What Is Arabian language

Arabic language . The Arab (formerly called arabica , arabia [1] or cacophony ) is a macrolanguage of the Semitic family , including Aramaic , the Hebrew , the Akkadian , the Maltese and other similar languages. It is the only official language in twenty countries and co-official in at least six other countries, and one of the six official languages ​​of the United Nations . It is also the religious language of Islam .

The Arabic language comprises both a standard variety that is observed in literacy, sometimes formal and in mass media ( classical Arabic, Fuṣḥà or modern standard – اللغة العربية الفصحى -), as well as numerous colloquial dialects, which can sometimes be incomprehensible between yes due to lexical and phonological differences, while maintaining greater continuity on the syntactic level. [2] The name of this language in the Arabic language itself is [al-luga] al-`arabiyya ( the Arabic [language] ), although in some dialects such as the Egyptian it is called `arabī (in the masculine gender).


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  • 1 Linguistic description
    • 1 Classification
  • 2 Its relation with other Semitic languages
    • Writing system
    • 2 Phonetics and phonology
      • 2.1 Vowels
      • 2.2 Consonants
    • 3 Morphosyntax
      • 3.1 Roots and forms
      • 3.2 Gender
      • 3.3 Number
      • 3.4 Declination
      • 3.5 Nominal syntag
        • 3.5.1 General characteristics of the noun phrase
      • 3.6 Noun
      • 3.7 Adjective
      • 3.8 Determinants
    • 3 Numerals
      • 1 Pronoun
    • 4 Verbal syntagm
    • 5 General characteristics of the verb phrase
      • 1 Verb
      • 2 Adverb
      • 3 Lexicon
    • 6 Loans
      • 1 Semantics
      • 2 Pragmatics
    • 7 Historical, social and cultural aspects
      • 1 History of the language
        • 1.1 Classical Arabic before Islam
        • 1.2 Classical Arabic after the rise of Islam
        • 1.3 Modern Normative Arabic
        • 1.4 Data
      • 2 Use and distribution
    • 8 Geographical distribution
      • 1 Use and status
    • 9 Dialectology and variants
      • 1 Dialectal Arabic and diglossia
      • Derivative language systems
    • 10 Arabic literature
    • 11 See also
    • 12 References
    • 13 External links

Linguistic description


It is a language that belongs to the Western Semitic sub-branch (made up of three languages ​​in total: Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic) of the Semitic branch of the Camyth-Semitic trunk . It is the most archaic Semitic language, that is, closest to the primitive Semitic of how many are still alive today. It has been a literary language since the 6th century and a liturgical language for Muslims since the 7th century .

The literary form is called in Arabic al-luga al-fuṣḥà (“the most eloquent language”) and includes ancient Arabic from pre-Islamic poetry , that of the Koran and classical literature, and modern standard Arabic, used in contemporary and the media. Dialect forms are called al-luga al-`ammiyya (“the general language”). There are intermediate forms between one and the other.

Its relationship with other Semitic languages

The Arabic language is closely related to other Semitic languages, especially Hebrew. This relationship is perceived both morphosyntactically and semantically. Some theories even claim that a primitive stage of this language was the basis for the formation of ancient Hebrew: Template: Cr

Spanish Arab Hebrew
Water Maa` Ma`im
Peace Salaam Shalom
Father Ab Aab
Day Yawm Yom
Death Mawt Met
Alms Sadaqa (t) Tzedakà
Head Ra`s Rosh
Your `Anta (masculine) /` anti (feminino) Ata
soul Nafs Nefesh
Home Bayt Beyt
Me Ànaa Aní
Heart Àlb or Qalb Léb
Hebrew ‘ibriíya ‘ivrit
Arab ‘arabíya ‘ar (a) bít

Writing system

Arabic uses its own writing system that is written from right to left, linking the letters together, so that each letter can have up to four forms, depending on whether it is written in isolation, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the word.

With very few exceptions, each grapheme has a phoneme , that is, there are hardly any silent letters, omitted letters, or letters that in certain positions , or joined to others, have a different value than what corresponds to them in principle. Exceptions are usually due to religious tradition .

In spoken Arabs, some letters have different values, depending on the region , than they do in classical Arabic. These local pronunciation features are generally maintained when the speaker uses standard Arabic.

In Arabic there are no capital letters. There was an attempt to introduce them in the 1920s, but it was not accepted. Since Arabic proper names often have meaning, sometimes, to avoid confusion, they are enclosed in parentheses or quotation marks .

Arabic has incorporated (and adapted in some cases) the punctuation marks of European languages : the period, the comma (،), the semicolon (؛), the question mark (؟), etc. The ellipsis are usually two and not three.

