Over 400million people around the world speak Arabic, meaning it is the 5th most spoken language in the world at present with countries as diverse as Algeria and the Yemen, to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates listing it as their official language.
Like most other languages of today, the Arabic language has evolved from its roots in the 6th century and now has two distinct forms known as Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic.
Classical Arabic is the oldest form of the Arabic language with roots from the Nomadic people (Arab meaning Nomad) of the Middle East. This language is no longer spoken, or used, except in religious texts such as the Quran.
The language spoken today in the Arab world is termed Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and is the primary, or official, language spoken by more than 25 countries across the globe. It is the version that is taught in schools, and the form that used by newspapers, TV, and books throughout the Arab world.
There are many differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic – speaking MSA does not mean that you could read Classical Arabic, and of course there are also differences in dialects across the Arab world which should be considered if you are learning to speak Arabic, translating Arabic, or travelling in Arab countries.
The Arabic language is as complex as it is beautiful, and has influenced languages such as Turkish, Spanish, and Hindi. It has also borrowed terms from Greek and Persian, and more recently, from the English language. As a language which reads from right to left, it can be a difficult language for many Westerners to come to grips with, but if you have an interest in languages, or you plan to travel to an Arabic country, you can read on to find out more about Classical
Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic:
Classical Arabic, as it is known today, has been in use since around the 6th century, it is the language that was used for religious and poetic texts by the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. However, with the spread of Islam, by the 8th century it had become the lingua franca for much of the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and was a prerequisite for entry into the higher classes of the Arab world.
Before the 8th century, there were many forms of ancient Arabic, but Classical Arabic is the only surviving form today due mostly to the Umayyad and Abbasid literary texts from the 7th century AD to the 9th century AD. These texts came from the countries known today as Syria and Iraq where the Caliph which ruled these areas, at their greatest extent, covered more than 33 million people and is considered to be one of the greatest empires.
Today, classical Arabic is used only in religious writings and for those students wishing to study the Quran in its original form, it is necessary to learn Classical Arabic.
Modern Standard Arabic
Modern Standard Arabic is, as its name suggests, the modern version of the Arabic language. This is the standard, formal version which is taught in schools, spoken throughout Arabic-speaking nations around the world (excluding dialectic differences), and which is the primary language choice for newspapers, books, signs, and TV.
It is one of the 6 official languages of the United Nations, and loosely uniform throughout the Middle East. It is the language that would be learnt by Westerners who are studying Arabic.
MSA, which was developed in the early 19th century, is based on Classical Arabic, but there are differences which have evolved through modernisation and simplification, both in writing and speech.
The main differences between Classical Arabic and MSA are as follows:
• Syntax – more simplified sentence structure than Classical Arabic.
• Terminology – MSA has had to adapt with the modern terminology of scientific, technical, and literary fields, and therefore, differs substantially from Classical Arabic. Technology progresses with such speed that linguistic terms are often absorbed into MSA, rather than designing new ‘Arabized’ versions.
• Pronunciation – the variety of sounds used in MSA show an acceptance of consonants which are not standard in Classical Arabic or the Arabic script.
• Punctuation – MSA has developed the use of several different punctuation marks, acquired from other languages and from technology such as, the printing press and internet.
• Style – writing forms such as, essays, articles, reports, guides, and so on, have been adopted into MSA, while some classical forms have been dropped.
Modern Standard Arabic is the language which unites Arabic-speaking people around the world, no matter which area they live in, or which dialect they speak.