Arabic language

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{{Infobox Language |name=Arabic |nativename=العربية Template:ArabDIN |pronunciation=/alˌʕa.raˈbij.ja/ |caption=al-‘Arabīyyah in written Arabic |image=Image:Arabic Text.png |states=Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), Western Sahara (SADR), Yemen by a majority, and in many other countries, such as Israel, as a minority language. |region=Arab world. |speakers=206 million (Ethnologue, native speakers of all dialects 1998 est.); 286 million (population of Arab countries, CIA World Factbook 2004 est.), excluding Arab minorities in other countries and bilingual speakers |rank=5 (by first language); slightly before Portuguese and Bengali |familycolor=Afro-Asiatic |fam2=Semitic |fam3=West Semitic |fam4=Central Semitic |script=Arabic alphabet |nation=Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Western Sahara (SADR), Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen;
A national language of: Mali, Senegal (Hassaniya).
International organizations: United Nations, Arab League, Organization of Islamic Conference, African Union |agency=Egypt: Academy of the Arabic Language |iso1=ar|iso2=ara |lc1=ara|ld1=Arabic (generic)
see varieties of Arabic for the individual codes|ll1=none}}

The Arabic language (Template:ArB Template:ArTranslit), or simply Arabic (Template:ArB Template:ArTranslit), is the largest member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family (classification: South Central Semitic) and is closely related to Hebrew and Aramaic. It is spoken throughout the Arab world and is widely studied and known throughout the Islamic world. Arabic has been a literary language since at least the 6th century and is the liturgical language of Islam.

Quite a few English words are ultimately derived from Arabic, often through other European languages, especially Spanish, among them every-day vocabulary like "sugar" (sukkar), "cotton" (quṭūn) or "magazine" ([[makhzen|Template:ArabDIN]]). More recognizable are words like "algebra", "alcohol" and "zenith" (see list of English words of Arabic origin).


Literary and Modern Standard Arabic

The term "Arabic" may refer either to literary Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic or to the many localized varieties of Arabic commonly called "colloquial Arabic." Arabs consider literary Arabic as the standard language and tend to view everything else as mere dialects. Literary Arabic (Template:ArB translit: al-lughatu’l-‘arabīyyatu’l-fuṣḥā "the most eloquent Arabic language"), refers both to the language of present-day media across North Africa and the Middle East and to the more articulate language of the Qur'an. (The expression media here includes most television and radio, and all written matter, including all books, newspapers, magazines, documents of every kind, and reading primers for small children.) "Colloquial" or "dialectal" Arabic refers to the many national or regional varieties derived from Classical Arabic, spoken daily across North Africa and the Middle East, which constitute the everyday spoken language. These sometimes differ enough to be mutually incomprehensible. These dialects are not typically written, although a certain amount of literature (particularly plays and poetry) exists in many of them. They are often used to varying degrees in informal spoken media, such as soap operas and talk shows. Literary Arabic or classical Arabic is the official language of all Arab countries and is the only form of Arabic taught in schools at all stages.

The sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in modern times provides a prime example of the linguistic phenomenon of diglossia–the normal use of two separate varieties of the same language, usually in different social situations. In the case of Arabic, educated Arabs of any nationality can be assumed to speak both their local dialect and their school-taught literary Arabic (to an equal or lesser degree). This diglossic situation facilitates code switching in which a speaker switches back and forth unaware between the two varieties of the language, sometimes even within the same sentence. In instances in which Arabs of different nationalities engage in conversation only to find their dialects mutually unintelligible (e.g. a Moroccan speaking with a Lebanese), both should be able to code switch into Literary Arabic for the sake of communication.

Since the written Arabic of today differs from the written Arabic of the Qur'anic era, it has become customary in western scholarship and among non-Arab scholars of Arabic to refer to the language of the Qur'an as Classical Arabic and the modern language of the media and of formal speech as Modern Standard Arabic. Arabs, on the other hand, often use the term fuṣḥā to refer to both forms, thus placing greater emphasis on the similarities between the two. The difference between Arabic of the Qur'anic era and today's Classical Arabic is only in the degree of eloquence. The vocabulary and syntactic and grammatical rules are the same.