Phonetics and phonology


Modern Standard Arabic has 3 vowels, with short and long forms: / a /, / i /, / u /. There are also 2 diphthongs: / aj / and / aw /.


The consonant inventory of Arabic is made up of the following phonemes:

Consonant phonemes of standard Arabic
  Lip Interdental Dental / Alveolar Postcard Palatal To ensure Uvular Pharyngeal 3 Glotal  
simple emphatic simple emphatic  
Nasal Template: IPA     Template: IPA                
Stop deaf       Template: IPA Template: IPA     Template: IPA Template: IPA   [[Glottal stop | Template: IPA ]]  
sonorous Template: IPA     Template: IPA Template: IPA Template: IPA 1        
Fricative deaf Template: IPA Template: IPA   Template: IPA Template: IPA Template: IPA   Template: IPA 4 Template: IPA Template: IPA  
sonorous   Template: IPA Template: IPA Template: IPA       Template: IPA 4 Template: IPA    
Approaching       Template: IPA 2     Template: IPA Template: IPA    
Vibrant       Template: IPA                


Roots and forms

As in the rest of the Semitic languages, the morphology of Arabic is based on the principle of roots (جذر) and forms or weights (وزن). The root is most of the time triliter, that is, formed by three consonants, and has a general meaning. Form is a root-bending paradigm that often contains meaning in itself as well. For example, the union of the verbal form istaf`ala (command to do) with the stem KTB (to write) gives the verb istaKTaBa (to dictate, that is to say to command to be written or to make to write); with JDM (serve) gives istaJDaMa (use, that is, make serve); with NZL (descend) gives istaNZaLa(to be inspired, that is to say “to lower” the inspiration). Other examples of paradigms with the root كتب KTB:

  • كتب KàTaBa: he wrote
  • إكتتب iKtaTaBa: he signed up
  • كتاب KiTāB: book
  • كاتبة KāTiBa: writer / secretary
  • مكتبة màKTaBa: library
  • مكتب miKTaB: desktop
  • اكتب uKTuB! : writes!
  • تكتبون taKTuBūna: you write
  • مكتوب maKTūB: what is written (fate)

Many times it is possible to conjecture the meaning of an unknown word joining the meanings of its root and its paradigm . For example, the word “zāhir” combines a root of meaning “to see” with a paradigm of meaning “what”, and this allows us to guess the word has the meaning “what is seen” or “visible”. This word indeed has this meaning. But it also has another, “suburbs”, which we could not have deduced in this way.

The existence of fixed paradigms facilitates the deduction of vowels , that is, inferring the vocalization of words read, but still never heard.

For example, almost all words that have a written form of type 12ā3 (the numbers correspond to the radical consonants) are vocalized 1i2ā3: kitāb, kifāh, himār, kibār, etc. However, there are also exceptions: the written word “dhāb” (‘go’) reads “dahāb”. As a result, whoever has learned this word by reading it instead of, for example, hearing it in a Qur’anic recitation, will pronounce it, by analogy, “dihāb”. According to native experts, who tend to consider Arabic as a spoken language, “dihāb” is bad Arabic, and “dahāb” is the only correct form. According to western experts, for whom Arabic is a written language and the pronunciation details are secondary, the alleged error is so widespread that it should be considered correct, standard Arabic.

Classical Arabic has more lexical forms than colloquial ones . Often many of the original meanings of the forms have been lost, but not those of the roots. Arabic dictionaries organize words by roots, and within each root the derived words by degree of complexity. This implies the need to know the root to search for the word, which is not always easy because there are irregular roots.


Arabic has two genders: male and female. Generally the words that “have feminine form” are feminine, that is, the singular ones that end in ة, اء or ى (-ā’h, -a, -à, all these endings sound approximately like the Spanish a), and those without these endings are masculine.

Most exceptions to this rule are feminine with no feminine ending. Between them:

  • Those that refer to feminine beings: أم umm(mother); فرس faras (mare); مريم Maryam (Mary, proper name).
  • The names of winds.
  • Those that can by analogy be considered sources of life and others related to them: شمس šams(sun); نور nūr (light); نار nār (fire); رحم raḥm (uterus); أرض arḍ (earth).
  • The names of the body parts even in number: يد yad(hand); عين `ayn (eye).
  • Others by use: قوس qaws(bow) بئر bi’r (well), طريق ṭarīq (path).

It is very rare that a word with feminine ending is masculine. This is the case of numerals three to ten in masculine, and of the word خليفة jalīfa ( caliph or jalifa ).

