Arabic language

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Arabic (العربية{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transl Template:IPA-ar or عربي/عربى{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transl Template:IPA-ar) is a name for what are traditionally considered the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century. This includes both the literary language and varieties of Arabic spoken in a wide arc of territory, stretching across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. Arabic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family.

The literary language is called Modern Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic which is a Pluricentric language. It is currently the only official form of Arabic, used in most written documents as well as in formal spoken occasions, such as lectures and news broadcasts. However, this varies from one country to the other. In 1912, Moroccan Arabic was official in Morocco for some time, before Morocco joined the Arab League.

Arabic languages are Central Semitic languages, most closely related to Aramaic, Hebrew, Ugaritic and Phoenician. The standardized written Arabic is distinct from and more conservative than all of the spoken varieties, and the two exist in a state known as diglossia, used side-by-side for different societal functions.

Some of the spoken varieties are mutually unintelligible,[2] both written and orally, and the varieties as a whole constitute a sociolinguistic language. This means that on purely linguistic grounds they would likely be considered to constitute more than one language, but are commonly grouped together as a single language for political and/or religious reasons (see below). If considered multiple languages, it is unclear how many languages there would be, as the spoken varieties form a dialect chain with no clear boundaries. If Arabic is considered a single language, it perhaps is spoken by as many as 422 million speakers in the Arab world,[3] making it one of the half dozen most populous languages in the world. If considered separate languages, the most-spoken variety would most likely be Egyptian Arabic, with 54 million native speakers[4]—still greater than any other Semitic language. Arabic also is a liturgical language of 1.6 billion Muslim speakers.[5][6] It is one of six official languages of the United Nations.[7]

The modern written language (Modern Standard Arabic) is derived from the language of the Quran (known as Classical Arabic or Quranic Arabic). It is widely taught in schools, universities and used to varying degrees in workplaces, government and the media. The two formal varieties are grouped together as Literary Arabic, which is the official language of 26 states and the liturgical language of Islam. Modern Standard Arabic largely follows the grammatical standards of Quranic Arabic and uses much of the same vocabulary. However, it has discarded some grammatical constructions and vocabulary that no longer have any counterpart in the spoken varieties and adopted certain new constructions and vocabulary from the spoken varieties. Much of the new vocabulary is used to denote concepts that have arisen in the post-Quranic era, especially in modern times.

Arabic is the only surviving member of the Ancient North Arabian dialect group attested in Pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions dating back to the 4th century.[8] Arabic is written with the Arabic alphabet, which is an abjad script and is written from right-to-left although the spoken varieties are sometimes written in ASCII Latin from left-to-right with no standardized forms.

Arabic has lent many words to other languages of the Islamic world, like Persian, Turkish, Somali, Swahili, Bosnian, Kazakh, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Malay, Indonesian, Tigrinya, Pashto, Punjabi, Tagalog, Sindhi and Hausa. During the Middle Ages, Literary Arabic was a major vehicle of culture in Europe, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy. As a result, many European languages have also borrowed many words from it. Arabic influence, mainly in vocabulary, is seen in Romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Sicilian, owing to both the proximity of Christian European and Muslim Arab civilizations and 800 years of Arabic culture and language in the Iberian Peninsula referred to in Arabic as al-Andalus.

Arabic has also borrowed words from many languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Persian and Syriac in early centuries, Turkish in medieval times and contemporary European languages in modern times, mostly from English and French.

Classical, Modern Standard and spoken Arabic

Arabic usually designates one of three main variants: Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic and colloquial or dialectal Arabic.

Classical Arabic is the language found in the Qur'an and used from the period of Pre-Islamic Arabia to that of the Abbasid Caliphate. Theoretically, Classical Arabic is considered normative, according to the syntactic and grammatical norms laid down by classical grammarians (such as Sibawayh) and the vocabulary defined in classical dictionaries (such as the Template:Transl). In practice, however, modern authors almost never write in pure Classical Arabic, instead using a literary language with its own grammatical norms and vocabulary, commonly known as Modern Standard Arabic. This is the variety used in most current, printed Arabic publications, spoken by some of the Arabic media across North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and understood by most educated Arabic speakers. "Literary Arabic" and "Standard Arabic" (فُصْحَى{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transl) are less strictly defined terms that may refer to Modern Standard Arabic or Classical Arabic.

Some of the differences between Classical Arabic (CA) and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) are as follows:

  • Certain grammatical constructions of CA that have no counterpart in any modern dialect (e.g., the energetic mood) are almost never used in Modern Standard Arabic.
  • No modern spoken variety of Arabic has case distinctions. As a result, MSA is generally composed without case distinctions in mind and the proper cases added after the fact, when necessary. (Because most case endings are noted using final short vowels, which are normally left unwritten in the Arabic script, it is unnecessary to determine the proper case of most words.) The practical result of this is that MSA, like English and Standard Chinese, is written in a strongly determined word order and alternative orders that were used in CA for emphasis are rare. In addition, because of the lack of case marking in the spoken varieties, most speakers cannot consistently use the correct endings in extemporaneous speech. As a result, spoken MSA tends to drop or regularize the endings except when reading from a prepared text.
  • In CA, the verb normally precedes the subject (VSO order); when the subject is fronted (SVO order), it is usually accompanied by the focusing particle Template:Transl. MSA, following the spoken varieties, tends towards SVO order and rarely uses Template:Transl.
  • The numeral system in CA is complex and heavily tied in with the case system. This system is never used in MSA, even in the most formal of circumstances; instead, a significantly simplified system is used, approximating the system of the conservative spoken varieties.

MSA uses much Classical vocabulary (e.g., Template:Transl 'to go') that is not present in the spoken varieties. However, when multiple Classical synonyms are available, MSA tends to prefer words with cognates in the spoken varieties over words without cognates. In addition, MSA has borrowed or coined a large number of terms for concepts that did not exist in Quranic times, and MSA continues to evolve.[9] Some words have been borrowed from other languages—notice that transliteration mainly indicates spelling, and not real pronunciation (e.g., فيلم{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transl 'film' or Template:Transl 'democracy'). However, the current preference is to avoid direct borrowings, preferring to either use loan translations (e.g., Template:Transl 'branch', also used for the branch of a company or organization; Template:Transl 'wing', also used for the wing of an airplane, building, air force, etc.) or to coin new words using forms within existing roots (Template:Transl 'apoptosis', using the root m/w/t 'death' put into the Xth form, or Template:Transl 'university', based on Template:Transl 'to gather, unite'; Template:Transl 'republic', based on Template:Transl 'multitude'). An earlier tendency was to repurpose older words that had fallen into disuse (e.g., هاتف{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transl 'telephone' < 'invisible caller (in Sufism)'; Template:Transl 'newspaper' < 'palm-leaf stalk').

Colloquial or dialectal Arabic refers to the many national or regional varieties which constitute the everyday spoken language. Colloquial Arabic has many regional variants; these sometimes differ enough to be mutually unintelligible, and some linguists consider them distinct languages.[10] The varieties are typically unwritten. They are often used in informal spoken media, such as soap operas and talk shows,[11] as well as occasionally in certain forms of written media, such as poetry and printed advertising. The only variety of modern Arabic to have acquired official language status is Maltese, spoken in (predominately Roman Catholic) Malta and written with the Latin script. It is descended from Classical Arabic through Siculo-Arabic and is not mutually intelligible with other varieties of Arabic. Most linguists list it as a separate language rather than as a dialect of Arabic. Historically, Algerian Arabic was taught in French Algeria under the name darija.

Flag of the Arab league, used in some cases for the Arabic Language.
Flag used in some cases for the Arabic Language

Note that even during Muhammad's lifetime, there were dialects of spoken Arabic. Muhammad spoke in the dialect of Mecca, in the western Arabian peninsula, and it was in this dialect that the Quran was written down. However, the dialects of the eastern Arabian peninsula were considered the most prestigious at the time, so the language of the Quran was ultimately converted to follow the eastern phonology. It is this phonology that underlies the modern pronunciation of Classical Arabic. The phonological differences between these two dialects account for some of the complexities of Arabic writing, most notably the writing of the glottal stop or hamzah (which was preserved in the eastern dialects but lost in western speech) and the use of Template:Transl (representing a sound preserved in the western dialects but merged with Template:Transl in eastern speech).

