An Introduction to the Arabic Language

An Introduction to the Arabic Language

Arabic is one of the oldest, greatest and sacred languages in the world. It is also known for its eloquence and wisdom. Maybe it is the most powerful and wisest language of all.

The beginning:

It’s not known for sure where Arabic language originally came from.

It has been  claimed  by some   to have originated in Yemen, the country in the south of the Arabian Peninsula. Others  say  that it originally came from Ethiopia then moved to Yemen through the immigrant tribes. But what’s certain is that it spread from Yemen to the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.

Before the proliferation of Islam the Arabs  were   greatly proud of their language, what they called “the tongue of the Arabs”. They used to compete in Poetry, and each tribe in the Arabian Peninsula tried to dominate with its own style of Arabic.

That’s where and when the holy book of Islam, the Qur’aan, was revealed. Its  flawless and elaborate style  amazed and attracted many to read its message and then accept Islam.

As Islam spread, the  Arabic language also started its journey across many countries until it reached the far west of what today we call  Morocco.

Arabic  today:

– Arabic nowadays is an official language in more than 20 countries.

– Arabic is the mother tongue of more than 300 million native speakers.

– It is spoken by more than 420 million around the world, coming at the 5th place between all languages.

– The language today is sacred to over one and a half billion Muslims around the world.

Arabic through years:

The Arabic of the Qur’aan is called Classical Arabic. It is, as was mentioned earlier, the most elaborate and complicated form of Arabic.

While  Classical Arabic spread  through the countries of the Islamic empire , it was difficult to use it in daily conversations. So, it mixed with the local languages of those countries and developed different Arabic dialects through time.  These  local changes formed the  basis  of the many  Arabic dialects still  heard today all over the world.

Also throughout the years, the official Classical Arabic started to develop an easier and lighter version called Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). It is practically the same as the Classical Arabic but with some simpler words and less grammatical complications.

MSA is still used in all Arabic countries, but only in a formal way. It is a means of communication between Arabs who speak very different dialects. And it is used in modern books, newspapers and in Arabic Media like news broadcasts, commercial ads, speeches and conferences, and lectures in schools and colleges.

And it is MSA that we are going to learn in our coming lessons. Because it is understandable in all Arabic countries. And it can be found spoken and written easily everywhere.

BUT, keep in mind that MSA is considered as a literary language. It is not spoken as a native language. So, if you are conversing in MSA with an Arabian, he/she will definitely understand you but it is normal for him to feel a bit strange and unnatural.

Arabic Dialects:

There are many Arabic dialects. It is sort of impossible to give an exact number of dialects as there are many local variations of variations.  Here are the ´most used ´ Arabic dialects  and what distinguishes each one of them:

Gulf dialect

This is the closest dialect to MSA because this is the place where Arabic started its journey (Arabian Peninsula). It also wasn’t influenced much by other languages. Gulf dialect is spoken in all gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain with very slight differences.

Egyptian dialect

This is one of the most famous Arabic dialects. It is likable and understandable by most other Arabs mostly because Egypt has the largest cinema/film industry in the Arab world. It produces about three quarters of the total Arab cinema production. Egyptians are known for their smart and funny use of words.

Arabian West dialects

These are   the Arabian dialects of Algeria,  Tunisia and  Morocco. They are very close to each other and almost the same. They are a bit hard to be understood by other Arabs because they have been largely influenced by the French language since the French colonialism. So, if you speak French and like it, you might find these dialects easier  to understand.

Sham dialects

These are the dialects of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. Palestinian and Jordan dialects are a bit close to the Egyptian dialect. Syrian and Lebanon dialects are close to each other and they are known for their ´romantic´ way of pronunciation.

Some Arabic words you already know:

As the Islamic empire stretched its boundaries through conquering parts of Europe like Spain. The influence of Arabic on European languages  can still be heard today.

Some of the words that the English language acquired are:

Some scientific words like “Algorithm” which comes   from the name of a Persian mathematician called “Al-Khwarizmi”. The word “Algebra” which is “Al-Jabbr” in Arabic. “Alchemy” or “Chemistry” which come   from the Arabic word “Al-Keemyaa”.

Some food and drinks names like “Lemon” which is “Laymoon” in Arabic. “Alcohol” which is “Al-Kohool”. “Cumin” is “Kammoon”. And “Coffee” is “Kahwah”. “Sugar” is “Sukkar”. “Apricot” is “Al-Barqooq” in Arabic.

Other words like “Cotton” which is “Qottn” in Arabic. And “Giraffe” which is “Zarafah”. And “Mummy” which is “Moomyaa”. 

There is a sizeable list of English words derived from Arabic on  Wikipedia.

The  of Arabic language system:

Arabic is a member of the Semitic language family, which also includes languages like Hebrew and Aramaic.

The main feature of the Semitic languages is the three-letter root system.

Another main feature of Arabic is the pattern system. Where a pattern is imposed on the basic root.

Example 1:

The root ( S – L – M ) has to do with “peace” in Arabic, which is “Salaam”.

sallama” is to say to someone “peace”

Islam” is the name of the religion, and “Muslim” is a person who has accepted Islam.

Example 2:

The root ( D – R – S ) has to do with “studying” in Arabic, which is “deraasah”.

darasa” is to study (the past tense), “yadros” is (the present tense).

daares” is the person doing the action of studying.

Example 3:

The root ( K – T – B ) has to do with “writing” in Arabic, which is “ketaabah”.

kataba” is to study (the past tense), “yaktob” is (the present tense).

kaateb” is the person doing the action of writing.

You can notice that the words in the examples 2 and 3 are following the same pattern. Only the root letters has changed.

That’s the methodology of most of the words in Arabic. But of course with some additional several patterns.

Once you understand the systems of the roots and patterns, you will learn   lots of Arabic words easily.

So hopefully after reading this introduction you have learned the basics and are ready to keep learning. It really is not that hard to learn Arabic!

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