The singular feminine of animate beings is almost always formed by adding the ending ة (-at) to the masculine: كاتب kātib (writer)> كاتبة kātiba (writer); مستخدم mustajdim (user)> مستخدمة mustajdima (user); صحراوي ṣaḥarāwī (Saharawi)> صحراوية ṣaḥarāwiyya , etc.

Some words have both genders, such as قتيل qatīl (dead)


In Arabic there are three numbers: singular, dual and plural.

  • The singularmust include the singulatives, that is, those words that indicate unity with respect to a word that indicates collective. For example, زيثونة zaytūna ([an] olive) is unique to زيتون zaytūn (olive, generic). zaytūna may have a plural زيتونات zaytūnāt ([some] olives). The singular is done by adding the feminine ending ة ([a]) to the collective name.
  • The dualindicates two units. It is formed by adding the ending -ān (nominative) or -ayn (accusative / genitive): بحر baḥr (sea)> بحرين baḥrayn (two seas, Bahrain ). It is also reflected in the verbal conjugation. In dialect Arabic the dual is not very productive, generally reserved for uses already coined, and is not used in verbs.
  • The Arabic pluraloffers great difficulty. We have to distinguish between:
  • The regular plural: is formed by adding the endings ون -ūnor ين -īn (nominative and accusative / genitive, respectively) in masculine, and the ending ات -āt in feminine.
    The masculine plural is used above all for words referring to human beings. The feminine plural is more widespread, can be used for animate and inanimate beings and is usually the usual plural of feminine branded words ة ([a]): مستخدمون mustajdimūn (users); مستخدمات mustajdimāt (users).
  • The plural fracto is the most common. It is formed by internal flexion of the word in the singular. Going back to the roots and forms, it is about putting the radicals of the singular in another paradigm, which is the plural of that singular. Precision is important, because in most cases there is no way of knowing for sure which plural corresponds to a given singular, nor which singular corresponds to a plural: the speaker must act by analogy or learn the singular and plural of each word. Examples:
  • ولد walad(boy) pl. أولاد awlād .
  • ملاك malak(angel) pl. ملائكة malā’ika .
  • كتاب kitāb(book) pl. كتب kutub .
  • حمار ḥimār(donkey) pl. حمير ḥamīr .
  • عالم `ālim( ulema ) pl. علماء `ulamā ‘ (where the Spanish word comes from).

In other cases, a certain form of singular corresponds to a certain form of plural unfailingly. For example:

  • قانون qānūn(law) pl. قوانين qawānīn
  • صاروخ ṣārūj(missile; joint) pl. صواريخ ṣawārīj

Sometimes a word has several possible plurals. Standard Arabic tends to simplify and fix in this case a single plural form for words that in classical can be found with several plurals, according to times and places. But despite such a trend, it is difficult to know which of the various forms listed by the dictionaries is the standard, since it is normal that more than one continues to be used.

The differences also persist in colloquial dialects:

  • كاس kās(cup) pl. standard كؤوس ku’ūs , pl. Moroccan كيسان kīsān .
  • حاجة ḥāǧa(thing) pl. Egyptian حاجات ḥāǧāt , pl. Moroccan حاجات ḥāǧāt or حوائج ḥawā’iǧ

According to grammarians, in the words of several possible plurals, plurals of the forms a12u3, a12ā3, a12i3a, or 1i23a (the numbers are the radical letters), or the masculine regular plural, must be used for sets of three to ten. These forms are called paucales, or plurals of small numbers. At no time has this rule been strictly followed, but many continue to say that ṯalāṯatu ašhur (“three months”) is more correct than ṯalāṯatu šuhūr .


Classical Arabic has a declination with three cases (nominative, accusative, and genitive) and two forms (determined and undetermined) for each case.

Declination generally appears as a diacritical mark placed above the final letter. Like short vowels, it is not written except in didactic texts or when there is a risk of confusion:

dār دار (house)
case determined indeterminate
nominative dāru دارُ dārun دارٌ
accusative dāra دارَ dāran داراً
genitive dāri دارِ dārin دارٍ

As you can see, the letters that are written are always the same except in the case of the indeterminate accusative, in which the diacritical is placed on an alif (ا). The plural and dual endings have, as we have seen, their own declension that does imply variation in the letters, and the same occurs with some verb forms.

Being diacritical, whoever reads an unvoiced text aloud must understand the text to know which case to pronounce at the end of each word. This implies that declension does not really add to the understanding of the text; in fact it is redundant because its function is already performed by the prepositions and the position of the words within the sentence. It is an archaism used in Arabic first of all for its aesthetic value, since it sounds more harmonious to Arab earsa phrase in which all the declinations are pronounced because they link some words with others. Standard Arabic tends to omit inflections that are not reflected in writing, including short end-of-word vowels. The pronunciation of the declension is habitual if a text is read, if a speech is made, or if poetry is recited, but it is inadequate and pompous in the conversation unless you want to give it a certain solemnity or it occurs, for example, between philologists .