Language and dialect

{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||$N=Unreferenced section |date=__DATE__ |$B= {{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||$N=Unreferenced |date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Message box|ambox}} }} }} The sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in modern times provides a prime example of the linguistic phenomenon of diglossia, which is the normal use of two separate varieties of the same language, usually in different social situations. In the case of Arabic, educated Arabs of any nationality can be assumed to speak both their local dialect and their school-taught Standard Arabic. When educated Arabs of different dialects engage in conversation (for example, a Moroccan speaking with a Lebanese), many speakers code-switch back and forth between the dialectal and standard varieties of the language, sometimes even within the same sentence. Arabic speakers often improve their familiarity with other dialects via music or film.

The issue of whether Arabic is one language or many languages is politically charged, similar to the issue with Chinese, Hindi and Urdu, Serbian and Croatian, Scots and English, etc. The issue of diglossia between spoken and written language is a significant complicating factor: A single written form, significantly different from any of the spoken varieties learned natively, unites a number of sometimes divergent spoken forms. For political reasons, Arabs mostly assert that they all speak a single language, despite significant issues of mutual incomprehensibility among differing spoken versions.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

From a linguistic standpoint, it is often said that the various spoken varieties of Arabic differ among each other collectively about as much as the Romance languages. This is an apt comparison in a number of ways. The period of divergence from a single spoken form is similar—perhaps 1500 years for Arabic, 2000 years for the Romance languages. Also, while it is comprehensible to people from the Maghreb, a linguistically innovative variety such as Moroccan Arabic is essentially incomprehensible to Arabs from the Mashriq, much as French is incomprehensible to Spanish or Italian speakers. This suggests that the spoken varieties may linguistically be considered separate languages.

Influence of Arabic on other languages

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The influence of Arabic has been most important in Islamic countries, because it is the language of the Islamic sacred book, Quran. Arabic is also an important source of vocabulary for languages such as Baluchi, Bengali, Berber, Bosnian, Catalan, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hausa, Hindustani, Italian, Indonesian, Kazakh, Kurdish, Kutchi, Malay, Malayalam, Maltese, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Rohingya, Saraiki, Sindhi, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek and Wolof, as well as other languages in countries where these languages are spoken.

In addition, English has many Arabic loanwords, some directly but most through the medium of other Mediterranean languages. Examples of such words include admiral, adobe, alchemy, alcohol, algebra, algorithm, alkaline, almanac, amber, arsenal, assassin, candy, carat, cipher, coffee, cotton, ghoul, hazard, jar, kismet, lemon, loofah, magazine, mattress, sherbet, sofa, sumac, tariff and many other words.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} Other languages such as Maltese[12] and Kinubi derive ultimately from Arabic, rather than merely borrowing vocabulary or grammar rules.

Terms borrowed range from religious terminology (like Berber taẓallit 'prayer' < salat) (صلاة{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transl), academic terms (like Uyghur mentiq 'logic'), economic items (like English coffee) to placeholders (like Spanish fulano 'so-and-so') and everyday conjunctions (like Hindustani lekin 'but', or Spanish taza meaning 'cup' and Portuguese até meaning 'until'), and expressions (like Catalan a betzef 'galore, in quantity'). Most Berber varieties (such as Kabyle), along with Swahili, borrow some numbers from Arabic. Most Islamic religious terms are direct borrowings from Arabic, such as salat 'prayer' and imam 'prayer leader.'

In languages not directly in contact with the Arab world, Arabic loanwords are often transferred indirectly via other languages rather than being transferred directly from Arabic. For example, most Arabic loanwords in Hindustani entered through Persian though Persian is an Indo-Iranian language. Older Arabic loanwords in Hausa were borrowed from Kanuri.

Some words in English and other European languages are derived from Arabic, often through other European languages, especially Spanish and Italian. Among them are commonly used words like "coffee" (qahwah), "cotton" (Template:Transl) and "magazine" ([[makhzen|Template:Transl]]). English words more recognizably of Arabic origin include "algebra", "alcohol", "alchemy", "alkali", "zenith," and "nadir".

Arabic words also made their way into several West African languages as Islam spread across the Sahara. Variants of Arabic words such as kitāb (book) have spread to the languages of African groups who had no direct contact with Arab traders.[13]

As, throughout the Islamic world, Arabic occupied a position similar to that of Latin in Europe, many of the Arabic concepts in the field of science, philosophy, commerce etc. were coined from Arabic roots by non-native Arabic speakers, notably by Aramaic and Persian translators, and then found their way into other languages. This process of using Arabic roots, especially in Turkish and Persian, to translate foreign concepts continued right until the 18th and 19th century, when swaths of Arab-inhabited lands were under Ottoman rule.

Influence of other languages on Arabic

Arabic was influenced by other languages as well. The most important sources of borrowings into (pre-Islamic) Arabic are from the related (Semitic) languages Aramaic,[14] which used to be the principal, international language of communication throughout the ancient Near and Middle East, Ethiopic, and to a lesser degree Hebrew (mainly religious concepts). In addition, many cultural, religious and political terms have entered Arabic from Iranian, notably Middle Persian or Parthian and (Classical) Persian,[15] and Hellenistic Greek (kīmiyāʼ has as origin the Greek chymia, meaning in that language the melting of metals; see Roger Dachez, Histoire de la Médecine de l'Antiquité au XXe siècle, Tallandier, 2008, p. 251), alembic (distiller) from ambix (cup), qalam (pen, pencil, feather) from kalamos (reed, pen), almanac (climate) from almenichiakon (calendar). (For the origin of the last three borrowed words, see Alfred-Louis de Prémare, Foundations of Islam, Seuil, L'Univers Historique, 2002.) Some Arabic borrowings from Semitic or Persian languages are, as presented in De Prémare's above-cited book:

  • raḥmān (رحمن, merciful), from Hebrew and Aramaic, where it had a similar meaning
  • nabī (نبي, prophet), old non-Arabic term that came into Arabic from Aramaic and Hebrew before the emergence of Islam.
  • madīnah/medina (مدينة, city or city square), a word of Aramaic or Hebrew origin; Alfred-Louis de Prémare explains in The Foundations Of Islam (p. 101) that the Jews were long before Arabs a sedentary population of "Arabian desert."
  • jizyah (جزية), the tax imposed by the caliphate on individuals of religion other than Islam (dhimmis), a tax in addition to the levy on agricultural land (kharāj). The term comes from the Syriac gzita, which is in turn borrowed from Persian gazit.
  • kharāj (خراج), land tax originally imposed only on non-Muslims, which comes from the Persian term kharazh, a term which designate the act by which the wealthy citizens were taxed, some times imposed upon states; satrapies were supposed to collect them.
  • jazīrah (جزيرة), as in the well-known form "Al Jazeera," means 'island' and has its origin in Syriac gazīra/gzīrta.
  • fārūq (فاروق, savior) is the naturalized form of the Aramaic word poruk, which in the Syriac Bible (Peshitta) means the Savior or Liberator. Once naturalized, the term produced mnemonic derivatives or shortcuts, so the root f-r-q (meaning cutting) became a folk etymological explanation for faruq: the Savior was one who cuts (separates) the truth from falsehood.
  • munāfiq (منافق, hypocrite), a term borrowed from Ethiopian, where it had the sense of heretical sect.
  • lāzaward (لازورد) is taken from Persian lājvard, the name of a blue stone, lapis lazuli. This word was borrowed in several European languages to mean (light) blue - azure in English, azur in French and azul in Spanish.

Arabic and Islam

Classical Arabic is the language of the Qur'an. Arabic is closely associated with the religion of Islam because the Qur'an is written in the language, but it is nevertheless also spoken by Arab Christians, Mizrahi Jews and Iraqi Mandaeans. Most of the world's Muslims do not speak Arabic as their native language, but many can read the Quranic script and recite the Quran. Among non-Arab Muslims, translations of the Quran are most often accompanied by the original text.

Some Muslims present a monogenesis of languages and claim that the Arabic language was the language revealed by God for the benefit of mankind and the original language as a prototype symbolic system of communication, based upon its system of triconsonantal roots, spoken by man from which all other languages were derived, having first been corrupted.[16][17] Judaism has a similar account with the Tower of Babel.

External history

Arabic languages (brown) within Semitic languages.

