Arabic is usually ranked
among the top six of the world's major languages. As the
language of the
Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, it is also widely used throughout the Muslim world. It
belongs to the Semitic group of languages which also includes Hebrew and Amharic, the main
language of Ethiopia.
There are many Arabic dialects.
Classical Arabic the language of the Qur'an
was originally the dialect of Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia.
An adapted form of this,
known as Modern Standard Arabic, is used in
books, newspapers, on television and radio, in the mosques, and in conversation between
educated Arabs from different countries (for example at international conferences).
Local dialects vary
considerably, and a
Moroccan might have difficulty understanding an Iraqi, even though they speak the same
Arabic is not the only language spoken in
Arab countries. The two main minority languages. Several
varieties of Amazigh
are used by the Berbers
of North Africa, while Kurdish
is spoken in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Arabic's exact position in the league
table of world languages varies according to the methodology
The linguists' website, Ethnologue, places
in terms of the numbers of people who use it as their first
rankings have placed Arabic anywhere between third and
One of the difficulties is that it is
almost impossible to compile accurate data. There are also
debates among linguists about how to define
"speakers" of a language, and speakers of
"Arabic" in particular. Many Arabs, for example, are
not proficient in Modern Standard Arabic. The complexities are
discussed further in an
article by George Weber.
The Arabic alphabet
is written from right to left. There are 18 distinct letter shapes, which vary slightly
depending on whether they are connected to another letter before or after them. There are
no "capital" letters.
The full alphabet of 28
letters is created by placing various combinations of dots above or below some of these
shapes. (An animated
version of the alphabet shows the correct way to move
The three long vowels are included in written words but
the three short vowels are normally omitted though they can be indicated by
marks above and below
Although the Arabic alphabet as we know it today appears
highly distinctive, the Latin,
Greek, Phoenician, Aramaic, Nabatian alphabets probably share
ancestry. Other languages such as Persian,
Urdu and Malay use adaptations of the Arabic script.
The numerals used in most parts of the world 1, 2,
3, etc were originally Arabic, though many Arab countries use Hindi numerals.
The following four lessons (part of the Babel course) give
a fair idea of what is involved in learning to read and write Arabic:
Decorative writing calligraphy is one of the
highest art forms of the Arab world. This is partly because strict Muslims disapprove of
art which represents humans or living things.
The links on this page explain the historical development
of calligraphy and provide examples that illustrate both its beauty and its variety.
Is Arabic difficult to learn?
Some words and phrases that should not be used in polite
company, from The Alternative Arabic Dictionary. Two versions, here
(PDF) and here.
Arabic personal names
The components of names - abu, ibn, etc. How they are used and what they mean.
Names of Arabic origin
Arabic place names in Spain, Portugal and the Americas.
The idea of maintaining linguistic standards, through an Arab equivalent of
the French Academy, has been around since the 19th century.
Report by ArabicNews.