Dialectal Arabic omits all declensions: for dual and plural endings use only the accusative / genitive form.

Example: “users write long pages sitting at the computer”

Classic pronunciation:

  • al-mustajdimūna yaktubūna ṣuḥufan ṭawīlatan ǧālisūna amāma l-ḥāsūb

Pronunciation without flexions:

  • al-mustajdimūn yaktubūn ṣuḥufan ṭawīla ǧālisūn amām al-ḥāsūb

Both are written the same:

  • المستخدمون يكتبون صحفا طويلة جالسون أمام الحاسوب

Dialectalizing pronunciation:

  • al-mustajdimīn yaktubū ṣuḥuf ṭawīla ǧālisīn amām al-ḥāsūb


  • المستخدمين يكتبوا صحف طويلة جالسين أمام الحاسوب

Noun phrase

General characteristics of the noun phrase

(syntactic order noun-adjective / adjective-noun, use of affixation / apposition, etc.)


(morphology: gender, number, case, etc.)
(use: as nucleus, in apposition, etc.)


The adjective always goes after the noun. If it refers to people, or if it refers to things and is singular, the adjective agrees with it in gender and number (and case, if the declension is used). However, if the noun is a plural of thing or of living beings (except humans), the adjective agrees with it in singular feminine. That is, we will say for example:

  • a beautiful book: كتاب جميل kitāb [un] ŷamīl [un]

but in plural we will say

  • some prettybooks (كتب جميلة kutub [un] ŷamīla [tun] )

If the noun is determined by the article al- , the adjectives must be as well. Thus, “the Arab world” will be called al-`āliam al-`arabī , that is, the Arab world .

There is a very productive type of adjective called نسبي nisbī or relationship, which is formed by adding the suffix ي  (male) or ية -iyya (fem.). It is one of the few cases in Arabic of word formation by adding suffixes and not by internal flexion. It has given in Spanish the suffix  (male and female) in words such as Ceutí , Alfonsí , Saudí , etc. The adjective of relationship serves to form the names and is frequent in surnames and words that indicate relationship or belonging:

  • تونس Tūnis(Tunisia)> تونسية tūnisiyya (Tunisian)
  • إشتراك ištirāk(share, socialize)> إشتراكي ištirākī (socialist)
  • يوم yawm(day)> يومي yawmī (daily).

The feminine plural ending (يات -iyyāt ) also serves to form nouns:

  • يوم yawm(day)> يوميات yawmiyyāt (daily)
  • السودان As-Sūdān(Sudan)> سودانيات sūdāniyyāt (set of things typical of Sudan)


In Arabic, there is only one specific article, without variation of gender and number, but of pronunciation. It is the article ال al- , which is written together with the word it determines, which is why it is frequently transcribed in Latin characters separated from it with a hyphen and not with a space.

The l of the article changes its pronunciation to the first letter of the determined word when said letter is one of the so-called ” solar ” letters . Half the letters of the alphabet are solar: tāʾ, ṯāʾ, dāl, ḏāl, rāʾ, zāy, sīn, šīn, ṣād, ḍād, ṭāʾ, lām, lām and nūn. The rest are called “moles”. Thus, التون al-tūn (the tuna) is pronounced at-tūn ; الزيت al-zayt (the oil) is pronounced az-zayt , etc. In the Latin transcription you can keep the l of the article or replace it with the solarized letter . Dialectal Arabic sometimes solarizes other letters.

On the other hand, the a of the article disappears when the previous word ends in a vowel (which happens very often if declension is used):

  • الكتب al-kutub(the books)> إشترى الكتب ištarà l-kutub (bought the books).

In Arabic it does not exist in principle in an indeterminate article, since said value is given by the decline. Dialectal Arabic frequently uses the numeral واحد wāḥid (one) followed by the given article:

  • classic: كتابٌ kitābun(a book); dialectal: واحد الكتاب wāḥid al-kitāb (lit., “one the book”).


  • Cardinal, ordinal, distributive, etc.


There are two types of pronouns: the isolated ones and the suffixes. The latter, suffixed to a noun, indicate possession: بيتي bayt-ī : “my house”; بيتها baytu-hā : “her house”, etc. When suffixed to a verb, they indicate the direct or indirect complement: كتبتها katabat-hā : [she] wrote it (eg, a letter) or [she] wrote (to a woman).