The earliest surviving texts in Proto-Arabic, or Ancient North Arabian, are the Hasaean inscriptions of in eastern Saudi Arabia, from the 8th century BCE, written not in the modern Arabic alphabet, nor in its Nabataean ancestor, but in variants of the epigraphic South Arabian musnad. These are followed by 6th-century BCE Lihyanite texts from southeastern Saudi Arabia and the Thamudic texts found throughout Arabia and the Sinai, and not actually connected with Thamud. Later come the Safaitic inscriptions beginning in the 1st century CE and the many Arabic personal names attested in Nabataean inscriptions (which are, however, written in Aramaic). From about the 2nd century CE, a few inscriptions from Qaryat al-Fāw (near Sulayyil) reveal a dialect which is no longer considered "Proto-Arabic", but Pre-Classical Arabic. By the fourth century CE, the Arab kingdoms of the Lakhmids in southern Iraq and the Ghassanids in southern Syria appeared. The Kindite Kingdom emerged in Central Arabia. Their courts were responsible for some notable examples of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry and for some of the few surviving pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions in the Arabic script.[18]

Internal history

The Semitic languages changed a great deal between Proto-Semitic and the establishment of the Central Semitic languages, particularly in terms of grammar. Innovations of the Central Semitic languages — all maintained in Classical Arabic — include

  • The conversion of the suffix-conjugated stative formation into a past tense.
  • The conversion of the prefix-conjugated preterite-tense formation into a present tense.
  • The elimination of other prefix-conjugated mood/aspect forms (e.g., a present tense formed by doubling the middle root, a perfect formed by infixing a /t/ after the first root consonant, probably a jussive formed by a stress shift) in favor of new moods formed by endings attached to the prefix-conjugation forms (e.g. -u for indicative, -a for subjunctive, no ending for jussive, -an or -anna for energetic).
  • The development of an internal passive.

Phonological history

Of the 29 Proto-Semitic consonants, only one has been lost: */ʒ/, which merged with /ʃ/.[19] But the consonant */ʒ/ is still found in many colloquial Arabic. Various other consonants have changed their sound too, but have remained distinct. An original */p/ lenited to /f/, and */ɡ/ became palatalized to /ɡʲ/ or /ɟ/ by the time of the Quran and Template:IPAslink, Template:IPAslink, Template:IPAslink or /ɟ/ in MSA (see Arabic phonology#Local variations for more detail).[20] An original voiceless alveolar lateral fricative */ɬ/ became /ʃ/.[21] Its emphatic counterpart /ɬˠ~ɮˤ/ was considered by Arabs to be the most unusual sound in Arabic (Hence the Classical Arabic's appellation Template:Transl or "language of the Template:Transl"); for most modern dialects, it has become an emphatic stop /dˤ/ with loss of the laterality[21] or with complete loss of any pharyngealization or velarization, /d/. (The classical Template:Transl pronunciation of pharyngealization /ɮˤ/ still occurs in the Mehri language and the similar sound without velarization exists in other Modern South Arabian languages.)

Other changes may also have happened. Classical Arabic pronunciation is not thoroughly recorded and different reconstructions of the sound system of Proto-Semitic propose different phonetic values. One example is the emphatic consonants, which are pharyngealized in modern pronunciations may have been velarized in the eighth century and glottalized in Proto-Semitic.[21]

Reduction of /j/ and /w/ between vowels occurs in a number of circumstances and is responsible for much of the complexity of third-weak ("defective") verbs. Early Akkadian transcriptions of Arabic names shows that this reduction had not yet occurred as of the early part of the 1st millennium BC.

The Classical Arabic language as recorded was a poetic koine that reflected a consciously archaizing dialect, chosen based on the Bedouin tribes in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, who spoke the most conservative variants of Arabic. Even at the time of Mohammed and before, other dialects existed with many more changes, including the loss of most glottal stops, the loss of case endings, the reduction of the diphthongs /aj/ and /aw/ into monophthongs /eː, oː/, etc. Most of these changes are present in most or all modern varieties of Arabic.

An interesting feature of the writing system of the Quran (and hence of Classical Arabic) is that it contains certain features of Muhammad's native dialect of Mecca, corrected through diacritics into the forms of standard Classical Arabic. Among these features visible under the corrections are the loss of the glottal stop and a differing development of the reduction of certain final sequences containing /j/: Evidently, final /-awa/ became /aː/ as in the Classical language, but final /-aja/ became a different sound, possibly /eː/ (rather than again /aː/ in the Classical language). This is the apparent source of the alif maqṣūrah 'restricted alif' where a final /-aja/ is reconstructed: a letter that would normally indicate /j/ or some similar high-vowel sound, but is taken in this context to be a logical variant of alif and represent the sound /aː/.

Dialects and descendants

Different dialects of Arabic.

{{#invoke:main|main}} Colloquial Arabic is a collective term for the spoken varieties of Arabic used throughout the Arab world, which differ radically from the literary language. The main dialectal division is between the varieties within and outside of the Arabian peninsula, followed by that between sedentary varieties and the much more conservative Bedouin varieties. All of the varieties outside of the Arabian peninsula (which include the large majority of speakers) have a large number of features in common with each other that are not found in Classical Arabic. This has led researchers to postulate the existence of a prestige koine dialect in the one or two centuries immediately following the Arab conquest, whose features eventually spread to all of the newly conquered areas. (These features are present to varying degrees inside the Arabian peninsula. Generally, the Arabian peninsula varieties have much more diversity than the non-peninsula varieties, but have been understudied.)

Within the non-peninsula varieties, the largest difference is between the non-Egyptian North African dialects (especially Moroccan Arabic) and the others. Moroccan Arabic in particular is hardly comprehensible to Arabic speakers east of Libya (although the converse is not true, in part due to the popularity of Egyptian films and other media).

One factor in the differentiation of the dialects is influence from the languages previously spoken in the areas, which have typically provided a significant number of new words and have sometimes also influenced pronunciation or word order; however, a much more significant factor for most dialects is, as among Romance languages, retention (or change of meaning) of different classical forms. Thus Iraqi aku, Levantine fīh and North African kayən all mean 'there is', and all come from Classical Arabic forms (yakūn, fīhi, kā'in respectively), but now sound very different.


Transcription is a broad IPA transcription, so minor differences were ignored for easier comparison.

Variety I love reading a lot When I went to the library I didn't find this old book I wanted to read a book about the history of women in France.
Literary Arabic in Arabic script
(dialects are written in other non-standardized spellings)
Template:Rtl-para Template:Rtl-para Template:Rtl-para Template:Rtl-para
Classical Arabic
(liturgical or poetic only)
Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Modern Standard Arabic Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Syrian Arabic Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Egyptian Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Lebanese Arabic Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Moroccan Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Mesopotamian Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Algerian Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Tunisian Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Kuwaiti Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Hejazi Arabic Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Libyan Arabic Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Urban Palestinian Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl
Sanaani Arabic Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl Template:Transl


According to Charles A. Ferguson,[22] the following are some of the characteristic features of the koine that underlies all of the modern dialects outside the Arabian peninsula. Although many other features are common to most or all of these varieties, Ferguson believes that these features in particular are unlikely to have evolved independently more than once or twice and together suggest the existence of the koine:

Dialect groups

  • Egyptian Arabic, spoken by around 55 million in Egypt. It is one of the most understood varieties of Arabic, due in large part to the widespread distribution of Egyptian films and television shows throughout the Arabic-speaking world.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B=

{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}

{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} with independent literary norms. Sicilian Arabic, spoken on the island of Sicily until the 14th century, developed into Maltese in Malta. In the course of its history the language has adopted numerous loanwords, phonetic and phonological features, and even some grammatical patterns, from Italian, Sicilian and English. It is also the only Semitic language written in the Latin script.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }}