Arabic and Islam

It is sometimes difficult to translate Islamic concepts, and concepts specific to Arab culture, without using the original Arabic terminology. The Qur'an is expressed in Arabic and traditionally Muslims deem it impossible to translate in a way that would adequately reflect its exact meaning—indeed, until recently, some schools of thought maintained that it should not be translated at all. A list of Islamic terms in Arabic covers those terms which are too specific to translate in one phrase. While Arabic is strongly associated with Islam (and is the language of salah), it is also spoken by Arab Christians, Oriental (Mizraḥi) Jews, and smaller sects such as Iraqi Mandaeans. Even so, a majority of the world's Muslims do not actually speak Arabic, but only know some fixed phrases of the language, such as those used in Islamic prayer. However, to counteract this trend, non-Arabic-speaking Muslims are strongly encouraged to learn the language.

Classification and related languages

Maltese, which is spoken on the Mediterranean island of Malta, is the only surviving language to derive primarily from Arabic, though it contains a large number of Italian and English borrowings.


See varieties of Arabic for main article

"Colloquial Arabic" is a collective term for the spoken languages or dialects of people throughout the Arab world, which, as mentioned, differ radically from the literary language. The main dialectal division is between the Maghreb dialects and those of the Middle East, followed by that between sedentary dialects and the much more conservative Bedouin dialects. Maltese is the only Arabic dialect which is considered as an official language. Speakers of some of these dialects are unable to converse with speakers of another dialect of Arabic; in particular, while Middle Easterners can generally understand one another, they often have trouble understanding Maghrebis (although the converse is not true, due to the popularity of Middle Eastern—especially Egyptian—films and other media).

One factor in the differentiation of the dialects is influence from the languages previously spoken in the areas, which have typically provided a significant number of new words, and have sometimes also influenced pronunciation or word order; however, a much more significant factor for most dialects is, as among Romance languages, retention (or change of meaning) of different classical forms. Thus Iraqi aku, Levantine fīh, and North African kayen all mean "there is", and all come from Arabic (yakūn, fīhi, kā'in respectively), but now sound very different.

The major groups are:

Other varieties include:


Template:IPA notice The phonemes below reflect the pronunciation of Standard Arabic.


Arabic has three vowels, with their long forms, plus two diphthongs: a Template:IPA (open e as in English bed, but centralised), i Template:IPA, u Template:IPA; ā Template:IPA, ī Template:IPA, ū Template:IPA; ai (ay) Template:IPA, au (aw) Template:IPA. Allophonically, after velarized consonants (see following), the vowel a is pronounced Template:IPA, ā as Template:IPA (thus also after r), ai as Template:IPA and au as Template:IPA.


Standard Arabic consonant phonemes</CAPTION>
  Bilabial Inter-dental Dental Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyn-
 plain  emphatic
Stop voiceless     Template:IPA Template:IPA     Template:IPA Template:IPA   Template:IPA
voiced Template:IPA   Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA¹          
Fricative voiceless Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA   Template:IPA   Template:IPA Template:IPA
voiced   Template:IPA Template:IPA Template:IPA     Template:IPA   Template:IPA  
Nasal Template:IPA   Template:IPA              
Lateral     Template:IPA ²          
Trill     Template:IPA              
Approximant Template:IPA         Template:IPA        

See Arabic alphabet for explanations on the IPA phonetic symbols found in this chart.

  1. Template:IPA is pronounced as Template:IPA by some speakers. This is especially characteristic of the Egyptian and southern Yemeni dialects. In many parts of North Africa and in the Levant, it is pronounced as Template:IPA.
  2. Template:IPA is pronounced Template:IPA only in Template:IPA, the name of God, i.e. Allah, when the word follows a, ā, u or ū (after i or ī it is unvelarised: bismi l-lāh Template:IPA).
  3. Template:IPA is usually a phonetic approximant.
  4. In many varieties, Template:IPA are actually epiglottal Template:IPA (despite what is reported in many earlier works).

The consonants traditionally termed "emphatic" Template:IPA are either velarised Template:IPA or pharyngealised Template:IPA. In some transcription systems, emphasis is shown by capitalizing the letter e.g. Template:IPA is written ‹D›; in others the letter is underlined or has a dot below it e.g. ‹›.