Verbal syntagm

General characteristics of the verb phrase

The order in the verbal phrase is usually subject, verb, complements. A more classical order puts the verb before the subject, and in that case it always goes in the singular even though the subject is plural.

As in spoken Spanish, the passive voice has no agent subject: a phrase such as Don Quixote was written by Cervantes would be impossible in classical Arabic, which only Don Quixote could express was written by Cervantes (which is a perfectly correct construction in classical Arabic although his Spanish translation is considered vulgar), either ‘Don Quixote was written (no one knows by whom), or Cervantes wrote Don Quixote . However, standard Arabic, especially that used in the press, incorporates, by imitation of the European languages, grammatical constructions foreign to the Arabic language, including that of the passive sentence: Don Quixote was written by Cervantes , and the periphrasis of the typeCervantes’ writing of Don Quixote took place .

As in other languages, the verb “to be” in the present tense is not used. To say “I am an Arab” we will say: أنا عربي anā `arabī , that is, I am an Arab .

But that usually doesn’t work when the predicate is determined. The words العالم العربي al-`ālam al-`arabī (literally: the world the Arab) can only mean the Arab world . If we remove the article from the adjective, tracing the structure of Spanish, we get العالم عربي al-`ālam `arabī, which necessarily means the world is Arab , and never the Arab world .

Sometimes third-person pronouns are used to mark the place where the verb “to be” should be, to give a shade of intensity or avoid confusion: العالم هو عربي al-`ālam huwa `arabī ( the world he Arabic ):” the world is indeed Arab “(the same as inna al-`ālam` arabī ). It is better to use pronouns like this only when the predicate is determined: ana huwa l-mudarris ( I am the teacher ).


The Arabic verb has two aspects, “past” and “present”, which, more than indicating “time”, correspond to the finished action and the action in progress. The imperative and the future are modifications of the present. The infinitive does not exist. In dictionaries, verbs are stated in the third person masculine singular from the past. Thus, the verb “write” is in Arabic the verb “wrote” ( kataba ). The present tense, in turn, has three modes: indicative, subjunctive, and jusive , which differ mainly in the final short vowels. In dialect Arabic all three merge into one.

There are ten different verbal paradigms: each stem can form up to ten different verbs (see the Roots and forms section ). For example, the verbs “naẓara” (watched) and “intaẓara” (waited) derive both from the same verbal root nẓr, in the paradigms “1a2a3a” and “i1ta2a3a”.

From the verb derive the maṣdar , a name that designates the action of the verb and is frequently translated as an infinitive or a nomen actionis , and the active and passive participles. Both are frequently used in place of the verb. For example, “I’m waiting for the subway” can be said:

  • using the verb: أنا أنتظر الميترو [anā] antaẓir al-mītrū(“[I] wait for the subway”)
  • using the active participle: أنا منتظر الميترو Ana Muntazir on-MITRU( “I’m esperante of the metro”)
  • using the maṣdar: أنا في إنتظار الميترو anā fī intiẓār al-mītrū (“I am waiting for the subway”)

There is a difference in meaning between the first (“I start to wait”, “I am going to wait”) and the last two (“I am waiting”).


Often the adverb is formed by adding to the noun the indeterminate accusative ending -an (which, remember, is reflected in the script through a final alif ):

  • حسن ḥasan(good)> حسناً ḥasanan (good)
  • شكر šukr(thanks)> شكراً šukran (thanks)



The Arabic language has incorporated numerous loans over time, both classical Arabic and standard or dialect. The oldest loans, already unrecognizable, come from other Semitic languages ​​such as Aramaic . In medieval times, many Persian , Greek and later Turkish words entered the Arabic language . And in modern times it has incorporated many words of French , English or Italian origin . Borrowings are much more common in dialects than in literary Arabic and also affect syntax. Words of Tamazight or Berber origin are frequent in the Maghreb, Ottoman Turkish in Egypt , Persian and Kurdish in Iraq .


  • ورشة warša(workshop; standard) < workshop (English)
  • رضومة rḍūma(bottle; normarroquí) < redoma (Spanish)
  • بندورة bundūra(tomato; Syrian) < pomodoro (Italian)
  • تليفون tilifūn(telephone, standard) < téléphone (French)
  • كوبري kūbrī(bridge; Egyptian) < köprü (Turkish)
  • دكوردو dakūrdū(agree; Tunisian) < agree (Spanish)
  • قانون qānūn(law; standard) < kanon / κανον (Greek)
  • قيصر qayṣar(emperor; standard) < caesar (Latin)
  • طربيزة ṭarabēza(table; Egyptian) < trapezios / τραπεζιος (Greek)
  • electroniīa(electronic; English)

Sometimes the loans are integrated into the system of roots and forms, taking from the incorporated word three or four radicals that will serve to create new words according to the usual rules of the Arabic derivation. For example, from faylasūf (philosopher, of Greek origin) the quadrilateral root FLSF is extracted with which words such as false (philosophy), mutafalsif (the one who gives them as a philosopher) are formed. Warša and kūbrī , of English and Turkish origin, respectively, have plurals derived from the roots WRŠ in the first case and KBRY in the second: awrāš , kabārī .