{{#invoke:main|main}} Template:Side box

The "colloquial" spoken varieties of Arabic are learned at home and constitute the native languages of Arabic speakers. "Formal" Literary Arabic (usually specifically Modern Standard Arabic) is learned at school; although many speakers have a native-like command of the language, it is technically not the native language of any speakers. Both varieties can be both written and spoken, although the colloquial varieties are rarely written down and the formal variety is spoken mostly in formal circumstances, e.g., in radio broadcasts, formal lectures, parliamentary discussions and to some extent between speakers of different colloquial varieties. Even when the literary language is spoken, however, it is normally only spoken in its pure form when reading a prepared text out loud. When speaking extemporaneously (i.e. making up the language on the spot, as in a normal discussion among people), speakers tend to deviate somewhat from the strict literary language in the direction of the colloquial varieties. In fact, there is a continuous range of "in-between" spoken varieties: from nearly pure Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), to a form that still uses MSA grammar and vocabulary but with significant colloquial influence, to a form of the colloquial language that imports a number of words and grammatical constructions in MSA, to a form that is close to pure colloquial but with the "rough edges" (the most noticeably "vulgar" or non-Classical aspects) smoothed out, to pure colloquial. The particular variant (or register) used depends on the social class and education level of the speakers involved and the level of formality of the speech situation. Often it will vary within a single encounter, e.g., moving from nearly pure MSA to a more mixed language in the process of a radio interview, as the interviewee becomes more comfortable with the interviewer. This type of variation is characteristic of the diglossia that exists throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

Literary Arabic

Although Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is a unitary language, its pronunciation varies somewhat from country to country and from region to region within a country. The variation in individual "accents" of MSA speakers tends to mirror corresponding variations in the colloquial speech of the speakers in question, but with the distinguishing characteristics moderated somewhat. Note that it is important in descriptions of "Arabic" phonology to distinguish between pronunciation of a given colloquial (spoken) dialect and the pronunciation of MSA by these same speakers. Although they are related, they are not the same. For example, the phoneme that derives from Proto-Semitic /g/ has many different pronunciations in the modern spoken varieties, e.g., [d͡ʒ ~ ʒ ~ j ~ ɡʲ ~ ɡ]. Speakers whose native variety has either Template:IPAblink or Template:IPAblink will use the same pronunciation when speaking MSA, even speakers from Cairo, whose native Egyptian Arabic has Template:IPAblink, normally use Template:IPAblink when speaking MSA. Template:IPAblink of Persian Gulf is the only pronunciation which isn't pronounced in MSA, but instead [d͡ʒ~ʒ].

Another example: Many colloquial varieties are known for a type of vowel harmony in which the presence of an "emphatic consonant" triggers backed allophones of nearby vowels (especially of the low vowels /aː/, which are backed to Template:IPAblink in these circumstances and very often fronted to Template:IPAblink in all other circumstances). In many spoken varieties, the backed or "emphatic" vowel allophones spread a fair distance in both directions from the triggering consonant; in some varieties (most notably Egyptian Arabic), the "emphatic" allophones spread throughout the entire word, usually including prefixes and suffixes, even at a distance of several syllables from the triggering consonant. Speakers of colloquial varieties with this vowel harmony tend to introduce it into their MSA pronunciation as well, but usually with a lesser degree of spreading than in the colloquial varieties. (For example, speakers of colloquial varieties with extremely long-distance harmony may allow a moderate, but not extreme, amount of spreading of the harmonic allophones in their MSA speech, while speakers of colloquial varieties with moderate-distance harmony may only harmonize immediately adjacent vowels in MSA.)


Modern Standard Arabic has six pure vowels, with short /a i u/ and corresponding long vowels /aː iː uː/. There are also two diphthongs: /aj/ and /aw/.

The pronunciation of the vowels differs from speaker to speaker, in a way that tends to echo the pronunciation of the corresponding colloquial variety. Nonetheless, there are some common trends. Most noticeable is the differing pronunciation of /a/ and /aː/, which tend towards fronted Template:IPAblink, Template:IPAblink or Template:IPAblink in most situations, but a back Template:IPAblink in the neighborhood of emphatic consonants. (Some accents and dialects, such as those of Hijaz, have central Template:IPAblink in all situations.) The vowels /u/ and /i/ are often affected somewhat in emphatic neighborhoods as well, with generally more back and/or centralized allophones, but the differences are less great than for the low vowels. The pronunciation of short /u/ and /i/ tends towards [ʊ~o] and [ɪ~e] in many dialects.

The definition of both "emphatic" and "neighborhood" vary in ways that echo (to some extent) corresponding variations in the spoken dialects. Generally, the consonants triggering "emphatic" allophones are the pharyngealized consonants /tˤ dˤ sˤ ðˤ/; Template:IPAslink; and Template:IPAslink, if not followed immediately by /i(ː)/. Frequently, the Template:Lcons fricatives /x ɣ/ also trigger emphatic allophones; occasionally also the pharyngeal consonants /ʕ ħ/ (the former more than the latter). Many dialects have multiple emphatic allophones of each vowel, depending on the particular nearby consonants. In most MSA accents, emphatic coloring of vowels is limited to vowels immediately adjacent to a triggering consonant, although in some it spreads a bit farther: e.g., Template:Transl [wɑqt] 'time'; Template:Transl [wɑtˤɑn] 'homeland'; Template:Transl [wæstˤɑl-mædiːnɐ] 'downtown' (sometimes [wɑstˤɑl-mædiːnæ] or similar).

In a non-emphatic environment, the vowel /a/ in the diphthong /aj/ tends to be fronted even more than elsewhere, often pronounced [æj] or [ɛj]: hence Template:Transl [sajf ~ sæjf ~ sɛjf] 'sword' but Template:Transl [sˤɑjf] 'summer'. However, in accents with no emphatic allophones of /a/ (e.g., in the Hijaz), the pronunciation [äj] occurs in all situations.


Standardized Arabic consonant phonemes
Labial Inter-
Dental/Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyn-
plain emphatic emphatic plain
Nasal Template:IPA link Template:IPA link
Plosive voiceless Template:IPA link Template:IPA link Template:IPA link Template:IPA link Template:IPA link
voiced Template:IPA link Template:IPA link3 Template:IPA link Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link1
Fricative voiceless Template:IPA link Template:IPA link6 Template:IPA link Template:IPA link Template:IPA link Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link5 Template:IPA link4 Template:IPA link
voiced Template:IPA link Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link Template:IPA link Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link5 Template:IPA link4
Approximant Template:IPA link2 Template:IPA link Template:IPA link
Trill Template:IPA link
  1. This phoneme is represented by the Arabic letter Template:Transl (ج{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}) and has many standard pronunciations. Template:IPAblink is characteristic of north Algeria, Iraq, also in most of the Arabian peninsula but with an allophonic Template:IPAblink in some positions; Template:IPAblink occurs in most of the Levant and most North Africa; and Template:IPAblink is used in most of Egypt and some regions in Yemen and Oman. Generally this corresponds with the pronunciation in the colloquial dialects.[27] In some regions in Sudan and Yemen, as well as in some Sudanese and Yemeni dialects, it may be either [ɡʲ] or Template:IPAblink, representing the original pronunciation of Classical Arabic. Foreign words containing Template:IPAslink may be transcribed with Template:Rtl-lang, Template:Rtl-lang, Template:Rtl-lang, Template:Rtl-lang, Template:Rtl-lang, Template:Script/Arabic or Template:Script/Arabic, mainly depending on the regional spoken variety of Arabic or the commonly diacriticized Arabic letter. Note also that in northern Egypt, where the Arabic letter Template:Transl (ج{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}) is normally pronounced Template:IPAblink, a separate phoneme Template:IPAslink, which may be transcribed with چ{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}, occurs in a small number of mostly non-Arabic loanwords, e.g., /ʒakitta/ 'jacket'.
  2. /l/ is pronounced Template:IPAblink in /ʔallaːh/, the name of God, q.e. Allah, when the word follows a, ā, u or ū (after i or ī it is unvelarized: bismi l–lāh /bismillaːh/). Some speakers velarize other occurrences of /l/ in MSA, in imitation of their spoken dialects.
  3. The emphatic consonant /dˤ/ was actually pronounced [ɮˤ], or possibly [d͡ɮˤ][28]—either way, a highly unusual sound. The medieval Arabs actually termed their language Template:Transl 'the language of the Ḍād' (the name of the letter used for this sound), since they thought the sound was unique to their language. (In fact, it also exists in a few other minority Semitic languages, e.g., Mehri.)
  4. In many varieties, /ħ, ʕ/ (ح,‎ ع{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}) are actually epiglottal [ʜ, ʢ] (despite what is reported in many earlier works).
  5. /x/ and /ɣ/ (خ,‎ غ{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}) are often post-velar, though velar and uvular pronunciations are also possible.[29]
  6. /θ/ (ث{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}) can be pronounced as Template:IPAblink or even Template:IPAblink. In some places of Maghreb it can be also pronounced as Template:IPAblink.

