Arabic, arabica

coffee_potsA word which even proficient non-natives often get wrong is Arabic. They’re tempted to stress it on the middle syllable, aRAbic:

whereas the correct native pronunciation is stressed on the first syllable, Arabic /ˈarəbɪk/:

The mistake is understandable. It shows awareness that English words ending in -ic are generally stressed on the immediately preceding syllable. There are hundreds of examples, like aerobic, organic, Islamic, dramatic, Pacific, Atlantic, romantic, syllabic, historic, fantastic, athletic, strategic, authentic, metallic

Arabic is one of only a handful of exceptions with initial stress. The commoner ones are rhetoric, lunatic, politic, turmeric and heretic, plus a few names like Dominic and Ludovic. Note that these are mainly nouns, whereas in general -ic is an ending which creates adjectives: organ > organic, romance > romantic, history > historic, etc. Arabic is basically a noun referring to the language. The general adjective relating to Arabs is Arab, as in Arab world, Arab culture, etc.

The word arabica, on the other hand, is aRAbica /əˈrabɪkə/:

This is entirely consistent with the pattern that puts stress immediately before -ica. So we also get America, Antarctica, harmonica, Metallica, erotica, sciatica, basilica. Arabica is from coffea arabica, the Latin name of the Ethiopian coffee-producing plant.


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