(peculiarities of the semantic structure of the language, eg vigesimal numbering, grammaticalization of the social hierarchy (honorifics), etc.)


(peculiarities in the use and interpretation of language according to context, default contextual assumptions, cultural background assumptions, body language, etc.)

Historical, social and cultural aspects

History of the language

The Arabic language belongs to the southern Semitic branch of the Afro-Asian family. Arabic literature begins in the 6th century AD. C. and can be broadly divided into the following periods:

Classical Arabic before Islam

Centuries before the rise of Islam, Arab tribes had already migrated to the regions of Palestine , Syria, and Mesopotamia ; the Arabs were the dominant group among the inhabitants of Palmira , long ruled by a dynasty of Arab origin, until the Romans destroyed that kingdom in 273 AD. C. Between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD. C., the Nabateos established a State that reached the Sinaí in the west, the Hiyaz in the east and from Mada’in Salih in the south, to Damascus in the north, having Petraas your capital. The Arabic speaking tribes of Palmyra and the Nabataeans used the Aramaic alphabet as a writing system, but the influence of Arabic is clearly attested in inscriptions using proper names and Arabic words.

The corpus of pre-Islamic texts, which covers the 6th and 7th centuries AD. C., was collected by the Arab philologists of the 8th and 9th centuries. but Classical Arabic was not a uniform language, as Arabic philologists speak of a dialect divided between the western part of the Hijaz and the eastern part of Tamim and other Bedouin tribes. The occlusive glottal phonemes preserved in the eastern dialects had been replaced in the Hijaz dialects by vowels or semivowels.

Classical Arabic after the rise of Islam

The Koran, the first literary text written in classical Arabic, is composed in a language very identical to that of ancient poetry. After the spread of Islam it became the ritual language of the Muslims and also the language of teaching and administration. The increase in non-Arab peoples participating in the new beliefs on the one hand and the willingness of Muslims to protect the purity of revelation on the other, led to the establishment of grammatical norms and the institutionalization of language teaching.

The development of grammatical norms took place in the 8th century , along with a process of unification and normalization of the cultured language. Expressions and forms typical of poetry in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods, as well as the Koran, disappeared from prose during the second half of the 8th century. After the creation of normative classical Arabic by Arabic grammarians, the language remained basically unchanged in its morphology and syntactic structure, becoming the cultured language of the Islamic world.

In its normative form, classical Arabic was also adopted, in addition to educated Muslim elites, by other religious minorities, such as Jews and Christians. However, the vernacular was from the beginning very different from classical Arabic, which became a language of scholarship and literature even in the Arabic-speaking regions. This linguistic situation, in which two different variants of the same language, one low and one high, coexist is what has been called diglossia. The question of when this diglossia occurs in the Arabic-speaking community is highly controversial.. The traditional Arab concept is that it was developed in the first century of the Islamic era, as a result of the Arab conquests, when non-Arabs began to speak Arabic; others, however, conclude that diglossia is a pre-Islamic phenomenon.

For many centuries the teaching of Arabic was under the control of Muslim scholars, with Jews and Christians not taking much place, who did not fully share philological education.

Normative Modern Arabic

As a literary and scholarly language, classical Arabic continues to this day, but new elites emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries , influenced by Western civilization and power, revitalized classical Arabic and formed a linguistic medium called normative modern Arabic, adapted to the questions of modern life. Through the media , Modern Arabic has had wide influence on the public and is the official language in all Arab countries, including Somalia and Israel. It is also the second language throughout the Islamic world, particularly among the religious representatives of Islam.

Modern Arabic differs from classical Arabic only in vocabulary and style features; its morphology and syntactic structure have not changed, but there are peripheral and sectional innovations that are not strictly regulated by the classical authorities. Added to this there are regional differences in vocabulary, depending on the influence of local dialects and foreign languages , such as French in North Africa or English and Egypt , Jordan and other countries.


Colloquial Arabic is spoken as a mother tongue by some 150 million people, and is also understood by several million who use it as a Koranic language.

