Arabic Language History

The Arabic language ranks fifth in the world’s league table of languages, with over 200 million native Arabic speakers worldwide. It is also one of the six languages of the United Nations, the language of the Qur’an, and the official language of 22 countries. With so many people speaking Arabic, it is interesting to learn about the history of the Arabic language and discover how it became a prominent language in the modern world.

The history of the Arabic language started over 1,000 years ago when Classical Arabic first emerged. Classical Arabic was the dialect of Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. As the language stems from the Afro-Asiatic family, it is classified as a Semitic language. In fact, Arabic is the most widely spoken of all Semitic languages worldwide. It features many Sematic traits, including nonconcatenative morphology and the absence of vowels in the written script.

The classical version of Arabic evolved throughout the history of the Arabic language and spread across the North African and Iberian regions. Many regional dialects emerged, which Arabic speakers use today for everyday communications. Many of these are not mutually intelligible. Modern Standard Arabic was later developed as a simplified version of the language used in books, newspapers, television, schools, and official documentation today.

With so many Arabic speakers worldwide, many people are learning Arabic as a second language. But writing and speaking Arabic is incredibly challenging for non-native Arabic speakers. The Arabic language has 28 consonants and three vowels which can either be short or long. Many of these sounds don’t exist in other languages! The omittance of vowels makes speaking Arabic even more complex, and Arabic translations must be left to professional translators.

Arabic language Origin

The history of the Arabic language can be traced back to the Arabian Peninsula over 1,000 years ago. Very early indications of the language date back to the 8th century B.C.E. However, Arabic went through significant development throughout the 3rd to 6th centuries C.E. Throughout these years, characters were added to the script and words to the vocabulary.

Arabic started to spread, mainly because of the nomadic tendencies of the people speaking Arabic who lived in the region. Interracial marriages between people of the Arabian Peninsula and the surrounding areas expedited the process considerably. The Arabic language spread significantly during the Islamic conquests of the 7th century C.E., entering Iberian, Chinese, and North African regions.

It soon became the language of choice for many people, and there were more Arabic speakers than ever. The language was particularly prevalent among the Egyptian population, where Coptic and Greek were the major languages. As the Arabic language spread, different dialects and styles of the language formed. These varieties exist today, despite Arabic being classified as a single language.

Modern "Arabic Language"

The early 19th century marked the starting point of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Contacts between Arabic-speaking nations and the Western world increased, the first newspaper written in the Arabic language was printed, and Arabic-only schools were established to push back against a cultural shift towards Turkification. These all helped define a standardised version of the language.

MSA is simpler and more refined than classical Arabic. It is the version of the language taught in schools today and used for all printed materials in the Arab League. It is also the standard of the language which has official status in many countries worldwide – including the UAE, Yemen, Qatar, Somalia, Libya, Morocco, Egypt, and Iraq – and the version used in all official documentation.

Nevertheless, the dialects that emerged throughout the history of the Arabic language are still in use today. Arabic speakers communicate in several unique styles, known as “Colloquial Arabic.” Today, Arabic enjoys the status of a macro language with 30 varieties, including MSA. With so many language varieties, translating English to Arabic can prove challenging.

Alphabets & Writing System

The alphabet used to write the Arabic language is the second most widely used writing system worldwide after the Latin alphabet. It is not only used for writing Arabic – adapted forms of the script are used in Persian, Turkish, Swahili, and other languages. This is due to its use in the Quran and the spread of Islam, which played a pivotal role in the history of the Arabic language.

There are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, all representing consonants. The Arabic language does contain vowel sounds, but they are omitted from written Arabic. Reading and writing without vowels might seem impossible for English speakers, but Arabic speakers are used to the writing system. They automatically choose the appropriate pronunciation when speaking Arabic. In fact, the concept is used in most Semitic languages, including Maltese and Hebrew.

When writing Arabic, the shape of each character depends on its precise location in the word. This is because Arabic was designed to be handwritten and has a rich calligraphic history. Changing the shapes of the characters helps make shortcuts when writing the script. Unlike the English language, the script for the Arabic language is also written and read from right to left.

Arabic Language Dialects

Although MSA is used in formal and official communications, Arabic speakers use different linguistic systems in daily conversation. There are around 30 modern types of the Arabic language, but four main dialect groups: Levantine, Egyptian, Maghrebi, and Gulf. Of these, Egyptian Arabic is the most widely understood, primarily because Egypt is the major producer of movies and TV in the Arab world.

As you might imagine, the Egyptian dialect is spoken predominantly in Egypt. Meanwhile, people from Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine use the Levantine variety, whereas people around the Arab Gulf speak the Gulf dialect. This includes the countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Yemen and Iraq. Those from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya speak the Maghrebi dialect.

As you find people speaking Arabic hundreds of miles from each other, it is no surprise that many Arabic dialects are not mutually intelligible. In fact, the rich history of the Arabic language means many Arabic words have been lent to entirely unrelated languages. For instance, it has lent some words to English, such as ‘algebra’, ‘banana’, ‘coffee’, ‘magazine’, ‘sugar’, and more.

Arabic Translation Services

At Renaissance Translations, we have a team of Arabic speakers who can translate content into all major languages, including translating English to Arabic and vice versa. We only employ native speakers and experts in the Arabic language and its nuances. This ensures you get accurate, high-quality translations that connect with Arabic-speaking populations.

We also offer a range of language services including professional translationproofreading services, localisation, transcreation, video subtitling, and transcription. Our team can also provide services for multiple industries, including business, legal, financial, and more. No matter your requirements, our expert translators can help you get the job done in no time.

Contact us to discuss your specific needs and trust us with your Arabic language project. You can also request a quote online, just click here!