Arabic language, or al Arabiya Arabic, is a Semitic language, a branch of the Afroasiatic language family, which originated in the Middle East. It first emerged in the 1st to 4th centuries CE. Given the relationship between the Arabic language and other Semitic languages, Modern Arabic is considered part of the Arabic-Canaanite branch of the main group of West Semitic languages.
Named after the Arabs, a term used to describe peoples residing in the transcontinental region in Afro-Eurasia, Arabic, both in its spoken and written form, is now the lingua franca of the Arab world, currently known as the MENA Region.
How Many People Speak Arabic?
Arabic language or al Arabiya Arabic, along with its varieties and dialects, are spoken by more than 422 million native and non-native speakers in the MENA region, together with the Arab diaspora scattered worldwide, making it one of the five most spoken languages in the world.
Arabic is the official language of 26 states namely, Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, occupied Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Western Sahara, Somaliland, and Zanzibar. Arabic is also the language of minorities in Cyprus, Eritrea, Iran, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Turkey. In countries like Pakistan and Philippines, Arabic has a special status in their constitution.
Most importantly, Arabic, and precisely Classical Arabic (CA), is the liturgical language of 1.8 Billion Muslims worldwide and the language of Allah and Muhammad, being the language of the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. That’s why Muslims all over the world revere the Arabic language as the language of the Holy Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an has preserved Arabic language in its purest form, describing it as “the clear Arabic book”.
Although Arabic or al Arabiya Arabic has many varieties and dialects, the Modern Standard Arabic is the only formal written form of the language used and totally understood in the MENA region. Modern Standard Arabic is also known as Literary Arabic, which is actually the modernized Classical Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is slightly different from Classical Arabic (CA). In terms of linguistic structure, MSA and CA are largely, but not completely similar.
At present, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language used throughout the Arab world, and its written form is relatively consistent across all the national borders. MSA is used in official documents, educational institutions, and formal correspondence and communication between Arabs of different nationalities.
Dialects, on the other hand, are used in everyday life and more informal situations, such as at home, with friends, or when shopping. However, the colloquial Arabic, which is the collective term for the spoken dialects of Arabic used throughout the MENA Region, differ radically from the literary language. These dialects also widely vary as each Arab country has its own dialect and even within the same country there are many dialects.
Of all the dialects used, the Egyptian dialect in all its varieties is the most widely understood, due to Egypt’s role as a major producer of films and television programs in the Arab world. For example, the Egyptian Arabic, or colloquial Egyptian (العامية المصرية), which is the vernacular Arabic dialect of Egypt, has the Saidi, Port Saidi, Iskandrani, Nubi, Bedawi, and Sinawi dialects just to name a few. Of course, you don’t have to know all these dialects to speak Arabic. But if you speak MSA, you’ll be good to go anywhere in Egypt and the entire MENA Region.
Wikipedia addresses the MENA Region demographics in detail, listing Arab countries whose formal language is Arabic and countries where Arabic is a de facto language.
Arabic Language Population In Million
Worldwide Muslim Population In Billion
Penetration (% Population)
Share of MENA Internet Users
Origins Of the Arabic Alphabet (Language Writing System)
The Arabic language is a magnificent language. When it comes to Arabic writing, it is almost a work of art. But how can you learn the Arabic alphabet and master all your Arabic tools? Surprisingly, learning the Arabic alphabet does not take much time. Here, you will find everything you need to know about Arabic letters, script, and numbers.
The first step to mastering Arabic is to learn the Arabic alphabet. If you understand the Arabic letters and practise your pronunciation, you can become fluent in no time.
The history of the Arabic alphabet goes back to more than a thousand years ago. Many believe that the modern Arabic language writing system is derived from the Nabataean variant of the Aramaic alphabet, which originated in the Phoenician period.
The Arabic alphabet has been in use since the fourth century AD, but the first written record of the language dates back to 512 AD, where the origins of the Arabic alphabet were traced to the writing of the semi-nomadic Nabataean tribes, who inhabited southern Syria and Jordan, Northern Arabia, and Sinai Peninsula. Stone inscriptions in the Nabataean script show strong similarities to the modern Arabic writing and support this belief.
This means that the Arabic alphabet originated before the birth of Islam. However, Islam greatly influenced and enriched the Arabic language writing system. To make it easier to read the Koran aloud, diacritical signs and short vowels were introduced into the Arabic alphabet.
Unlike English, the Arabic language is written and read from right to left. It is one of the most widespread Right-To-Left (RTL) writing systems languages. Arabic language doesn’t have an alphabet, but rather an Abjad. The Abjad is composed of 28 letters, which are always cursive, whether printed or written, representing the Arabic script coded for writing Arabic. In fact, each Arabic letter isn’t a letter, but a glyph. Each glyph represents a specific sound as Arabic is a phonetic language that is pronounced as it is written.