Arabic has consonants traditionally termed "emphatic" /tˤ, dˤ, sˤ, ðˤ/ (ط,‎ ض,‎ ص,‎ ظ{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}), which exhibit simultaneous pharyngealization [tˤ, dˤ, sˤ, ðˤ] as well as varying degrees of velarization [tˠ, dˠ, sˠ, ðˠ], so they may be written with the "Velarized or pharyngealized" diacritic ( ̴ ) as: /t̴, d̴, s̴, ð̴/. This simultaneous articulation is described as "Retracted Tongue Root" by phonologists.[30] In some transcription systems, emphasis is shown by capitalizing the letter, for example, /dˤ/ is written D; in others the letter is underlined or has a dot below it, for example, Template:Transl.

Vowels and consonants can be phonologically short or long. Long (geminate) consonants are normally written doubled in Latin transcription (i.e. bb, dd, etc.), reflecting the presence of the Arabic diacritic mark Template:Transl, which indicates doubled consonants. In actual pronunciation, doubled consonants are held twice as long as short consonants. This consonant lengthening is phonemically contrastive: Template:Transl 'he accepted' vs. Template:Transl 'he kissed'.

Syllable structure

Arabic has two kinds of syllables: open syllables (CV) and (CVV)—and closed syllables (CVC), (CVVC) and (CVCC). The syllable types with three morae (units of time), i.e. CVC and CVV, are termed heavy syllables, while those with four morae, i.e. CVVC and CVCC, are superheavy syllables. Superheavy syllables in Classical Arabic occur in only two places: at the end of the sentence (due to pausal pronunciation) and in words such as Template:Transl 'hot', Template:Transl 'stuff, substance', Template:Transl 'they disputed with each other', where a long Template:Transl occurs before two identical consonants (a former short vowel between the consonants has been lost). (In less formal pronunciations of Modern Standard Arabic, superheavy syllables are common at the end of words or before clitic suffixes such as Template:Transl 'us, our', due to the deletion of final short vowels.)

In surface pronunciation, every vowel must be preceded by a consonant (which may include the glottal stop [ʔ]). There are no cases of hiatus within a word (where two vowels occur next to each other, without an intervening consonant). Some words do have an underlying vowel at the beginning, such as the definite article al- or words such as Template:Transl 'he bought', Template:Transl 'meeting'. When actually pronounced, one of three things happens:

  • If the word occurs after another word ending in a consonant, there is a smooth transition from final consonant to initial vowel, e.g., Template:Transl 'meeting' /alid͡ʒtimaːʕ/.
  • If the word occurs after another word ending in a vowel, the initial vowel of the word is elided, e.g., Template:Transl 'house of the director' /bajtulmudiːr/.
  • If the word occurs at the beginning of an utterance, a glottal stop [ʔ] is added onto the beginning, e.g., Template:Transl 'The house is ...' /ʔalbajtuhuwa .../.


Word stress is not phonemically contrastive in Standard Arabic. It bears a strong relationship to vowel length. The basic rules for Modern Standard Arabic are:

  • A final vowel, long or short, may not be stressed.
  • Only one of the last three syllables may be stressed.
  • Given this restriction, the last heavy syllable (containing a long vowel or ending in a consonant) is stressed, if it is not the final syllable.
  • If the final syllable is super heavy and closed (of the form CVVC or CVCC) it receives stress.
  • If no syllable is heavy or super heavy, the first possible syllable (i.e. third from end) is stressed.
  • As a special exception, in Form VII and VIII verb forms stress may not be on the first syllable, despite the above rules: Hence Template:Transl 'he subscribed' (whether or not the final short vowel is pronounced), Template:Transl 'he subscribes' (whether or not the final short vowel is pronounced), Template:Transl 'he should subscribe (juss.)'. Likewise Form VIII Template:Transl 'he bought', Template:Transl 'he buys'.

Examples:Template:Transl 'book', Template:Transl 'writer', Template:Transl 'desk', Template:Transl 'desks', Template:Transl 'library' (but Template:Transl 'library' in short pronunciation), Template:Transl (Modern Standard Arabic) 'they wrote' = Template:Transl (dialect), Template:Transl (Modern Standard Arabic) 'they wrote it' = Template:Transl (dialect), Template:Transl (Modern Standard Arabic) 'they (dual, fem) wrote', Template:Transl (Modern Standard Arabic) 'I wrote' = Template:Transl (short form or dialect). Doubled consonants count as two consonants: Template:Transl 'magazine', Template:Transl "place".

These rules may result in differently stressed syllables when final case endings are pronounced, vs. the normal situation where they are not pronounced, as in the above example of Template:Transl 'library' in full pronunciation, but Template:Transl 'library' in short pronunciation.

The restriction on final long vowels does not apply to the spoken dialects, where original final long vowels have been shortened and secondary final long vowels have arisen from loss of original final -hu/hi.

Some dialects have different stress rules. In the Cairo (Egyptian Arabic) dialect a heavy syllable may not carry stress more than two syllables from the end of a word, hence Template:Transl 'school', Template:Transl 'Cairo'. This also affects the way that Modern Standard Arabic is pronounced in Egypt. In the Arabic of Sanaa, stress is often retracted: Template:Transl 'two houses', Template:Transl 'their table', Template:Transl 'desks', Template:Transl 'sometimes', Template:Transl 'their school'. (In this dialect, only syllables with long vowels or diphthongs are considered heavy; in a two-syllable word, the final syllable can be stressed only if the preceding syllable is light; and in longer words, the final syllable cannot be stressed.)

Levels of pronunciation

The final short vowels (e.g., the case endings -a -i -u and mood endings -u -a) are often not pronounced in this language, despite forming part of the formal paradigm of nouns and verbs. The following levels of pronunciation exist:

Full pronunciation
Full pronunciation with pausa

This is the most formal level actually used in speech. All endings are pronounced as written, except at the end of an utterance, where the following changes occur:

  • Final short vowels are not pronounced. (But possibly an exception is made for feminine plural -na and shortened vowels in the jussive/imperative of defective verbs, e.g., irmi! 'throw!'".)
  • The entire indefinite noun endings -in and -un (with nunation) are left off. The ending -an is left off of nouns preceded by a tāʾ marbūṭah ة (i.e. the -t in the ending -at- that typically marks feminine nouns), but pronounced as in other nouns (hence its writing in this fashion in the Arabic script).
  • The tāʼ marbūṭah itself (typically of feminine nouns) is pronounced as h. (At least, this is the case in extremely formal pronunciation, e.g., some Quranic recitations. In practice, this h is usually omitted.)
Formal short pronunciation

This is a formal level of pronunciation sometimes seen. It is somewhat like pronouncing all words as if they were in pausal position (with influence from the colloquial varieties). The following changes occur:

  • Most final short vowels are not pronounced. However, the following short vowels are pronounced:
    • feminine plural -na
    • shortened vowels in the jussive/imperative of defective verbs, e.g., irmi! 'throw!'
    • second-person singular feminine past-tense -ti and likewise anti 'you (fem. sg.)'
    • sometimes, first-person singular past-tense -tu
    • sometimes, second-person masculine past-tense -ta and likewise anta 'you (masc. sg.)'
    • final -a in certain short words, e.g., laysa 'is not', sawfa (future-tense marker)
  • The nunation endings -an -in -un are not pronounced. However, they are pronounced in adverbial accusative formations, e.g., Template:Transl تَقْرِيبًا 'almost, approximately', Template:Transl عَادَةً 'usually'.
  • The tāʾ marbūṭah ending ة is unpronounced, except in construct state nouns, where it sounds as t (and in adverbial accusative constructions, e.g., Template:Transl عَادَةً 'usually', where the entire -tan is pronounced).
  • The masculine singular nisbah ending Template:Transl is actually pronounced Template:Transl and is unstressed (but plural and feminine singular forms, i.e. when followed by a suffix, still sound as Template:Transl).
  • Full endings (including case endings) occur when a clitic object or possessive suffix is added (e.g., Template:Transl 'us/our').
Informal short pronunciation