In the regions where the Arabic language is spoken, the peculiarity of diglossia occurs. The term diglossia refers to the fact that the same language has two basic varieties that coexist side by side, each performing different functions. This is probably a universal linguistic phenomenon, although in Arabic it is a fact that unites the entire Arab world. Except for speakers of Cypriot Arabic , Maltese, and most varieties of Juba and Chadic, this feature is common to all other Arabic speakers and probably already comes from the pre-Islamic period.

The diglossia is appreciated in the fact of using colloquial Arabic for everyday life and modern normative Arabic at school; Modern normative Arabic is generally used in written texts, sermons, university theses, political speeches, news programs, while colloquial is used with family and friends, but also in some radio and TV programs. Modern normative Arabic is the mark of pan – Arabism , since among some dialects of Arabic there is a high degree of unintelligibility, as between Moroccan and Iraqi.

Use and distribution

Geographical distribution

The Arab is one of the languages of the world with the largest number of speakers, about 280 million as a first language and 250 million as a second language. It represents the first official language in Saudi Arabia , Algeria , Bahrain , Egypt , the United Arab Emirates , Iraq , Jordan , Kuwait , Lebanon , Libya , Morocco , Mauritania , Oman , the Palestinian Authority , Qatar , Western Sahara , Syria ,Sudan , Tunisia and Yemen . It is also spoken in areas of Chad , Comoros , Eritrea , Iran , Mali , Niger , Senegal , Somalia , Turkey , Djibouti and other countries. In addition, several million Muslims residing in other countries possess knowledge of Arabic, for basically religious reasons (since the Koran is written in Arabic). Since 1974 it has been one of the official languages ​​of the United Nations .

Use and status

Dialectology and variants

Linguistically the main difference between the Arabic variants is the one between the eastern and western varieties, each with a certain number of subdivisions:

  • Western (or North African) variants:
    • The Andalusian Arabic(  ), from the ancient Al-Andalus .
    • Maghrebi Arabic, which would include:
      • Moroccan arab
      • The eastern Maghrebi of ( Algeriaand Tunisia )
        • Algerian Arabic
        • Tunisian Arab
      • In addition to transitional variants such as those in Libya, ( Libyan Arabic ).
    • Saharan Arab, Algerian-Moroccan border, and to a lesser extent in Niger .
    • Hassanía( Western Sahara and Mauritania ), also in Morocco and Algeria .
    • Maltese, which is the most divergent form of Arabic, highly influenced by the Sicilian .
  • Oriental variants (or mashrequíes):
    • The Sudanese Arab, of Sudan and Chad .
    • The Egyptian Arabic, of Egypt ; best known to the rest of the Arab world thanks to cinema and television, especially in its variety of Lower Egypt , which has become a kind of prestigious koiné.
    • The Levantine Arabor shami , of Lebanon , Syria , Jordan , Israel and the Palestinian Territories .
      • Lebanese Arab
    • The Mesopotamian Arabic, in Iraq , more like Levantine Arabic but with features of the northernmost Arabic.
    • The Arab from the Persian Gulf, from the Arabian peninsula; from Kuwait , Iraq , Saudi Arabia , Bahrain , Qatar , the United Arab Emirates and Oman .
    • The Arabic Najdi, in the region of Najd in Saudi Arabia and the deserts of Jordan and Syria .
    • The Hijazi Arabic, in the region of the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia .
    • The Arab Yemenite, of Yemen .

Dialectal Arabic and diglossia

The multitude of local colloquial varieties of Arabic are generally called dialectal Arabic. The official and literary language is only one, but the varieties spoken are very different from each other, so that intercomprehension is difficult in many cases. It is often said that the difference between Arabic dialects is the same as between Romance languages, but this is an exaggeration.

The formation of dialects is due to several combined factors such as the export of dialect varieties existing in Arabia before Islamic expansion, the influence of substrates , the geographical and cultural isolation of some areas, and the influence of the languages ​​of the colonization. The greatest differences are between the eastern or Mashrekish dialects and the western or North African dialects .

Nowadays standard Arabic is generally understood and most Arabs are able to speak it with more or less correctness: it is the language of writing, the Koran, teaching, institutions and the media. Also widely understood is Egyptian Arabic , an eastern dialect with some Maghreb features, exported to the entire Arab world through a large number of films, television series and songs.