Although the Arabic alphabet doesn’t have upper and lower case forms, the shape of the letters vary depending on their position within a word. Each letter can exhibit up to four distinct forms that corresponds to an initial, medial, final or an isolated position.
The difficulty of learning the Abjad lies in the fact that some Arabic letters have no equivalent sound or letter in English. This is confined to 19 letters that have no English equivalent, namely, ح، خ، ص، ض، ط، ظ، ع، غ، ق. Nevertheless, 5 of these sounds (ص، ض، ط، ظ، ق) have 5 Arabic sound mates (س، د، ت، ذ، ك), which have sound correspondents in English. Each couple of these, have one soft sound and one hard.
Apart from three letters, all the Arabic letters are consonants. The three letter vowels are (أ، و، ي), which are the counterparts of A, E and O.
Basics Of The Arabic Alphabet
Before tackling Arabic letters and writing, it is best to learn the basics of the language writing system. While symbols may seem intimidating, they are quite easy to understand and learn.
Written Arabic is slightly different from spoken Arabic. Here are some basics about the Arabic alphabet:
- Direction of writing: Like all Semitic languages, Arabic is written and read horizontally from right to left.
- Consonants and vowels: There are 28 letters; apart from the first letter (Alif; ا), all the other letters are consonants, except for (Ya; ي) and (Waw; و), which can be either consonants or vowels (to refer to the long vowel (Aa; آ) and ũ respectively).
- No capital letters: The Arabic alphabet has no capital letters. The letters composing a word are linked together, except for 6 letters, which are linked only to their right, i.e. to the letter preceding them. There is, therefore, a space after the letter following it: يُوسُف “Joseph”. These 6 letters are (Alif; ا), (Dal; د), (Dhal; ذ), (Raa; ر), (Zein; ز), Waw; و).
- Different forms according to the location of the letter in the word: As Arabic letters are always cursive, some Arabic letters change shape, depending on their position in a word, whether they have an initial form, an intermediate form, or a final form; the final form (Ya; ي) is usually written without the colon (ى), or are isolated.
- Spacing of Arabic letters: Many Arabic letters are lengthened to fill the extra space in a line to cover the entire space of the line.
- Special Arabic character: The combination of the letter L (ل) and the letter A (ا) forms the special Arabic character LAM Alif (لا). Some consider this to be the 29th letter of the Arabic alphabet.
Styles Of The Arabic Script
There are several styles of the Arabic script, but some are more complicated than others. The best known are ‘Naskh’, ‘Reqah’, ‘Kufic’, ‘Thuluth’, ‘Diwani’, and ‘Zulu’. The Islamic Arabic calligraphy is strongly tied to the Qur’an. It was mainly used to write the Qur’an and decorate the pages of the Islamic Holy Book. From these different script styles, Arab artists created beautiful Arabic calligraphy such as our featured image above. Arabic script was used for decorative purposes throughout the Muslim world, in mosques, houses, and other buildings. This is because the script is beautifully stylized.
Throughout its history, Arabic has influenced many languages around the globe, especially in vocabulary. This explains why many words of Arabic origin are found in some European languages, such as Portuguese and Spanish, when the Muslims ruled the Iberian Peninsula. English words of Arabic origin include “zero”, “algebra”, “alcohol”, “mosque”, “tariff”, “alcove”, “warehouse”, “elixir”, “sultan” and “cotton”.
Arabic is a cursive language. Accordingly, each letter in a word is either connected to the letter before or after it or both. This means that each letter has three different forms depending on its position in the word. The initial form when it comes at the beginning of a word and connects to the following letter, the medial form when it comes at the middle of a word and connects to letters on both sides, and the final form when it comes at the end of a word and connects to its preceding letter.
With the exception of 6 letters ( أ – د – ذ – ر – ز – و), which are connected only to the letters that precede them in a word, all Arabic letters are connectable to each other on both sides.
Accents and Diacritics (Tashkeel)
Arabic is an inflective language. All words are inflected according to their different roles in a sentence. Words can be the subject of the sentence, the object of a verb, a verb, possessive, adjective, adverb, etc. To know the exact role of a word in a sentence, we use inflection, which is usually put at the end of the word. The inflection helps us understand the meaning of the sentence.
English depends on word order in a sentence to resolve a sentence ambiguity. For example, when Zaid has a dammah tanween inflection as in the example “ضرب زيدٌ عمرًا”, it means that Zaid beat Omar. But when Zaid has a fatthah tanween inflection as in the following example “ضرب زيدًا عمرٌ”, it means that Omar beat Zaid.
However, words in Arabic also show inflection on all word’s morphemes to help readers to read a word correctly. Words exhibit three main inflections in Arabic as in the opposite chart, but below is the whole list of Arabic inflections:
Dammah ُ & Tanween Dammah ٌ , Fathah َ & Tanween Fatthah ً , Kasrah ِ & Tanween Kasrah ٍ , along with Sokoun ْ , and Shaddah ّ .
