A Beautiful Mystery: Ten Key things you should know about the Arabic Language

I have decided to write an article about Arabic, including some interesting facts and features of this beautiful Middle Eastern Language.

The Arabic Language is spoken throughout the Middle East and North Africa and it is recognised as the official language of Islam and its holy text: The Qu’ran. The language is divided into two strands : Classical Arabic and Colloquial Arabic. Classical Arabic defines literary Arabic and it is the form of language that is found in the Qur’an. In contrast, Colloquial Arabic consists of numerous spoken dialects.

Here are some key facts that you may not have previously known.

1. The Arabic Language is at least 1,500 years old!

Classical Arabic originated in the sixth century, however earlier versions of the language existed even before the sixth century. One such dialect was the Safaitic dialect, an old Arabic dialect used by the pre Islamic nomadic inhabitants of the SyroArabian desert; this dialect dates back to the first century.

2. There are more than 100 words for camel

Some say there are up to 1,000 words related to camels in the Arabic language. This could have been true at one point in history, but today it’s closer to 100. There are names for camels based on: color of hair; herd mentality; relativity to water; food habits; health conditions; the number of camels in one spot; and so much more.

3. There are more than ten words for love in the Arabic language.

The Arabic language contains at least 11 words for ‘love’ and the beautiful thing is that each of them conveys a different stage in the process of falling in love. The word ‘hawa’, describes the initial attraction or the inclining of a soul or mind towards another soul.

The word ‘Alaaqa‘, describes the next stage in love when the heart becomes attached to the beloved, before evolving into a blind desire ‘ishq’ and all-consuming love ‘shaghaf’.

The most well known word for love in Arabic is the word ‘hubb’, this word comes from the same root as the word ‘seed’ which imploies that which has the potential to grow into something beautiful.

4. The Maltese Language is descended from Arabic.

The official language of Malta, Maltese, originated in the 11th century when settlers arrived from the neighboring island of Sicily. These settlers spoke a dialect of Arabic as a result of the Arab conquest of Sicily. This dialiect of Siculo-Arabic evolved into Maltese.

Fun Fact: Maltese is the only dialect of Arabic written in the Latin alphabet and it is the only Semitic language that has official status in the European Union.

5. Arabic has no capital letters.

It is true! In the Arabic language there are no capital letters at the start, middle or end of a sentence. However there are different ways to write a letter of the alphabet, depending if the letter is found at the beginning, middle or at the end of a word.

6. Arabic words are written from right to left, whereas Arabic numbers are written from left to right.

Unlike many languages, Arabic script is written and read differently: the words are written horizontally from right to left. When I first started to learn Arabic I found this particularly challenging, but I soon began to get the hang of it. Suprisingly all Arabic numbers are written from left to right – at least that is not something new.

7. Over 300 million people speak Arabic.

The majority of Arabic speakers today can be found in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East, formally known as the Arab world. Arabic is an official or co-official language in 25 countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. There are also 6 sovereign states in which Arabic is a national language or recognized minority language: Iran, Turkey, Niger, Senegal, Mali and Cyprus.

Arabic speakers have also resettled over the past few generations and can be found today in places like Brazil, northern and central Europe, the United States and Southeast Asia.

If you were to count all of the varieties of Arabic together, you could estimate that there are roughly 313 million Arabic speakers in the world, thus making Arabic the fifth most-spoken language behind Mandarin, Spanish, English and Hindi.

8. Arabic is only written in cursive.

As I mentioned earlier, Arabic is written horizontally from right to left and writing in arabic involves connecting every letter in a word (there are a few exceptions to this rule.) In Arabic the letters change shape from their origional form so that they are able to flow into the next letter with ease. There are multiple forms of each letter and I feel that this is one of the reasons why Arabic is considered a difficult language.

9. It is easy to determine the meaning of a word by looking at its root.

A beautiful thing about the Arabic language is that every word has a root. Each of these roots has a central meaning, and words containing these root letters have meanings related to the root. There are ten patterns that can be used to form different parts of speech such as: nouns, adverbs and adjectives.

Here is a quick example:

D – R – S             Learning             Root

Darasa                he learned         Pattern I (to do) (past)

Yadroso              he learns            Pattern I (to do) (present)

Yudarris              he teaches         Pattern II (to make someone do)

Dars                    lesson                 Noun

Madrasa             school                 Noun of place (Pattern for locations)

10. The most popular Arabic dialect is Egyptian Arabic.

Over 55 million people speak Egyptian Arabic; this is partly due to the fact that the Egyptian media industry has a huge impact on the world. Egyptian Arabic is regularly used in movies and on TV and because of this many Arabs understand Egyptian Arabic.

The Egyptian dialect is influenced by the Coptic language: the native language in Egypt prior to the Arab Conquest. Classical Arabic and the Coptic language were blended together to create the Egyptian dialect.

Conclusion

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about the Arabic language: it trully is a beautiful, deep and thoughtful language and will always remain my favourite foreign language.

If you would like to ask any questions about Arabic, please feel free to write a message in the comments box below, or alternatively if you know any other key facts about Arabic, please feel free to share them as well!

إلى اللقاء

Until next time.


Would you like to know more about learning languages? Start here!

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