Example of phrase in various dialects:

  • Spanish: Tomorrow I will go to see the beautiful market;
  • Classical Arabic: Gadan, sa-adhabu arà s-suqi l-yamili
    • غدا سأذهب أرى السوق الجميل
  • Standard Arabic: Gadan, sa-adhab arà s-suq al-yamil
    • غدا سأذهب أرى السوق الجميل
  • Tunisian: Gadwa, bash namshi nshuf es-suq el-ymil
    • غدوا باش نمشي نشوف السوق الجميل
  • Moroccan: Gadda, namshi nshuf es-suq ez-zwin
    • غدا نمشي نشوف السوق الزوين
  • Egyptian: Bukra, rayha ashuf as-su ‘al-gamil
    • بكرة رايحة أشوف السوق الجميل
  • Lebanese: Bukra, ana rayha `ala-s-su ‘eh-hwilo
    • بكرة أنا رايحة على السوق الحويلو

Dialectal differences tend to narrow due to the impact of the mass media. [3]

Derived linguistic systems

The Maltese , spoken in Malta , is an Arab dialect that is written with Latin characters and widely influenced by Sicilian and English .

  • The previous sentence in Maltese: Għada ħa mmur nara s-suq is-sabiħ

Arabic has left a large number of loans in languages ​​with which it has been in contact, such as Persian , Turkish , Swahili or Spanish . In this last language, Arabisms come mainly from Andalusi Arabic , a variety spoken in the Iberian Peninsula from the 7th century to the 16th century . They were more abundant in the daily lexicon in medieval times.
Many have switched to Spanish with the addition of the Arabic article ( al- and its variations as- , ar- , etc.):

  • bricklayer(<andalusí al-bannī´ <classic al-bannā´ : “the builder”);
  • sugaras-sukkar ;
  • apricotal-barqūq : “the plum”
  • oilaz-zayt ;
  • rental<andalusí al-kirē´ <classic al-kirā´ ;
  • bishopal-fīl : “the elephant”;

Others without article:

  • aedile`adīl :” just “;
  • macabremaqābir : “cemeteries”;
  • I hope<andal. w šā l-lāh <clás. wa šā ‘allāh : “and God willing”;
  • up toḥattà ;

There are also numerous place names. Some of them are Arabic adaptations of pre-existing place names:

  • Albacete< al-basīṭ : “the plain”;
  • Alcalá< al-qal`a : “the fortress”;
  • Alcázar, Alcàsser < al-qaṣr : “the palace”;
  • Algeciras< al-ŷazīra : “the peninsula”;
  • Almedina< al-medina : “the city (citadel)”;
  • Almería< al-miriya : “the mirror”;
  • Badajoz< بطليوس Batalyaws ;
  • Guadalquivir<and. wād al-kbīr <clás. al-wādī al-kabīr : “the great river”;
  • Guadalajara< wād al-ḥaŷara : river of stones;
  • Medinaceli< madīnat Salīm : “the city of Salim”;
  • Seville< Išbīliya < Hispalis ;
  • Jaén< ŷayyān : “gorge”;

Arabic literature

The Arabic language has a vast literary production that spans from the 5th century to the present day.

The earliest important samples of Arabic literature are compositions from pre-Islamic Arabia called mu’allaqat , “hanging”. This name is traditionally attributed to the fact that they could have been written and hung on the walls of the Kaaba , then the pantheon of Mecca , for having been the victors of some poetic joust. This would have allowed its survival, since at the time the literature was orally transmitted and therefore it can be assumed that most of its production was lost. The mu`allaqatthey are long poems that respond to a fixed scheme that will later inherit, with variations, classical poetry from the Islamic period. Pre-Islamic poetry has remained in Arab culture as a linguistic and literary model and as an example of primal values ​​linked to life in the desert, such as chivalry.

The Koran and the spread of Islam mark a milestone in the history of Arabic literature. First, it involves the definitive development of writing and the fixation of the literary language, classical Arabic. Second, literature in the Arabic language is no longer limited to the Arabian Peninsula and begins to develop in all the lands through which Islam is spread, in which Arabic is an official and prestigious language (later replaced by Persian in some regions of Asia). This opens the wide field of classical Arabic literature, with a great profusion of genres and authors.

With the fall of Al-Andalus and the Arab powers of the East (Baghdad, Cairo), which will be replaced by the Ottoman Empire , Arab literature enters a period of decline, with much lower production and little originality compared to the splendor of previous centuries.

Between the middle of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century , depending on the area, the Arab world , and with it its literature, entered into the process of revivification called Nahda (Renaissance). Contemporary Arabic literature detaches itself from classical models and incorporates widely genres such as the novel or the short story and, to a lesser extent, the theater . Poetry is still, as in classical times, the most cultivated genre.

The emergence of Arab nationalism in the mid-20th century and until the 1970s served as a stimulus to literary development. By areas, Egypt is the country that has given more writers to contemporary Arabic literature (hence the Nobel Prize Naguib Mahfuz ), followed by Lebanon , Syria , the Palestinian Territories or Iraq .

A famous aphorism declared that “Egypt writes, Lebanon publishes, and Iraq reads.”


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