Vowels and consonants can be (phonologically) short or long. Long (geminate) consonants are normally written doubled in Latin transcription (i.e. bb, dd, etc.), reflecting the presence of the Arabic diacritic mark shaddah, which marks lengthened consonants. Such consonants are held twice as long as short consonants. This consonant lengthening is phonemically contrastive: e.g. qabala "he received" and qabbala "he kissed".

Syllable structure

Arabic has two kinds of syllables: open syllables (CV) and (CVV) - and closed syllables (CVC), (CVVC) and (CVCC). Every syllable begins with a consonant - or else a consonant is borrowed from a previous word through elision – especially in the case of the definite article THE, al (used when starting an utterance) or _l (when following a word), e.g. baytu –l mudiir “house (of) the director”, which becomes bay-tul-mu-diir when divided syllabically. By itself, definite mudiir would be pronounced Template:IPA.


Although word stress is not phonemically contrastive in Standard Arabic, it does bear a strong relationship to vowel length and syllable shape, and correct word stress aids intelligibility. In general, "heavy" syllables attract stress (i.e. syllables of longer duration - a closed syllable or a syllable with a long vowel). In a word with a syllable with one long vowel, the long vowel attracts the stress (e.g. ki-'taab and ‘kaa-tib). In a word with two long vowels, the second long vowel attracts stress ('tiib). In a word with a "heavy" syllable where two consonants occur together or the same consonant is doubled, the (last) heavy syllable attracts stress (e.g. ya-ma-’niyy, ka-'tabt, ka-‘tab-na, ma-‘jal-lah, ‘mad-ra-sah, yur-‘sil-na). This last rule trumps the first two: ja-zaa-ʔi-‘riyy. Otherwise, word stress typically falls on the first syllable: ‘ya-man, ‘ka-ta-bat, etc. The Cairo (Egyptian Arabic) dialect, however, has some idiosyncrasies in that a heavy syllable may not carry stress more than two syllables from the end of a word, so that mad-‘ra-sah carries the stress on the second-to-last syllable, as does qaa-‘hi-rah.

Dialectal variations

In some dialects, there may be more or fewer phonemes than those listed in the chart above. For example, non-Arabic Template:IPA is used in the Maghreb dialects as well in the written language mostly for foreign names. Semitic Template:IPA became Template:IPA extremely early on in Arabic before it was written down; a few modern Arabic dialects, such as Iraqi (influenced by Persian) distinguish between Template:IPA and Template:IPA. Interdental fricatives (Template:IPA and Template:IPA) are rendered as stops Template:IPA and Template:IPA in some dialects (principally Levantine and Egyptian) and as Template:IPA and Template:IPA in "learned" words from the Standard language. Early in the expansion of Arabic, the separate emphatic phonemes Template:IPA and Template:IPA coallesced into a single phoneme, becoming one or the other. Predictably, dialects without interdental fricatives use Template:IPA exclusively, while those with such fricatives use Template:IPA. Again, in "learned" words from the Standard language, Template:IPA is rendered as Template:IPA in dialects without interdental fricatives. Another key distinguishing mark of Arabic dialects is how they render Standard Template:IPA (a voiceless uvular stop): it retains its original pronunciation in widely scattered regions such as Yemen and Morocco (and among the Druze), while it is rendered Template:IPA in Gulf Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Upper Egypt and less urban parts of the Levant (e.g. Jordan) and as a glottal stop Template:IPA in many prestige dialects, such as those spoken in Cairo, Beirut and Damascus. Additionally, confessional differences may sometimes be distinguished: in the case of Template:IPA, some traditionally Christian villages in rural areas of the Levant render the sound as Template:IPA. Thus, Arabs instantly give away their geographical (and class) origin by their pronunciation of a word such as qamar "moon": Template:IPA, Template:IPA, Template:IPA or Template:IPA.


See Arabic grammar

Writing system

Main article: Arabic alphabet

The Arabic alphabet derives from the Aramaic script (which variety - Nabataean or Syriac - is a matter of scholarly dispute), to which it bears a loose resemblance like that of Coptic or Cyrillic script to Greek script. Traditionally, there were several differences between the Western (Maghrebi) and Eastern version of the alphabet—in particular, the fa and qaf had a dot underneath and a single dot above respectively in the Maghreb, and the order of the letters was slightly different (at least when they were used as numerals). However, the old Maghrebi variant has been abandoned except for calligraphic purposes in the Maghreb itself, and remains in use mainly in the Quranic schools (zaouias) of West Africa. Arabic, like other Semitic languages, is written from right to left.


