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The Arabic Language

By Dr. Khaled Huthaily

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012

Arabic is a Semitic language that is spoken by approximately 300 million people around the world and spoken as the first language in Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. These twenty-two countries are members of the Arab League and are collectively referred to as the Arab world. Other Semitic languages include Hebrew (the official language of Israel), Aramaic (used by minorities in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran), and Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia).

Arabic is the religious language of Muslims in many parts of the world. The Qur’an, the sacred book of Muslims, was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad in Arabic in the 7th century. Muslims believe that the Quran is the final revelation from God (after the Bible, the sacred book in Christianity, and the Torah, the sacred books in Judaism). Muslims all over the world believe that to understand the message of God in the Qur’an, it must be read in its original form – Arabic. As a result, Arabic is used as a liturgical language by Muslims in a number of countries in the world, such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Chad and Nigeria. Muslims in those countries may not be able to speak the Arabic language, but they may be able to identify a few words. Some non-Arab Muslims read the Quran in Arabic but rely on translations to their native languages for understanding the message.

The Qur’an is written in a form of Arabic referred to as Classical Arabic. Arabs consider Classical Arabic to be the purest, most perfect and most beautiful form of the Arabic language. However, in modern days, an adapted form of Classical Arabic, known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), is used in the media, educational institutions, mosques, and official conversations among educated Arabs from different countries. MSA is less complex in vocabulary, word structure and grammar than Classical Arabic. Since the 1970s, MSA has been one of the official languages of the United Nations. When non-native speakers of Arabic learn Arabic as a foreign/second language, it is mostly this form of Arabic that they are exposed to in language institutions. At the University of Montana, MSA is the form of Arabic mainly taught. Instructors might introduce vocabulary items from various dialects as well.

Arabic also includes regional dialects used for daily communication purposes. Several dialects may exist in one country. These dialects are collectively referred to as Colloquial Arabic (CA), which differs from MSA mainly in vocabulary and pronunciation. For this reason, the writing system used for MSA is not suitable for writing the dialects of Arabic. Another difference between MSA and CA is the absence of case-ending, which is an important characteristic of MSA. Despite the fact that Arabs speak different regional dialects, they are very proud of their language, which they see as the unifying bond among them. Learners of Arabic who achieve advanced levels of proficiency are highly recommended to be familiar with at least one dialect of Arabic.

Map of Arab World

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Dr. Khaled Huthaily

Assistant Professor & Head

431 LA - MCLL

Tel: (406) 243-6602