Arabic is a Central Semitic language, closely related to Aramaic, Hebrew, Ugaritic and Phoenician. Classic Arabic, the language of the Quran, has remained largely unchanged since the 7th century. Throughout the Arab world, there are two primary forms of the Arabic language that coexist: Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Arabic.

Modern Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic is the only official form of Arabic. It is a modernized version of Classical Arabic used with little variation in all Arabic-speaking countries for written and formal oral communication. It is widely taught in schools and universities and is used in most written documents as well as in formal spoken occasions, such as lectures and news broadcasts. It is also one of the six official languages of the UN and is the official language of 26 countries.

Colloquial Arabic includes numerous spoken dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible. There are five major dialect groups in: 1) Arabian Peninsula, 2) Iraq, 3) Syria and Palestine, 4) Egypt, Sudan and Chad, 5) the Maghreb (North Africa to the west of Egypt). The Arabic dialects have been strongly influenced by, and in turn had influenced the literary language.

Arabic is the fifth largest language of the world and by far, the largest Semitic language. It is spoken by about 310 million people as a first language, most of whom live in the Middle East and North Africa. Arabic is of importance to all Muslims even to those for whom it is not their mother tongue. Originating in the north and center of the Arabian peninsula, Arabic spread, along with Islam, to the entire Middle East, Central Asia and the north of Africa.

Arabic Linguistic Features

New Arabic is distinguished from Classical Arabic by its loss of the case endings in nouns and adjectives, the loss of the mood category in the verb, and the loss of the dual number. When and how New Arabic emerged is disputed, but it most likely happened after the Islamic conquest. Today, it is represented by the various dialects of colloquial Arabic.


Arabic has six vowels, three short and three long vowels, plus two diphthongs. Vowel length is phonemic, i.e., unlike English, the difference between one word and another is signaled by the length of the vowel. Pronunciation of Arabic vowels is influenced by neighboring emphatic consonants and is quite variable in the colloquial languages. Many dialects have developed other vowels such as e,ə, o, etc.

Arabic has 30 Consonants  and has, like other Semitic languages, a remarkable number of very back consonants (uvular, pharyngeal and glottal). Arabic consonants can be voiceless, voiced or emphatic. The emphatic consonants are produced with constriction of the pharynx (pharyngealized). Every consonant may be geminated (doubled). Modern Standard Arabic lacks a p-sound but some dialects have one. Stress: is variable and dependent upon the rules of the colloquial languages.


A word is composed of two parts: the root formed by three consonants (less frequently by two or four), and the vowels. The root gives the basic lexical meaning of the word and the vowels give grammatical information.

Nominal:  Nouns, adjectives and pronouns are marked for gender, number, definiteness and case.

Definiteness:  indefiniteness is generally marked by the suffix -n (lost in Colloquial Arabic). Definiteness may be indicated by the article ‘al, which is prefixed to the noun, by a pronominal suffix or by a following genitive. Thus, indefinite kitābun (a book) and definite ‘alkitābu (the book).

Pronouns:  personal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative. Personal pronouns distinguish number (singular, dual, plural) and gender (masculine, feminine).

Verbal:  The main categories of the verb, like person, mood and tense-aspect, are marked by prefixes and suffixes.

Person and number:  Conjugations distinguish, like the personal pronouns, person, gender (masculine, feminine) and number (singular, dual and plural).


The basic neutral order of Classical Arabic is Verb-Subject-Object (VSO) but Colloquial, and to some extent Modern Standard Arabic, have become SVO. The verb and the subject agree in number and gender except when the verb precedes the subject. Adjectives follow their head nouns agreeing with them in case, definiteness, gender and number (the last two with certain restrictions). Interrogatives are placed at the beginning of the sentence.

Arabic Script and Orthography

The Arabic alphabet is, very likely, an offspring of the Nabatean alphabet, itself derived from an Aramaic one. Its earliest evidence dates from 512 CE. It is written from right to left and contains 28 letters, all of them consonants.

Though the Arabic script doesn’t have specific letters to represent the vowels, the signs for alif, waw and yā’ might be used to represent the long vowels ā, ū, and ī, respectively. The shape of the letters changes according to their position in the word (initial, medial, final); if a letter is written alone it is similar or identical to the word-final form.

Early loanwords came mainly from Aramaic/Syriac and in smaller proportions from other Semitic languages like Akkadian, Hebrew and Ethiopic. Among Indo-European languages, Greek and Persian contributed many technical terms, the latter particularly in the domains of pharmacology, mineralogy and botany.

 A Few Little Known Facts About the Arabic Language & Culture

The word “Arab” is a cultural and linguistic term. It refers to those who speak Arabic as their first language. Arabs are united by culture and by history. Arabs are not a race. Some have blue eyes and red hair; others are dark skinned; most are somewhere in between. Most Arabs are Muslims but there are also millions of Christian Arabs and thousands of Jewish Arabs.

Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims, consider the Arabic Language holy, because the Qur’an is written in Arabic. The written word has special meaning to them and is respected by the literate and the illiterate alike. Anyone who touches the Qur’an must have clean hands and it should always be covered with a cloth or plastic dust cover when not in use, and kept on the highest bookcase shelf, with nothing placed on top of it.

There are two versions of the Arabic language There are two versions of the Arabic language: Classical Arabic, and Modern Standard Arabic. Classical Arabic is found in the Quran and in texts dating back to the 7th-9th centuries. Modern Standard Arabic is the current standard of the language and is used in books, newspapers, and official documents around the world.

A considerable number of Arabs touch more between the same sex. Long handshakes, grasped elbows, even walking hand in hand by two males is common place in the Arab world. A full body embrace, accompanied with hugging, should not be initiated until you are sure that the Arab is a close friend. If the Arab initiates it, participate and consider yourself honored and/or accepted. However, contact between the opposite sex in public is considered close to obscene.

It is customary to offer snack foods to visitors and it is expected that they will accept at least a small quantity, but only after modestly refusing the first offer. Not eating everything on one’s plate is considered a compliment. It is a sign of wealth when an Arab can afford to leave food behind.

 A Touch of Arabic Literature

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said,
“Speak to us of our Children.”
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Khalil Gibran