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The Arabic Language

 

Arabic is by far the Semitic language with the greatest number of speakers, now in excess of 160 million, although a completely accurate estimate is lacking. It is the major language throughout the Arab world, i.e. Egypt, Sudan, Libya, the North African countries usually referred to as the Maghrib (such as Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria). Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, the Gulf countries etc., and it is even the major language of non-Arab countries such as the Republic of Chad in central Africa.

Arabic is also a minority language in other countries such as Nigeria, Iran and the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Arabic is in wide use throughout the Muslim world as a second language and as a learned, liturgical language (e.g. in Pakistan, India, and Indonesia). Among orthodox Muslims Arabic is the language of the ‘angels’ and the language par excellence in the world since Allah himself speaks Arabic and has revealed his Holy Book, the Quran, in the Arabic language.


The Designation 'Arabic'

Arabic sticks out like a sore thumb in comparative Semitic linguistics because of its almost (too perfect) algebraic-looking grammar, i.e. root and pattern morphology . It is so algebraic that some scholars have accused the medieval Arab grammarians of contriving some artificiality about it in its classical form.

It is very important to keep in mind that one must sharply distinguish what is meant by the term 'Arabic' language. Modern standard Arabic, sometimes called modern literary Arabic or modern written Arabic, is essentially a modernized form of Classical Arabic. All of these designations are known as the 'pure' or 'clear' language. On the other side of the coin is a language which many Arabs think is devoid of grammar, the colloquial language , originated from the ancient poetic language of the Arabs in pre-Islamic Arabia, which was a period of idol worship (known in Arabic as the ‘period of ignorance '). The linguistic situation in ancient Arabia was such that every tribe had its own dialect, but there evolved a common one, which helped the preservation of the language and assisted in its conservatism. The Holy Quran, written in this dialect (of course it was at first oral) but with linguistic features of Muhammad’s speech, eventually became the model for the classical language. The colloquial dialects number in the thousands. One should also keep in mind that the differences between many colloquials and the classical language are so great that a fallah who had never been to school could hardly understand more than a few scattered words and expressions in it without great difficulty.

 

The Influence of Arabic on Other Languages

As Islam expanded from Arabia, the Ara =bic language exerted m =uch influence on the native languages with which it came in contact. Persians and speakers of other Iranian languages such as Kurdish and Pashto, Turkic­ speaking peoples , Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshians and many speakers of African languages such as Hausa and Swahili (this list is by no means exhaustive) used the Arabic script to write their own native languages and assimilated a tremendous number of Arabic loanwords.

 

The Arabic Alphabet

The Latin script is used by more languages than any other script ever invented (and it is used for languages as diversified in structure as Polish, English and Vietnamese). After Latin, the Arabic alphabet is number two because it was or is used to write a vast number of different languages such as Persian, Urdu, Pashto (all Indo-Iranian), Hausa, Swahili, Turkish, Malay and over a hundred others. The reason for this diversity is undoubtedly due to the spread of Islam.

A very interesting and relatively rare linguistic phenomenon has developed in Arabic, called diglossia, which is often confused with bilingualism. There can be no doubt that it is an old phenomenon going back to pre-Islamic period,

'High ' Arabic , which is called modern standard Arabic, and 'Low' Arabic, a colloquial dialect which native speakers acquire as a mother tongue , have specialized functions in Arab culture. The former is learned through formal education in school like Latin, Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew and would be used in a sermon, university lecture, news broadcast and for mass media purposes, while the latter is always an acquired system (no formal learning ever takes place to learn anyone's native tongue) and is the native language used at home conversing with family or friends or in a radio or television soap opera.

There is also a tremendous amount of sociological concern about language, dialect and variety in the Arab world.

 

Syntax

Arabic uses a non-verbal construction for some verbs in English, the most notable of which is 'have'. Arabic uses the preposition / Ii-/ 'to, for' or /) inda/ 'with (Fr. chez)' for 'have', e.g. / II kitabun/ or /) ind1 kita bu n/ 'I have a book '.

English is more analytical than is Arabic. Thus in English one needs three words to say 'I killed him'. In Arabic, one word renders this sentence, qataltuhu. English again needs three words to say 'he is sad'; Arabic
/hazina/, or 'he makes (someone) sad', hazana/.

If the verb precedes its subject, usually it is in the singular (Classical Arabic is more rigid than modern standard Arabic), but if it follows the subject there must be agreement in gender and number, e.g. 'the two men bought a book ' ?istarii rrajuliini kitiiban lit. 'he-bought the-two-men (nom du.) book (acc. sg.)' but ?inna rrajulayni starayii kitiiban 'indeed the-two­men (obi. du.) they-bought (du. m.) book (acc. sg.)'.

 




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About Arabic...


There are more than 160 million Arabians who speak and write Arabic, and it is also spoken in many North African countries and those on the Arabian Peninsula. In fact Arabic is the first language pf approximately 3% of the world’s population.