English Transliteration of Arabic Personal Names with the Definite Article {al-} on Facebook

Arabic-English transliteration, Arabic personal names, Facebook spelling, name transliteration, transliteration competence, variant transliterations


December 22, 2022


This study aimed to explore how native speakers of Arabic transliterate first and last names containing the definite article {al-} to English on Facebook; what variations exist in transliterating the definite article itself, which is usually attached to the name in Arabic script; how Arabic speakers transliterate {al-} before sun and moon letters in their names; and which strategies they use in transliterating names with a definite article. A sample of 641 unique names with 1207 occurrences (repeats) was collected from the author’s friends’ list on Facebook. Results revealed that {al-} was used in 55% of the names; {el-} was used in 44%; reduced {l-} was used in 1% and {il-} was used in one name only. In 54% of the names, the definite article is attached to the name, with the names spelled in lowercase (الجرف Algarf, Aljarf; الشيخ Alshekh; Alsayd, Elsayed, Alqudah; Alshareef). In 15.5% of the names, the definite article is detached from the name, i.e., spelled as an independent morpheme (الجرف Al Jarf, Al Jorf, Al Jurf; القضاة Al Qudah). In 15.5% the name is spelled with a capital letter although it is attached to the definite article (الجرف AlJurf). In 13.5%, the definite article and the name are hyphenated (الجرف El-Garf, Al-Jurf). In 1%, the definite article is reduced to {l-}, i.e., the vowel in the definite article is deleted (الجرف ljarf, الأسود Lassoued , الغريب Leghrib). In addition, it was found that 40 of the name that follows the definite article begins with a sun (coronal) consonant (Al-Salem; Attaher) as opposed to 60% of the names that begin with a moon letter (Alomari, Aljarf). The study recommends a strategy for transliterating the definite article where the following name begins with a sun (coronal) letter based on the English grapheme-phoneme correspondence rules to enable non-native speakers of Arabic to pronounce the transliterated al+ noun accurately.