|Phonemic representation ðˤ (zˤ, dˤ)|
Numerical value 900
|Position in alphabet 27|
Ẓāʾ, or ḏ̣āʾ (ظ), is one of the six letters the Arabic alphabet added to the twenty-two inherited from the Phoenician alphabet (the others being ṯāʾ, ḫāʾ, ḏāl, ḍād, ġayn). In name and shape, it is a variant of ṭāʾ. Its numerical Ww value is 900 (see Abjad numerals). The Arabic letter <ظ> Ẓāʾ is written in several ways depending on its position in the word:
In Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic it represents a pharyngealized or velarized voiced dental fricative [ðˤ] or [ðˠ]. It is acceptable to pronounce it as a pharyngealized or velarized voiced alveolar fricative [zˤ] or [zˠ].
In most Arabic vernaculars ظ ẓāʾ and ض ḍād have been merged quite early. The outcome depends on the dialect. In those varieties (such as Egyptian and Levantine), where the dental fricatives /θ, ð/ are merged with the dental stops /t, d/, both ḍād and ẓāʾ are pronounced /dˤ/; in the varieties (such as Bedouin and Iraqi), where the dental fricatives are preserved, both the letters are pronounced /ðˤ/. However, there are dialects in South Arabia and in Mauritania where both the letters are kept different. In loanwords from Classical Arabic ẓāʾ is often /zˤ/, e.g. Egyptian ʿaẓīm (< Classical عظيم ʿaḏ̣īm) "great".
"De-emphaticized" pronunciation of the both letters in the form of the plain /z/ entered into other non-Arabic languages such as Persian, Urdu, Turkish. However, there do exist Arabic borrowings into Ibero-Romance languages as well as Hausa and Malay, where ḍād and ẓāʾ are differentiated.
Ẓāʾ is the rarest phoneme of the Arabic language. Out of 2,967 triliteral roots listed by Hans Wehr in his 1952 dictionary, only 42 (1.4%) contain ظ.
In other Semitic languages
In some reconstructions of Proto-Semitic phonology, there is an emphatic interdental fricative, ṱ ([θˤ] or [ðˤ]), featuring as the direct ancestor of Arabic ẓāʾ, while it merged with ṣ in most other Semitic languages, although the South Arabian alphabet retained a symbol for ẓ.
Writing in the Hebrew alphabet
When representing this sound in transliteration of Arabic into Hebrew, it is written as ט׳.