Introduction to Arabic
Arabic is usually ranked among the top six of the world’s major languages. As the language of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, it is also widely used throughout the Muslim world. It belongs to the Semitic group of languages which also includes Hebrew and Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia.
There are many Arabic dialects.
- Classical Arabic – the language of the Qur’an – was originally the dialect of Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia.
- An adapted form of this, known as Modern Standard Arabic, is used in books, newspapers, on television and radio, in the mosques, and in conversation between educated Arabs from different countries (for example at international conferences).
- Local dialects vary considerably, and a Moroccan might have difficulty understanding an Iraqi, even though they speak the same language.
Arabic is not the only language spoken in Arab countries. The two main minority languages. Several varieties of Amazigh are used by the Berbers of North Africa, while Kurdish is spoken in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Arabic’s exact position in the league table of world languages varies according to the methodology used.
One of the difficulties is that it is almost impossible to compile accurate data. There are also debates among linguists about how to define “speakers” of a language, and speakers of “Arabic” in particular. Many Arabs, for example, are not proficient in Modern Standard Arabic. The complexities are discussed further in an article by George Weber.