This is the pronunciation used by speakers of Modern Standard Arabic in extemporaneous speech, i.e. when producing new sentences rather than simply reading a prepared text. It is similar to formal short pronunciation except that the rules for dropping final vowels apply even when a clitic suffix is added. Basically, short-vowel case and mood endings are never pronounced and certain other changes occur that echo the corresponding colloquial pronunciations. Specifically:

  • All the rules for formal short pronunciation apply, except as follows.
  • The past tense singular endings written formally as -tu -ta -ti are pronounced -t -t -ti. But masculine Template:Transl is pronounced in full.
  • Unlike in formal short pronunciation, the rules for dropping or modifying final endings are also applied when a clitic object or possessive suffix is added (e.g., Template:Transl 'us/our'). If this produces a sequence of three consonants, then one of the following happens, depending on the speaker's native colloquial variety:
    • A short vowel (e.g., -i- or -ǝ-) is consistently added, either between the second and third or the first and second consonants.
    • Or, a short vowel is added only if an otherwise unpronounceable sequence occurs, typically due to a violation of the sonority hierarchy (e.g., -rtn- is pronounced as a three-consonant cluster, but -trn- needs to be broken up).
    • Or, a short vowel is never added, but consonants like r l m n occurring between two other consonants will be pronounced as a syllabic consonant (as in the English words "butter bottle bottom button").
    • When a doubled consonant occurs before another consonant (or finally), it is often shortened to a single consonant rather than a vowel added. (But note that Moroccan Arabic never shortens doubled consonants or inserts short vowels to break up clusters, instead tolerating arbitrary-length series of arbitrary consonants and hence Moroccan Arabic speakers are likely to follow the same rules in their pronunciation of Modern Standard Arabic.)
  • The clitic suffixes themselves tend also to be changed, in a way that avoids many possible occurrences of three-consonant clusters. In particular, -ka -ki -hu generally sound as -ak -ik -uh.
  • Final long vowels are often shortened, merging with any short vowels that remain.
  • Depending on the level of formality, the speaker's education level, etc., various grammatical changes may occur in ways that echo the colloquial variants:
    • Any remaining case endings (e.g. masculine plural nominative -ūn vs. oblique -īn) will be leveled, with the oblique form used everywhere. (However, in words like Template:Transl 'father' and Template:Transl 'brother' with special long-vowel case endings in the construct state, the nominative is used everywhere, hence Template:Transl 'father of', Template:Transl 'brother of'.)
    • Feminine plural endings in verbs and clitic suffixes will often drop out, with the masculine plural endings used instead. If the speaker's native variety has feminine plural endings, they may be preserved, but will often be modified in the direction of the forms used in the speaker's native variety, e.g. -an instead of -na.
    • Dual endings will often drop out except on nouns and then used only for emphasis (similar to their use in the colloquial varieties); elsewhere, the plural endings are used (or feminine singular, if appropriate).

Colloquial varieties



As mentioned above, many spoken dialects have a process of emphasis spreading, where the "emphasis" (pharyngealization) of emphatic consonants spreads forward and back through adjacent syllables, pharyngealizing all nearby consonants and triggering the back allophone Template:IPAblink in all nearby low vowels. The extent of emphasis spreading varies. For example, in Moroccan Arabic, it spreads as far as the first full vowel (i.e. sound derived from a long vowel or diphthong) on either side; in many Levantine dialects, it spreads indefinitely, but is blocked by any Template:IPAslink or Template:IPAslink; while in Egyptian Arabic, it usually spreads throughout the entire word, including prefixes and suffixes. In Moroccan Arabic, /i u/ also have emphatic allophones [o~ɔ e~ɛ].

Unstressed short vowels, especially /i u/, are deleted in many contexts. Many sporadic examples of short vowel change have occurred (especially /a/→/i/ and interchange /i/↔/u/). Most Levantine dialects merge short /i u/ into /ǝ/ in most contexts (all except directly before a single final consonant). In Moroccan Arabic, on the other hand, short /u/ triggers labialization of nearby consonants (especially velar consonants and uvular consonants), and then short /a i u/ all merge into /ǝ/, which is deleted in many contexts. (The labialization plus /ǝ/ is sometimes interpreted as an underlying phoneme /ŭ/.) This essentially causes the wholesale loss of the short-long vowel distinction, with the original long vowels /aː iː uː/ remaining as half-long [aˑ iˑ uˑ], phonemically /a i u/, which are used to represent both short and long vowels in borrowings from Literary Arabic.

Most spoken dialects have monophthongized original /aj aw/ to /eː oː/ (in all circumstances, including adjacent to emphatic consonants). In Moroccan Arabic, these have subsequently merged into original /iː uː/.


In some dialects, there may be more or fewer phonemes than those listed in the chart above. For example, non-Arabic Template:IPAblink is used in the Maghrebi dialects as well in the written language mostly for foreign names. Semitic Template:IPAblink became [f] extremely early on in Arabic before it was written down; a few modern Arabic dialects, such as Iraqi (influenced by Persian and Turkish) distinguish between Template:IPAblink and Template:IPAblink. The Iraqi Arabic uses also sounds Template:IPAblink, Template:IPAblink and uses Persian adding letters, e.g.: گوجة{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transla plum; چمة{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:Transla truffle and so on.

Early in the expansion of Arabic, the separate emphatic phonemes [ɮˤ] and [ðˤ] coalesced into a single phoneme [ðˤ]. Many dialects (such as Egyptian, Levantine, and much of the Maghreb) subsequently lost Template:Lcons fricatives, converting [θ ð ðˤ] into [t d dˤ]. Most dialects borrow "learned" words from the Standard language using the same pronunciation as for inherited words, but some dialects without interdental fricatives (particularly in Egypt and the Levant) render original [θ ð ðˤ ɮˤ] in borrowed words as [s z zˤ dˤ].

Another key distinguishing mark of Arabic dialects is how they render the original velar and uvular plosives Template:IPAslink, Template:IPAslink (Proto-Semitic Template:IPAslink), and Template:IPAslink:

  • ق{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:IPAslink retains its original pronunciation in widely scattered regions such as Yemen, Morocco, and urban areas of the Maghreb. It is pronounced as a glottal stop Template:IPAblink in several prestige dialects, such as those spoken in Cairo, Beirut and Damascus. But it is rendered as a voiced velar plosive Template:IPAblink in Persian Gulf, Upper Egypt, parts of the Maghreb, and less urban parts of the Levant (e.g. Jordan). In Iraqi Arabic it sometimes retains its original pronunciation and is sometimes rendered as a voiced velar plosive, depending on the word. Some traditionally Christian villages in rural areas of the Levant render the sound as Template:IPAblink, as do Shiʻi Bahrainis. In some Gulf dialects, it is palatalized to Template:IPAblink or Template:IPAblink. It is pronounced as a voiced uvular constrictive Template:IPAblink in Sudanese Arabic. Many dialects with a modified pronunciation for Template:IPAslink maintain the Template:IPAblink pronunciation in certain words (often with religious or educational overtones) borrowed from the Classical language.
  • ج{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} /d͡ʒ/ is pronounced as an affricate in Iraq and much of the Arabian Peninsula, but is pronounced Template:IPAblink in most of North Egypt and parts of Yemen and Oman, Template:IPAblink in Morocco, Tunisia and the Levant, and Template:IPAblink, [i̠] in most words in much of the Persian Gulf.
  • ك{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:IPAslink usually retains its original pronunciation, but is palatalized to Template:IPAslink in many words in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and much of the Arabian Peninsula. Often a distinction is made between the suffixes /-ak/ ('you', masc.) and /-ik/ ('you', fem.), which become /-ak/ and /-it͡ʃ/, respectively. In Sana'a, Omani, and Bahrani /-ik/ is pronounced /-iʃ/.

Pharyngealization of the emphatic consonants tends to weaken in many of the spoken varieties, and to spread from emphatic consonants to nearby sounds. In addition, the "emphatic" allophone Template:IPAblink automatically triggers pharyngealization of adjacent sounds in many dialects. As a result, it may difficult or impossible to determine whether a given coronal consonant is phonemically emphatic or not, especially in dialects with long-distance emphasis spreading. (A notable exception is the sounds Template:IPAslink vs. Template:IPAslink in Moroccan Arabic, because the former is pronounced as an affricate Template:IPAblink but the latter is not.)