See Arabic calligraphy for a fuller overview.

After the definitive fixing of the Arabic script around 786, by Khalil ibn Ahmad al Farahidi, many styles were developed, both for the writing down of the Qur'an and other books, and for inscriptions on monuments as decoration.

Arabic calligraphy has not fallen out of use as in the Western world, and is still considered by Arabs as a major art form; calligraphers are held in great esteem. Being cursive by nature, unlike the Latin alphabet, Arabic script is used to write down a verse of the Qur'an, a Hadith, or simply a proverb, in a spectacular composition. The composition is often abstract, but sometimes the writing is shaped into an actual form such as that of an animal. Two of the current masters of the genre are Hassan Massoudy and Khaled Al Saa’i.


See Arabic transliteration and Arabic Chat Alphabet for more information.

There are a number of different standards of Arabic transliteration: methods of accurately and efficiently representing Arabic with the Latin alphabet. The more scientific standards allow the reader to recreate the exact word using the Arabic alphabet. However, these systems are heavily reliant on diacritical marks such as "š" for the English sh sound. At first sight, this may be difficult to recognize. Less scientific, systems often use digraphs (like sh and kh), which are usually more simple to read, but sacrifice the definiteness of the scientific systems. In some cases, the sh or kh sounds can be represented by italicizing or underlining them -- that way, they can be distinguished from separate s and h sounds or k and h sounds, respectively. (Compare gashouse to gash.)

During the last few decades and especially since the 1990s, Western-invented text communication technologies have become prevalent in the Arab world, such as personal computers, the World Wide Web, email, Bulletin board systems, IRC, instant messaging and mobile phone text messaging. Most of these technologies originally had the ability to communicate using the Latin alphabet only, and some of them still do not have the Arabic alphabet as an optional feature. As a result, Arabic speaking users communicated in these technologies by transliterating the Arabic text using the Latin script, sometime known as IM Arabic.

To handle those Arabic letters that cannot be accurately represented using the Latin script, numerals and other characters were appropriated. For example, the numeral "3" may be used to represent the Arabic letter "ع", ayn. There is no universal name for this type of transliteration, but some have named it Arabic Chat Alphabet. Other systems of transliteration exist, such as using dots or capitalization to represent the "emphatic" counterparts of certain consonants. For instance, using capitalization, the letter "د", or daal, may be represented by d. Its emphatic counterpart, "ض", may be written as D.


  • Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Language, Edinburgh University Press (1997). [1] [2] [3] [4]
  • Mumisa, Michael, Introducing Arabic, Goodword Books (2003).

See also

External links


Web references and examples:

Arabic languages samples:

ang:Arabisc sprǣc ar:لغة عربية ast:Idioma Árabe bg:Арабски език bs:Arapski jezik ca:Llengua àrab cs:Arabština cy:Arabeg da:Arabisk de:Arabische Sprache el:Αραβική γλώσσα eo:Araba lingvo es:Idioma árabe et:Araabia keel eu:Arabiera fa:عربی fi:Arabian kieli fr:Arabe fy:Arabysk ga:Araibis gl:Lingua árabe haw:ʻŌlelo ʻAlapia he:ערבית hi:अरबी भाषा hr:Arapski jezik hu:Arab nyelv ia:Lingua arabe id:Bahasa Arab io:Arabiana linguo is:Arabíska it:Lingua araba ja:アラビア語 ka:არაბული ენა kn:ಅರಬ್ಬೀ ಭಾಷೆ ko:아랍어 kw:Arabek la:Lingua Arabica li:Arabisch lt:Arabų kalba lv:Arābu valoda mk:Арапски јазик ms:Bahasa Arab nds:Araabsche Spraak nl:Arabisch nn:Arabisk språk no:Arabisk språk pl:Język arabski pt:Língua árabe ro:Limba arabă ru:Арабский язык sh:Arapski jezik simple:Arabic language sk:Arabčina sl:Arabščina sr:Арапски језик sv:Arabiska sw:Kiarabu th:ภาษาอาหรับ tl:Wikang Arabo tr:Arapça tt:Ğäräp tele uk:Арабська мова vi:Tiếng Ả Rập zh:阿拉伯语