The Qur’an consists of 114 surahs; each surah consists of a number of aayat; each aayah consists of a number of words, and each word consists of different letters. We can therefore state that the smallest unit in the make-up of the Qur’an is the letter.
Scholars studied letters from the standpoint of articulation points and characteristics of the letters when pronouncing a letter. If the Qur’an reader pronounces each letter from its proper articulation point, with all of each letter’s characteristics, and can read each letter properly alone, and in conjunction with other words, he then has achieved high quality in reading the Qur’an.
The definition of letter: It is a sound that depends on a defined part or an approximate part (of articulation).
To understand the definition of a letter we need to understand what sound is.
The Definition of sound: It is vibration and waves in the layers of air that reaches the human ears. If the air vibrates with a vibration that reaches human hearing levels, then this vibration is called sound.
Human ears hear sound in the range of 20-20,000 hertz. A hertz is vibrations per second. If the frequency of sound vibrations is higher or lower than this we cannot hear it. An example of this is ultrasound. Air vibrates normally in nature in many ways, four different ways that can produce audible waves are:
Strong collision of two bodies. An example of this is clapping of the hands.
Parting of two bodies from each other, and between them there is a strong bond. An example of this is tearing paper.
Vibration of a body. For example, a tuning fork.
Strong friction of an object on another object. This could be exemplified by dragging a heavy box on asphalt.
The Articulating Mechanism that Allah, the Exalted, Gave Humans
Human articulation uses some of the previous mentioned methods of causing sound in voweled and non-voweled letters. The following explains how the sound of the letters is formed in human articulation.
1. Non-Voweled letters
A. It occurs by the collision () of two components of the articulation parts. There is no accompanying jaw or mouth movement that occurs with voweled letters. This is for all non-voweled letters except the medd and leen letters, and the qalqalah letters. An example is . The meem occurs by collision of the two lips.
B. It occurs by vibration of the vocal cords in the throat and does not occur by a collision between two components the articulation parts. This is only for the medd and leen letters (when there is a medd leen). The medd and leen letters (when there is a medd leen) do have accompanying movement of the mouth and jaw. The lengthened alif is accompanied by the opening of the mouth. The lengthened is accompanied by a circling of the lips. The lengthened is accompanied by the lowering of the jaw. An example can be found in the two joined words or the word . The sound of the medd letters comes from vibration of the vocal cords, with the accompanying mouth and jaw movement.
The next tidbit lesson, insha’ Allah, will discuss how voweled letters are formed.