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, 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.
The Arabic Language has been around for well over 1000 years. It is believed to have originated in the Arabian Peninsula. It was first spoken by nomadic tribes in the northwestern frontier of the Peninsula. In fact, Arabic, means “nomadic.” Arabs (aka nomads), from which the word Arabic is derived, primarily occupied the area between Mesopotamia to the east to the Lebanon mountains in the west, to the Sinai in the south, and from northwestern Arabia to the Sinai in the south.
Arabic is a member of the family of Semitic languages. It is specifically a northern Semitic language. Other past Semitic languages included Akkadian also in the north, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac to the east and west and Abyssinia to the south. Today, Arabic is the widely spoken Semitic language. Some other native Semitic languages spoken today include: Hebrew, Aramaic, Kurdish, Amharic (spoken in Ethiopia), Tigre (spoken in Eritrea) and Berber (spoken in Morocco and Algeria). Some Semitic languages have either gone extinct or have become greatly limited because of the spread of the Arabic language. Phoenician, the ancient language of modern day Lebanon no longer exist and Coptic, which the dominant language of Egypt is now only spoken in the Coptic Church.
The spread of the Arabic language occurred as a result of various nomadic tribes traveling out of the Arabic Peninsula. The inter-marriage between Arabs and native people groups further spread the language as well as give rise to further Arabic dialects. Rapid growth of the Arabic language happened as a result of the Islamic Conquests that took place in the 7th century C.E. Through these conquests, the Arabic language made its way into Northern Africa, the Iberian Peninsula (the Middle East) and east into modern day China.
The Arabic language is unique as it technically comprises of multiple varieties, but is commonly classified as one language. As a single language, Arabic is one of the six most spoken languages in the world, comprising more than 400 million speakers. If it is considered a set of different languages, EGYPTIAN ARABIC would be the most widely spoken variety of Arabic.
Much of what is known of written, classical (or old) Arabic comes from the events recorded in the Qur’an, the holy book of the Islamic faith. These events are said to have occurred around the 7th century C.E. Prior to the Qur’an, much of the Arabic language was spoken. The Qur’an has served as the basis of the Arabic language to this day.
In recent years, the term Modern Standared Arabic (MSA) has come about. MSA is almost identical to the classical, formal Arabic of the Qur’an, with the exception of the addition of modern words and some differences in grammar constructions. MSA is the most common form of Arabic and is the variety taught in schools and colleges and is most commonly used in the workplace, in government and in the media.
Over the centuries of its existence, the Arabic language has adopted words from other languages including Hebrew, Aramaic, Persian, Greek, English and French. It has also influenced other languages as well including Turkish, Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian and Tagalog.