Native Speakers: 295 million
Spoken Natively in:
Official Language in: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, Yemen, African Union, Arab League, OIC, United Nations
Arabic (العربية al-ʻarabīyah or عربي/عربى ʻarabī ) (About this sound [al ʕarabijja] (help•info) or (About this sound [ʕarabi] (help•info)) is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD. This includes both the literary language and the spoken Arabic varieties.
The literary language is called Modern Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic. It is currently the only official form of Arabic, used in most written documents as well as in formal spoken occasions, such as lectures and news broadcasts.
This however, varies from one country to the other. In 1912, Moroccan Arabic was official in Morocco for some time, before Morocco joined the Arab League.
The spoken Arabic varieties are spoken in a wide arc of territory stretching across the Middle East and North Africa.
Arabic languages are Central Semitic languages, most closely related to Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic and Phoenician. The standardized written Arabic is distinct from and more conservative than all of the spoken varieties, and the two exist in a state known as diglossia, used side-by-side for different societal functions.
Some of the spoken varieties are mutually unintelligible, both written and orally, and the varieties as a whole constitute a sociolinguistic language. This means that on purely linguistic grounds they would likely be considered to constitute more than one language, but are commonly grouped together as a single language for political and/or ethnic reasons, (look below). If considered multiple languages, it is unclear how many languages there would be, as the spoken varieties form a dialect chain with no clear boundaries. If Arabic is considered a single language, it may be spoken by as many as 280 million first language speakers, making it one of the half dozen most populous languages in the world. If considered separate languages, the most-spoken variety would most likely be Egyptian Arabic, with 54 million native speakers—still greater than any other Semitic language.
The modern written language (Modern Standard Arabic) is derived from the language of the Quran (known as Classical Arabic or Quranic Arabic). It is widely taught in schools, universities, and used to varying degrees in workplaces, government and the media. The two formal varieties are grouped together as Literary Arabic, which is the official language of 26 states and the liturgical language of Islam. Modern Standard Arabic largely follows the grammatical standards of Quranic Arabic and uses much of the same vocabulary. However, it has discarded some grammatical constructions and vocabulary that no longer have any counterpoint in the spoken varieties, and adopted certain new constructions and vocabulary from the spoken varieties. Much of the new vocabulary is used to denote concepts that have arisen in the post-Quranic era, especially in modern times.
Arabic is the only surviving member of the Old North Arabian dialect group[which?] attested in Pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions dating back to the 4th century. Arabic is written with the Arabic alphabet, which is an abjad script, and is written from right-to-left. Although, the spoken varieties are sometimes written in ASCII Latin with no standardized forms.
Arabic has lent many words to other languages of the Islamic world, like Persian, Turkish, Bosnian, Kazakh, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Malay and Hausa. During the Middle Ages, Literary Arabic was a major vehicle of culture in Europe, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy. As a result, many European languages have also borrowed many words from it. Arabic influence, both in vocabulary and grammar, is seen in Romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Sicilian, owing to both the proximity of European and Arab civilizations and 700 years of Muslim (Moorish) rule in some parts of the Iberian Peninsula referred to as Al-Andalus.
Arabic has also borrowed words from many languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Persian and Syriac in early centuries, Turkish in medieval times and contemporary European languages in modern times, mostly from English and French.