We start our story about the Arabic language in west Asia and there, as historians and linguists propose, was the rise of the Semitic languages, named after Sam, the son of Noah. Semitic languages are divided into three sections: (1) Eastern and Semitic languages (2) North-West Semitic languages and (3) South West Semitic languages (or South) and in general they include Ethiopian, Acadian, Ugarit, Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic. The population of people speaking Semitic languages is currently about 467 million, concentrated currently in the Middle East, North Africa and East Africa. Of all the Semitic languages, these days Arabic is the most widely spoken – by nearly 422 million people – and it is also the sixth most spoken language in the world. Moreover, Arabic is the official language in Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morita, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Arabic is considered one of the most beautiful languages of the world as it has a very descriptive and diverse collection of synonyms and word structure and that is why the Arabs excelled in literature, poetry and eloquence. You must have certainly heard of „Kalila and Dimna“ and „One Thousand and One Nights“, which are probably considered some of the strongest examples of classical Arabic literatures in terms of proficiency, but despite that they are not comparable to pre-Islamic poetry. Let us look at some of the poetry of Antara Ibn Shaddad one of the bravest Arab knights in the pre-Islamic era as an example. Here he talks to his lover “Abla”:
„The poets have muddled all the little fountains.
Yet do not my strong eyes know you, far house?
O dwelling of Abla in the valley of Gawa,
Speak to me, for my camel and I salute you.
My camel is as tall as a tower, and I make him stand
And give my aching heart to the wind of the desert.
O erstwhile dwelling of Abla in the valley of Gawa;
And my tribe in the valleys of Hazn and Samma
And in the valley of Motethalem!
Salute to the old ruins, the lonely ruins
Since Oum El Aythan gathered and went away.
Now is the dwelling of Abla
In a valley of men who roar like lions.
It will be hard to come to you, O daughter of Makhram.“
The Arabic language was limited to the Arabian Peninsula until the advent of Islam when it then spread it to North and East Africa and also to Europe and some Eastern countries. You might be surprised to know that you can find some Arabic words in the English language; words such as algebra, alcohol, and tariffs, and many more. After that the Islamic state expanded and until then there was no need for grammar but grammar was introduced to help the non-Arabs learn the new language. According to historians, the founder of Arabic grammar is Abu’l-Aswad Al-Du‘ali.
The Arabic alphabet consists of 28 letters and you write it from right to left. Classical Arabic has now developed into Modern Standard Arabic and colloquial Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is not anyone’s native tongue but only a language learnt in schools and universities. It is commonly used in media of different kinds such as television, radio and newspapers, and it is also widely understood across the Arabic speaking regions unlike the colloquial Arabic which is pretty different from classical Arabic and also Modern Standard Arabic. The most widespread dialect is that of Egyptian.
Writing in Arabic is considered an art as Arabic calligraphy is said to be one of the most beautiful and finest calligraphies in the world. Arabic letters are characterized by being connected, thus geometric shapes can be made using them and different artistic styles can be created. You can see some of the ancient calligraphic inscriptions in different mosques across the Arabic region and Turkey.
And that was a very short introduction to Arabic for the readers of Lexiophiles. In the coming weeks there will be more articles about specific topics to do with the Arabic language, Arabic grammar and culture. Write to me about your specific interests in the language or culture or other related topics and I will gladly write about them. Just leave your comments below and I will get back to you.
Thanks for reading!