Arabic is a fascinating language and is spoken widely in at least 28 countries around the world, including Algeria, Morocco and Sudan.
It’s a language that not many people know much about. So in honour of it being Arabic Language Day this month, we wanted to explore the language in more detail. From why they read and write from right to left to what Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is and beyond. To get a real insight from an expert we had a chat with Dalia Nor El-Deen, one of our Arabic subtitlers, who was able to speak from experience and give us the low down on the different aspects of the Arabic language.
What is Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)?
MSA is the language that was used in the Qur’an and in early Islamic literature.
The exact number of people who speak MSA is extremely difficult to estimate for a number of reasons.
First, it is learned not as a first language, but as a second language in school and through exposure to radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and religion.
Second, the skill levels in MSA vary widely. Educated people tend to be highly proficient in speaking and writing in MSA, in addition to speaking their local Arabic varieties.
Dalia said, “In general, knowing the Arabic variant is not that important because we use Modern Standard Arabic, which all Arabic speakers understand! But, it will be important only when you target specific audiences in a specific Arab country!”
Why is Arabic Written from Right to Left?
Most modern languages are written left to right—like this very sentence. But this is far from the only way it’s done.
Ancient Semitic languages like Arabic used to be chiselled into stones in the ancient days. Words and pictographs all had to be recorded on hard objects because paper did not yet exist. Some ancient writing materials include rock, clay and popular papyrus – writing on these materials ensured that the words written lasted for many generations.
The problem was that this way of writing involved a risk of injury if the writer was to carve from left to right. Since most people are right-handed, they would use their right hand to hold (and carve with) the chisel and their left hand to hold a hammer.
The opposite script direction could have put the writer’s hand in danger because it increased the likelihood of them accidentally beating their hand with the hammer. This is why the Arabic language found right-to-left writing to be much easier.
The Different Arabic Dialects & Where They Can Be Found
With Arabic being spoken in over 28 countries around the world, it’s safe to say that there are many different variations of the way the language is spoken in each location. Here are a couple of variations of the Arabic language and where you can find them.
Gulf Arabic is a dialect most commonly spoken in Eastern Arabia. It’s not necessarily its own dialect but is more like a collection of dialects that are so close that they can all be understood by the same groups.
Within Gulf Arabic, there can be many differences in vocabulary, grammar, and especially accent. The differences get bigger with distance, so there can be differences between dialects that are further away geographically.
A good example is the version of Gulf Arabic spoken by people in Kuwait and in Qatar. These dialects can be so different that speakers may have trouble understanding each other.
Did you know that Hassaniya Arabic is spoken by 3 million people across the Arab world? It’s spoken in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Western Sahara.
What’s more is that the Hassaniya dialect is said to be incredibly innovative and very conservative. All of the phonemes that are in Classical Arabic are present, but it also includes many new phonemes. This can make the dialect complicated for new learners.
From experience, Dalia said that “the most requested Arabic variants are AR-SA (Saudi Arabia) and AR-UAE (United Arab Emirates).”
The Arabic language is a pillar of the cultural diversity of humanity and one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, used daily by more than 400 million people.
World Arabic Language Day is celebrated every year on 18 December, since 2012. The date coincides with the day in 1973 that the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Arabic as the sixth official language of the Organization.
This year’s World Arabic Language Day theme “Arabic Language, a bridge between civilisations” is a call to reaffirm the important role of the Arabic language in connecting people through culture, science, literature and many more domains.
In increasingly globalized, digitalized and multilingual societies, the 2021 theme is of urgent relevance. It recognizes the changing world and the imperative to reinforce dialogue between nations and peoples.
So to all our Arabic voices, subtitlers, translators and clients, we wish you a very happy Arabic Language Day.
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