Examples of how the Arabic root and form system works.


Literary Arabic


As in other Semitic languages, Arabic has a complex and unusual morphology (i.e. method of constructing words from a basic root). Arabic has a nonconcatenative "root-and-pattern" morphology: A root consists of a set of bare consonants (usually three), which are fitted into a discontinuous pattern to form words. For example, the word for 'I wrote' is constructed by combining the root Template:Transl 'write' with the pattern Template:Transl 'I Xed' to form Template:Transl 'I wrote'. Other verbs meaning 'I Xed' will typically have the same pattern but with different consonants, e.g. Template:Transl 'I read', Template:Transl 'I ate', Template:Transl 'I went', although other patterns are possible (e.g. Template:Transl 'I drank', Template:Transl 'I said', Template:Transl 'I spoke', where the subpattern used to signal the past tense may change but the suffix Template:Transl is always used).

From a single root Template:Transl, numerous words can be formed by applying different patterns:

Nouns and adjectives

Nouns in Literary Arabic have three grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, and genitive [also used when the noun is governed by a preposition]); three numbers (singular, dual and plural); two genders (masculine and feminine); and three "states" (indefinite, definite, and construct). The cases of singular nouns (other than those that end in long ā) are indicated by suffixed short vowels (/-u/ for nominative, /-a/ for accusative, /-i/ for genitive).

The feminine singular is often marked by /-at/, which is reduced to /-ah/ or /-a/ before a pause. Plural is indicated either through endings (the sound plural) or internal modification (the broken plural). Definite nouns include all proper nouns, all nouns in "construct state" and all nouns which are prefixed by the definite article /al-/. Indefinite singular nouns (other than those that end in long ā) add a final /-n/ to the case-marking vowels, giving /-un/, /-an/ or /-in/ (which is also referred to as nunation or tanwīn).

Adjectives in Literary Arabic are marked for case, number, gender and state, as for nouns. However, the plural of all non-human nouns is always combined with a singular feminine adjective, which takes the /-ah/ or /-at/ suffix.

Pronouns in Literary Arabic are marked for person, number and gender. There are two varieties, independent pronouns and enclitics. Enclitic pronouns are attached to the end of a verb, noun or preposition and indicate verbal and prepositional objects or possession of nouns. The first-person singular pronoun has a different enclitic form used for verbs (/-ni/) and for nouns or prepositions (/-ī/ after consonants, /-ya/ after vowels).

Nouns, verbs, pronouns and adjectives agree with each other in all respects. However, non-human plural nouns are grammatically considered to be feminine singular. Furthermore, a verb in a verb-initial sentence is marked as singular regardless of its semantic number when the subject of the verb is explicitly mentioned as a noun. Numerals between three and ten show "chiasmic" agreement, in that grammatically masculine numerals have feminine marking and vice versa.


Verbs in Literary Arabic are marked for person (first, second, or third), gender, and number. They are conjugated in two major paradigms (past and non-past); two voices (active and passive); and six moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive, jussive, shorter energetic and longer energetic), the fifth and sixth moods, the energetics, exist only in Classical Arabic but not in MSA.[31] There are also two participles (active and passive) and a verbal noun, but no infinitive.

The past and non-past paradigms are sometimes also termed perfective and imperfective, indicating the fact that they actually represent a combination of tense and aspect. The moods other than the indicative occur only in the non-past, and the future tense is signaled by prefixing Template:Transl or Template:Transl onto the non-past. The past and non-past differ in the form of the stem (e.g., past Template:Transl vs. non-past Template:Transl), and also use completely different sets of affixes for indicating person, number and gender: In the past, the person, number and gender are fused into a single suffixal morpheme, while in the non-past, a combination of prefixes (primarily encoding person) and suffixes (primarily encoding gender and number) are used. The passive voice uses the same person/number/gender affixes but changes the vowels of the stem.

The following shows a paradigm of a regular Arabic verb, Template:Transl 'to write'. Note that in Modern Standard Arabic, many final short vowels are dropped (indicated in parentheses below), and the energetic mood (in either long or short form, which have the same meaning) is almost never used.


Unlike in most languages, Arabic has virtually no means of deriving words by adding prefixes or suffixes to words. Instead, they are formed according to a finite (but fairly large) number of templates applied to roots.

For verbs, a given root can construct up to fifteen different verbs, each with one or more characteristic meanings and each with its own templates for the past and non-past stems, active and passive participles, and verbal noun. These are referred to by Western scholars as "Form I", "Form II", and so on through "Form XV" (although Forms XI to XV are rare). These forms encode concepts such as the causative, intensive and reflexive. These forms can be viewed as analogous to verb conjugations in languages such as Spanish in terms of the additional complexity of verb formation that they induce. (Note, however, that their usage in constructing vocabulary is somewhat different, since the same root can be conjugated in multiple forms, with different shades of meaning.)

Examples of the different verbs formed from the root Template:Transl 'write' (using Template:Transl 'red' for Form IX, which is limited to colors and physical defects):

Most of these forms are exclusively Classical Arabic
Form Past Meaning Non-past Meaning
I Template:Transl 'he wrote' Template:Transl 'he writes'
II Template:Transl 'he made (someone) write' Template:Transl "he makes (someone) write"
III Template:Transl 'he corresponded with, wrote to (someone)' Template:Transl 'he corresponds with, writes to (someone)'
IV Template:Transl 'he dictated' Template:Transl 'he dictates'
V Template:Transl 'nonexistent' Template:Transl 'nonexistent'
VI Template:Transl 'he corresponded (with someone, esp. mutually)' Template:Transl 'he corresponds (with someone, esp. mutually)'
VII Template:Transl 'he subscribed' Template:Transl 'he subscribes'
VIII Template:Transl 'he copied' Template:Transl 'he copies'
IX Template:Transl 'he turned red' Template:Transl 'he turns red'
X Template:Transl 'he asked (someone) to write' Template:Transl 'he asks (someone) to write'

Form II is sometimes used to create transitive denominative verbs (verbs built from nouns); Form V is the equivalent used for intransitive denominatives.

The associated participles and verbal nouns of a verb are the primary means of forming new lexical nouns in Arabic. This is similar to the process by which, for example, the English gerund "meeting" (similar to a verbal noun) has turned into a noun referring to a particular type of social, often work-related event where people gather together to have a "discussion" (another lexicalized verbal noun). Another fairly common means of forming nouns is through one of a limited number of patterns that can be applied directly to roots, such as the "nouns of location" in ma- (e.g. Template:Transl 'desk, office' < Template:Transl 'write', Template:Transl 'kitchen' < Template:Transl 'cook').

The only three genuine suffixes are as follows:

  • The feminine suffix -ah; variously derives terms from women from related terms for men, or more generally terms along the same lines as the corresponding masculine, e.g. Template:Transl 'library' (also a writing-related place, but different than Template:Transl, as above).
  • The nisbah suffix -īy-. This suffix is extremely productive, and forms adjectives meaning "related to X". It corresponds to English adjectives in -ic, -al, -an, -y, -ist, etc.
  • The feminine nisbah suffix -īyah. This is formed by adding the feminine suffix -ah onto nisba adjectives to form abstract nouns. For example, from the basic root Template:Transl 'share' can be derived the Form VIII verb Template:Transl 'to cooperate, participate', and in turn its verbal noun Template:Transl 'cooperation, participation' can be formed. This in turn can be made into a nisbah adjective Template:Transl 'socialist', from which an abstract noun Template:Transl 'socialism' can be derived. Other recent formations are Template:Transl 'republic' (lit. "public-ness", < Template:Transl 'multitude, general public'), and the Gaddafi-specific variation Template:Transl 'people's republic' (lit. "masses-ness", < Template:Transl 'the masses', pl. of Template:Transl, as above).

Colloquial varieties


The spoken dialects have lost the case distinctions and make only limited use of the dual (it occurs only on nouns and its use is no longer required in all circumstances). They have lost the mood distinctions other than imperative, but many have since gained new moods through the use of prefixes (most often /bi-/ for indicative vs. unmarked subjunctive). They have also mostly lost the indefinite "nunation" and the internal passive.

The following is an example of a regular verb paradigm in Egyptian Arabic.

