant to encourage Israelis to visit Circassian and Druze villages in northern Israel. The name is a pun on kfarHebrew (‘village’) and Kvar bikartem?Hebrew (‘Have you visited already?’) The Circassians do have their own language, but they also speak Arabic, and the Druze speak Arabic among themselves, so the name given to the program comes across as using this trope.
- Google ‘Arablish’, and most results you find of mistakes in English based on phonological differences will be mistaking ‘salon’, a word which has been borrowed into Arabic as صالون /sˤaːluːn/, for ‘saloon’.
- During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas released a Hebrew version of their popular propaganda song titled ‘Rock the Security of Israel’. The song was performed with a thick Arabic accent and used some very awkward and poorly used flowery language, making this incredibly Narmy song ripe for mockery in Israel. It became popularly known as Tkof Ta‘asé Bigu‘ím ‘Attack Do Terrorist Attacks [sic]’, mocking the singers’ accent (the Hebrew word for ‘terrorist attacks’ is pigu‘imHebrew ), to the point that Reshet referred to it by that name when reporting about another incredibly Narmy propaganda song, ‘We Shall Take the Zionists to the Gallows’, on their YouTube channel.
- Israeli students of Arabic are usually very surprised to learn that Arabic has ‘only three vowels’. Expect to hear about it from any student with mild enthusiasm about the subject.
- Inverted in Cypriot Maronite Arabic, a moribund dialect of Arabic spoken by Arab Maronites in Cyprus. In this dialect, /b/ and /d/ turned into their voiceless counterparts, /p/ and /t/ respectively, e.g. ‘tomorrow’ is bukratanArabic in Modern Standard Arabic, turned bukranote in Levantine and Egyptian Arabic, and pukra in CMA, and most pharyngealised consonants merged into non-pharyngealised consonants (e.g. /q/ merging into /k/), leaving only the voiced pharyngeal fricative.
- Anat Berko, a Member of the Knesset for the Likud (centre-right party), made a jab at the Palestinian historic narrative by pointing out that Arabic doesn’t have a /p/-sound, indicating just how foreign the name ‘Palestine’ is. Despite maintaining this does not diminish the fact that there are Palestinians now and Jews have to learn to get along with them, she was met with harsh criticism—MK Tamar Zandberg from the leftist party Meretz, retorted, ‘Do you have no brain?’ and the Arab MKs left the room in protest.
- Lead to the arrest of an Iraqi man flying with his mother out of O'Hare when a TSA screener pulled a penis pump from his bag. Asked about what it was, he whispered that it was a pump. Unfortunately, due to this trope, the screener thought he said it was a bomb.