Western Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9) are used in most North African countries. However, Eastern Arabic numerals (٠،١،٢،٣،٤،٥،٦،٧،٨،٩) are used in Egypt and the eastern Arabic-speaking countries.
The value of the lowest number appears on the right-hand side so that the sequence of numbers on the page corresponds to that of the Latin alphabet. This reflects the way Arabic numerals are traditionally read (i.e. in an ascending order, so that 1234 is “four & thirty, two hundred thousand”), although this way of reading has declined recently. However, the most common method is to read it “One thousand, two hundred, four and thirty”. Sequences of numbers, such as telephone numbers, are also read from left to right.
Best Practical Steps to Learning Arabic
With any new language, there are keys to fluency. You learn vocabulary, verb conjugation, grammar, sentence structure, and then you practice. Immerse yourself in the language as much as you can. Watch films, listen to music and talk shows, speak and think in Arabic. Soon you will have a good understanding and will gradually be fluent.
However, for English speakers, Arabic language can present a unique challenge that may slow down your learning process. For example, for native English speakers, the difficulty of learning Arabic lies in the following:
- Arabic uses an entirely new alphabet, but many phonetic sounds are identical;
- Every word you learn is a new word. There is virtually no common vocabulary between Arabic and Latin;
- Arabic is a highly inflected language. Theme, stress, and mood are conveyed by tone;
- There are ten models of common verbs, and students must memorize the conjugation and vocalization of active and passive voices.
- Plurals and their chords with numbers are more complex and difficult compared to English;
- Arabic is a foreign language to English speakers in all respects.
Sounds a bit complicated, doesn’t it?
Fortunately, there is an easy guide below to make learning spoken Arabic easier. It will take a lot of work, dedication, and time, but it is certainly feasible.
- Decide what form of Arabic you want to learn:
Arabic is the native and official language of nearly 30 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. There are different accents and different local dialects. If you plan to spend time in a particular region, you will want to choose an option related to that region. But if you want to communicate with ease anywhere in the MENA region, then Modern Standard Arabic should be your choice.
- Start with the basics:
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to learn Arabic by rewriting words instead of learning the Arabic alphabet first. Think about how you learned English at school.
First, you learn the letters, form those letters into words, then learn how to form sentences, and finally, you learn more about proper syntax and grammar. Shortcuts will only slow you down.
- Learn to use an Arabic dictionary:
In an Arabic dictionary, words are usually organized around three-letter roots. To find a word, you need to know the root and the initial letter, which is not necessarily the first letter of the word. Using a dictionary needs practice, but the sooner you get used to it, the better.
- Immerse yourself in learning and practicing:
This is the most important step in learning a language, but it is doubly important in learning Arabic. The best way to learn a new word is to see, hear, write and pronounce it, so combine these activities as much as possible.
One of the best ways for beginners to practice a foreign language is to watch children’s television programs in that language. The relative simplicity and educational nature of the vocabulary make these programs very useful for new learners of all ages.
Another strategy is to watch foreign language films with English subtitles. This will make it easier for you to listen and the subtitles will translate what you hear. Even if you turn off the subtitles, you will still be able to understand what is being said.
- Speak the language:
It is not enough to see and hear. You have to communicate with others in Arabic. It can be difficult to find someone to talk to if you don’t know people whose mother tongue is Arabic. But fortunately, advanced technology can do a lot to fix this challenge.
There are many groups of Arabic language learners online, and it is now much easier to find mentors to guide you and help you with your studies. Take advantage of these resources. The more you practice, the faster you’ll learn.
- Never stop learning
The above steps are just the beginning. It is easy to start your Arabic learning journey, but difficult to see it through to the end. Mastering the language will take years of study, but acquiring conversational skills can be quickly attained if you have the will to do it.
Arabic Online Courses
If you’re looking for an Arabic language course online, the following options can be of great help:
- Free Arabic Language Course For Beginners on Udemy
- Interactive Course Of MSA For Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Courses in Arabic
- Learn Arabic Online via Aljazeera Website
- Learn Arabic Quick
To help speed up your Arabic learning process, translation might come in handy. There are many translation agencies in the market, but if you’d like to revert to a trustworthy online translation service, don’t hesitate to contact us. If you were looking for translation English to Arabic, translation French to English, or English translation, go no further. But if you want to try the appeal of your products and/or services in the MENA markets, our article How Website Localization Helps Businesses Expand Globally might be of help.
To help you prepare your file before submittal for translation, there are 5 things you should do to get the most out of any translation service and to help you better understand your translation needs.
This was a quick overview about the Arabic language, Arabic alphabet, Arabic script, Arabic as a liturgical language of 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, along with some notes about the Arab population and where they live. We hope this article have been useful in giving you a broad outline of the Arabic Language and equip you with the tools to enable you quickly learn the language.