Our professional language experts include native Arabic speakers experienced in the nuances of the language and the requirements of effective translation and interpretation. Our experts are well versed not only in translating Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic, but also in interpreting Spoken Arabic and its various dialects. Want a quote right now? Click here. If you prefer to first learn more about the Arabic language and its various dialects, keep reading.
Arabic, which is the native tongue of more than 200 million people worldwide, ranks 6th among the major languages of the world. Arabic is the official language of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen as well as one of the six official languages of the United Nations. In addition, it is widely spoken in countries such as Somalia and is the language of the holy writings of Muslims throughout the world.
History of the Arabic Language
Modern Standard Arabic belongs to the Semitic language family. Semitic languages have a recorded history going back thousands of years—one of the most extensive continuous archives of documents belonging to any human language group. While the origins of the Semitic language family are currently in dispute among scholars, there is agreement that they flourished in the Mediterranean Basin area, especially in the Tigris-Euphrates river basin and in the coastal areas of the Levant.
The Semitic language family is a descendant of “proto-Semitic”—an ancient language that was exclusively spoken and has no written record. Aside from Arabic, the Semitic language family includes Hebrew, Aramaic, Maltese, Amharic, Tigrinya, Tigre, Gurage, Geez, Syrica, Akkadian, Phonoecian, Punic, Ugaritic, Nabatean, Amorite and Moabite. While a majority of these are now considered “dead” languages, either entirely obsolete or used only in religious practice, Arabic has flourished. The reason for this is inextricably linked with the rise of Islam and, more specifically, Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an.
While the first documented record of written Arabic dates from the early 4th century AD, its use in the early 7th century as the language of the Qur’an led Arabic to become the major world language that it is today. As Islam spread throughout the world, its chosen language did as well. Coupled with the rise of Islam, Arabic became the language of government as well as religion. Within 100 years after the introduction of the Qur’an, Arabic became the official language of a world empire whose boundaries stretched from the Oxus River in Central Asia to the Atlantic Ocean, and even northward into the Iberian Peninsula of Europe. As Islam continued to spread through the world, Arabic inherently followed.
Written and Spoken Arabic
There are three distinct forms of Arabic. Classical or Qur’anical Arabic, Formal or Modern Standard Arabic, and Spoken or Colloquial Arabic. Classical Arabic is the form of Arabic literally found in the Qur’an. It is used neither in conversation, nor in non-religious writing. As such, Classical Arabic is primarily learned for reading and reciting Islamic religious texts.
Formal or Modern Standard Arabic is the official language of the Arabic world. In contrast to Indo- European languages which have evolved and changed over time, Modern Standard Arabic differs little from its form in the Qur’an. This is due mainly to the Muslim belief that the language of the Qur’an can not be surpassed. According to Islam, the Qur’an has preserved Arabic in its purest form and as such it remains an important, cohesive influence on the language to the present day. The main differences between Classical and Modern Standard Arabic are structural and allow more flexibility and adaptability in the language’s use.
In order to understand the relationship between Modern Standard Arabic and Spoken Arabic it is important to understand the concept of “diglossia.” As defined by the term’s founder, Charles Ferguson, diglossia (literally meaning “two tongues”) conveys a situation where, in addition to the primary dialects of a language, there is a highly codified form which is the vehicle of a large and respected body of literature. In addition to Arabic, an example of diglossia can be found in the co-existence of written Latin with the spoken Romance languages of French, Italian, and Spanish. While Modern Standard Arabic is the definitive form of written Arabic there are many spoken Arabic dialects. Modern Standard Arabic provides a universal form of the language that can be understood by all and is commonly used in radio and TV news broadcasts, films, plays, poetry, and conversation between Arabic-speaking people of different dialects.
There are more than 30 different forms of spoken or colloquial Arabic. A few of these dialects include Egyptian (spoken by approximately 65 million people and perhaps the most widely understood due to the popularity of Egyptian made films and TV shows), Algerian (22 million people), Moroccan/Maghrebi (19 million people), Sudanese (19 million people), North Levantine (19 million people), Mesopotamian (14 million people), and Najdi (10 million people). The result of such a diverse group of dialects is that native Arabic speakers of different regions frequently do not understand each other in their native, dialectical tongue and often use Formal or Modern Standard Arabic in order to communicate.
ALS International provides expertise in all forms of Arabic translation and interpreting. Our professional language experts are thoroughly experienced in translating both Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic. In addition to Modern Standard Arabic, our experts are sensitive to the complexities of interpreting spoken Arabic and its various dialects. To obtain a free quote please click here.
Arabic Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: JUGARI, BUKHARA ARABIC, BUXARA ARABIC, TAJIJI ARABIC, CENTRAL ASIAN ARABIC
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Official Language of: Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea
Spoken by Approximately 4,505,000 people
Also Spoken In: United States
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