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Published on Dec 27, 2011
How to pronounce the Arabic letters
Arabic (العربية al-ʿarabiyyah[note A] or عربي/عربى ʿarabī [note B]) is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book. This includes both the literary language (Modern Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic, used in most written documents as well as in formal spoken occasions, such as lectures and radio broadcasts) and the spoken Arabic varieties, spoken in a wide arc of territory stretching across the Middle East and North Africa. Arabic is a Central Semitic language, closely related to Hebrew and the Neo-Aramaic languages, and also related to the South Semitic languages (e.g. Amharic in Ethiopia, Tigrinya in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Mehri in Yemen and Oman) and the extinct East Semitic languages (e.g. Akkadian, first attested nearly 5,000 years ago). The written language 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.
Many of the spoken varieties are mutually unintelligible, 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. 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 counts more than 300 million first language speakers (according to some estimates, as high as 340 million), more than that of any other Semitic language. If considered separate languages, the most-spoken variety would likely be Egyptian Arabic, with more than 50 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, 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.
Arabic has lent many words to other languages of the Islamic world, like Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, Hausa and Hindi. 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 is seen in Romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, 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 (see 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. However, the current tendency is to coin new words using the existing lexical resources of the language, or to repurpose old words, rather than directly borrowing foreign words.