The Arabic Language


Cats and Dogs in Arabic

  1. What is Arabic?
  2. What is the difference between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic?
  3. Where does Arabic come from?
  4. What does Arabic sound like?
  5. Is Arabic hard to learn?
  6. What are the best films and books to read in Arabic if you are a learner?

What is Arabic?

Arabic is an ancient Semitic language that originated on the Arabian peninsula. It became a major world language through the spread of Islam and especially through the Quran which was written in what is now called ‘Classic’ or ‘High’ Arabic.

Arabic is one language used across many national boundaries and its spoken form has several varieties. Today it is estimated to be the native tongue of over 300 million speakers.

Modern Standard Arabic is taught as a written language across the Arabic speaking world, but many people don’t learn it well.

Much more widely used are the colloquial forms of Arabic of which there are many. They can be divided into three main groups: Egyptian Arabic, Levantine Arabic (spoken in Syria, Lebanon and, Palestine) and Maghrebi Arabic (spoken in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia)
Egyptian and Levantine Arabic are closer together and people who grow up in these countries can understand each other fairly well. Maghrebi (‘Moroccan’ or ‘West’ Arabic) Arabic has a more distinct and guttural sound.

What is the difference between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic?

Classic Arabic is the Arabic used in the Quran. It is not far removed from Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) but has many more umlauts and dashes as well as some words and grammar that are not in MSA.

Modern Standard Arabic is the language of government across the Arab world and is what people learn at school. It is also the Arabic taught by Rosetta Stone.

Where does Arabic come from?

Arabic is a Semitic language that originated within some tribal groups in the Arabian peninsula. The language became so powerful because it was this same area where Islam emerged. From the 7th century, as Islam began to conquer great swathes of the Middle East, so Arabic became an important language.

What does Arabic sound like?

Generally Arabic is quite a guttural and consonant-heavy sounding language, but the sound of Arabic varies greatly across the countries it is spoken in.

Egyptian is the smoother sounding form of the language. It uses fewer of the ‘heavy’ consonants and sounds more ‘European’

At the other end of the scale, the Moroccan version of Arabic uses the heavy consonant sounds and is a more guttural sounding lingo.

Is Arabic hard to learn?

The pronunciation can be hard because Arabic is not a phonetic language and the written language can be far removed from the way it is spoken.

There are many vowel sounds that are not used in the written form. Modern Standard Arabic removed a lot of the umlauts and accents that used to give pronunciation signals (in classic form). So-called ‘short vowels’ are now hidden from view.

This means that – a bit like English, only more so – the only way to know what a word sounds like, is just to know it!

What are the best films and books to read in Arabic if you are a learner? 

Old Egyptian Black and White movies are in the more standard form of the language

Syrian TV series are also useful. They speak very clearly on Syrian television.


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