Why Arabic?

An Overview

The Arabic language is a Semitic language, a family of several closely related languages spoken by people in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Western Asia and the Horn of Africa. Arabic is the largest Semitic language based on number of speakers. There are 25 countries, shown below, where Arabic is an official language and over 400 million speakers worldwide. This includes speakers of Arabic living in the Arab world and in the diaspora in the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Africa. This makes Arabic an incredible opportunity to travel and to connect with people across the world.

Countries where Arabic is an official language:

  1. Algeria
  2. Bahrain
  3. Chad
  4. Comoros
  5. Djibouti
  6. Egypt
  7. Eritrea
  8. Iraq
  9. Jordan
  10. Kuwait
  11. Lebanon
  12. Libya
  13. Mauritania
  14. Morocco
  15. Oman
  16. Palestine
  17. Qatar
  18. Saudi Arabia
  19. Somalia
  20. Sudan
  21. Syria
  22. Tanzania
  23. Tunisia
  24. United Arab Emirates
  25. Yemen

The Arabic language is at least 15,000 years old. It is the official language in more than 25 countries, and there are more than 400m total speakers of the language.

 

Characteristics of Arabic

Arabic has 28 letters and is written from right to left. Each letter has an initial, medial, and final position which take different forms. Arabic does not have capital letters like English.

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History of Arabic
History of Arabic

What are the historical origins of the Arabic writing system? Click to examine the link between earlier alphabets and how they developed into the Arabic alphabet we know today.

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Instructor demonstrating Arabic script
Script

How did earlier alphabets develop into the Arabic alphabet we know today? How do other languages from completely different language families use the Arabic alphabet as their primary writing system?

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Infographic: Arabic sounds
Sound

The Arabic language has 28 specific phonemes, which are the building blocks of any Arabic word. In Arabic, unlike other languages such as English or French, each phoneme matches with a specific letter.

In the United States, more than 1m Americans speak Arabic at home, yet only 1% of students study Arabic.

 
Types of Arabic map
Types of Arabic
CLASSICAL/QURANIC ARABIC icon
CLASSICAL/QURANIC ARABIC
Classical Arabic is the language of the Holy Qur’an and was the literary form of the northern dialects of Arabia between 7th century AD until the 9th century AD.
MODERN STANDARD ARABIC icon
MODERN STANDARD ARABIC
Modern Standard Arabic is the highly codified and standardized form of the language. It is used in formal writings and formal spoken situations such as newspapers, media, and even cartoons for Arabic-speaking children across the Arab World.
DIALECTS icon
DIALECTS
The dialects are the spoken variant of the language used in everyday, ordinary conversation. They differ greatly between countries, and sometimes within countries. Arabic dialects do not have a standardized system of grammar and spelling.

List of Arabic Dialects

Maghrebi

Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya

North African dialects are often grouped as Maghrebi, but each country has a variety of distinct dialects between countries and within countries. The Maghrebi dialect is particularly distinct from other dialects in the Arab world due to the influence of Tamazight (the indigenous language of North Africa), the strategic location of these countries on the Mediterranean sea, where trade with European countries also led to significant language exchange, and French colonization. For instance, the Arabic dialect in Morocco, referred to as Darija, has varying influences from French, Tamazight, and Spanish depending on the area of the country and the extent of foreign influence.

Egyptian

Egypt

The Egyptian dialect, referred to as Masri, is considered one of the most widely understood dialects in the region due to the massive production of Egyptian films, television shows, and music in the twentieth century. There is still a wide variety of regional variation within Egypt, especially in southern Egypt where the Sai’di dialect is prevalant. Egyptian Arabic has also has significant influence from the Coptic language, which was widely spoken in Egypt until the 19th century. There are also loan words from English, French, Italian, and Latin. Egyptian dialect is particularly distinct due to the pronunciation of the ‘J’ sound as a ‘G’.

Levantine

Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine

Levantine Arabic across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine are very closely related but still vary greatly between cities and even villages. Arabic in this region slowly replaced indigenous Semitic languages, particularly Aramaic, in the 7th century. Levantine, much like Egyptian, is widely understood in the region due to popular media. There are several loan words from Turkish, due to the lasting impact of the Ottoman empire, as well as French and English after respective periods of influence in the region.

Hassaniya

Mauritania, Southern Morocco/Western Sahara, South Western Algeria

Hassaniya is a dialect of Arabic largely spoken by the Sahrawi people, who also often speak Tamzaight, Darija, and to a lesser degree Spanish due to previous colonization.

Gulf

Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain

Gulf dialects, referred to as Khaliji, are often mutually intelligible across other Gulf states but may be less intelligible for Arabs from other areas. In Saudi Arabia the Hejazi dialect is common.

Iraqi

This dialect, often referred to as Mesopotamian Arabic, spans across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Sudanese

Sudanese Arabic is similar to the central and southern dialect in Egypt, called Saidi Arabic, due to proximity. There was significant mixing between the original Nubian language and Arabic, as well as several European languages and Turkish. Therefore, the dialect is a representation of way African, Arab, and colonial influences impacted Sudan. Juba Arabic is a form of Arab creole further derived from Sudanese Arabic and is widely spoken in South Sudan as a distinct dialect.