Example of a regular Form I verb in Egyptian Arabic, kátab/yíktib "write"
Tense/Mood Past Present Subjunctive Present Indicative Future Imperative
1st katáb-t á-ktib bá-ktib ḥá-ktib
2nd masculine katáb-t tí-ktib bi-tí-ktib ḥa-tí-ktib í-ktib
feminine katáb-ti ti-ktíb-i bi-ti-ktíb-i ḥa-ti-ktíb-i i-ktíb-i
3rd masculine kátab yí-ktib bi-yí-ktib ḥa-yí-ktib
feminine kátab-it tí-ktib bi-tí-ktib ḥa-tí-ktib
1st katáb-na ní-ktib bi-ní-ktib ḥá-ní-ktib
2nd katáb-tu ti-ktíb-u bi-ti-ktíb-u ḥa-ti-ktíb-u i-ktíb-u
3rd kátab-u yi-ktíb-u bi-yi-ktíb-u ḥa-yi-ktíb-u

Writing system {{safesubst:#invoke:anchor|main}}


Islamic calligraphy written by a Malay Muslim in Malaysia. The calligrapher is making a rough draft.

The Arabic alphabet derives from the Aramaic through Nabatean, to which it bears a loose resemblance like that of Coptic or Cyrillic scripts to Greek script. Traditionally, there were several differences between the Western (North African) and Middle Eastern versions of the alphabet—in particular, the faʼ had a dot underneath and qaf a single dot above in the Maghreb, and the order of the letters was slightly different (at least when they were used as numerals).

However, the old Maghrebi variant has been abandoned except for calligraphic purposes in the Maghreb itself, and remains in use mainly in the Quranic schools (zaouias) of West Africa. Arabic, like all other Semitic languages (except for the Latin-written Maltese, and the languages with the Ge'ez script), is written from right to left. There are several styles of script, notably naskh, which is used in print and by computers, and ruqʻah, which is commonly used in handwriting.[32]



After Khalil ibn Ahmad al Farahidi finally fixed the Arabic script around 786, many styles were developed, both for the writing down of the Quran and other books, and for inscriptions on monuments as decoration.

Arabic calligraphy has not fallen out of use as calligraphy has in the Western world, and is still considered by Arabs as a major art form; calligraphers are held in great esteem. Being cursive by nature, unlike the Latin script, Arabic script is used to write down a verse of the Quran, a hadith, or simply a proverb. The composition is often abstract, but sometimes the writing is shaped into an actual form such as that of an animal. One of the current masters of the genre is Hassan Massoudy.



Examples of different transliteration/transcription schemes
ء{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:IPA link ʼ ʾ ˈˌ ʾ ' e ' 2
main}} ā ʾ ā aa aa / A a a/e/é
ي{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} Template:IPA link, y y; ī y; e y; ii y y; i/ee; ei/ai
main}} Template:IPA link th ç c _t s/th
main}} Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link j ǧ ŷ j j ^g j/g/dj
main}} Template:IPA link H .h 7
main}} Template:IPA link kh j x K _h kh/7'/5
main}} Template:IPA link dh đ z' _d z/dh/th
main}} Template:IPA link sh š x ^s sh/ch
main}} Template:IPA link ş S .s s/9
main}} Template:IPA link D .d d/9'
main}} Template:IPA link ţ T .t t/6
main}} Template:IPA link~Template:IPA link đ̣ Z .z z/dh/6'
main}} Template:IPA link ʻ ʿ ř E ' 3
main}} Template:IPA link gh ġ g j g .g gh/3'/8

There are a number of different standards for the romanization of Arabic, i.e. methods of accurately and efficiently representing Arabic with the Latin script. There are various conflicting motivations involved, which leads to multiple systems. Some are interested in transliteration, i.e. representing the spelling of Arabic, while others focus on transcription, i.e. representing the pronunciation of Arabic. (They differ in that, for example, the same letter ي{{#invoke:Category handler|main}} is used to represent both a consonant, as in "you" or "yet", and a vowel, as in "me" or "eat".) Some systems, e.g. for scholarly use, are intended to accurately and unambiguously represent the phonemes of Arabic, generally making the phonetics more explicit than the original word in the Arabic script. These systems are heavily reliant on diacritical marks such as "š" for the sound equivalently written sh in English. Other systems (e.g. the Bahá'í orthography) are intended to help readers who are neither Arabic speakers nor linguists to intuitively pronounce Arabic names and phrases.[33] These less "scientific" tend to avoid diacritics and use digraphs (like sh and kh). These are usually more simple to read, but sacrifice the definiteness of the scientific systems, and may lead to ambiguities, e.g. whether to interpret sh as a single sound, as in gash, or a combination of two sounds, as in gashouse. The ALA-LC romanization solves this problem by separating the two sounds with a prime symbol ( ′ ); e.g., as′hal 'easier'.

During the last few decades and especially since the 1990s, Western-invented text communication technologies have become prevalent in the Arab world, such as personal computers, the World Wide Web, email, bulletin board systems, IRC, instant messaging and mobile phone text messaging. Most of these technologies originally had the ability to communicate using the Latin script only, and some of them still do not have the Arabic script as an optional feature. As a result, Arabic speaking users communicated in these technologies by transliterating the Arabic text using the Latin script, sometimes known as IM Arabic.

To handle those Arabic letters that cannot be accurately represented using the Latin script, numerals and other characters were appropriated. For example, the numeral "3" may be used to represent the Arabic letter ع{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}. There is no universal name for this type of transliteration, but some have named it Arabic Chat Alphabet. Other systems of transliteration exist, such as using dots or capitalization to represent the "emphatic" counterparts of certain consonants. For instance, using capitalization, the letter د{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}, may be represented by d. Its emphatic counterpart, ض{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}, may be written as D.


In most of present-day North Africa, the Western Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) are used. However, in Egypt and Arabic-speaking countries to the east of it, the Eastern Arabic numerals (Template:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/ArabicTemplate:Script/Arabic) are in use. When representing a number in Arabic, the lowest-valued position is placed on the right, so the order of positions is the same as in left-to-right scripts. Sequences of digits such as telephone numbers are read from left to right, but numbers are spoken in the traditional Arabic fashion, with units and tens reversed from the modern English usage. For example, 24 is said "four and twenty" just like in the German language (vierundzwanzig) and Classical Hebrew, and 1975 is said "a thousand and nine-hundred and five and seventy" or, more eloquently, "five and seventy and nine-hundred and a thousand."

Language-standards regulators

Academy of the Arabic Language is the name of a number of language-regulation bodies formed in the Arab League. The most active are in Damascus and Cairo. They review language development, monitor new words and approve inclusion of new words into their published standard dictionaries. They also publish old and historical Arabic manuscripts. Template:Also

Studying Arabic

Arabic has been taught worldwide in many elementary and secondary schools, especially Muslim schools. Universities around the world have classes that teach Arabic as part of their foreign languages, Middle Eastern studies, and religious studies courses. Arabic language schools exist to assist students to learn Arabic outside the academic world. There are many Arabic language schools in the Arab world and other Muslim countries. Because the Quran is written in Arabic and all Islamic terms are in Arabic, millions of Muslims (both Arab and non-Arab) study the language. Software and books with tapes are also important part of Arabic learning, as many of Arabic learners may live in places where there are no academic or Arabic language school classes available. Radio series of Arabic language classes are also provided from some radio stations.{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }} A number of websites on the Internet provide online classes for all levels as a means of distance education; most teach Modern Standard Arabic, but some teach regional varieties from numerous countries.[34]

English Arabic Arabic (vowelled) Romanization (ALA-LC) IPA
English main}}
or الإنكليزية{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}
or الإنْجلِيزِيّة{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}
Template:Transl (varies) /alʔinɡ(i)liːzijja/ (varies)
Yes main}} main}} Template:Transl /naʕam/
No main}} main}} Template:Transl /laː/
Hello main}} main}} Template:Transl /marħaban/
Peace (Usually Islamic) main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʔassalaːmu ʕalajkum/
How are you? main}} main}} Template:Transl /kajfa lħaːl/
Welcome main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʔahlan/
Goodbye main}} main}} Template:Transl /maʕa ssalaːma/
Please main}} main}} Template:Transl /min fadˤlik/
Thanks main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʃukran/
Excuse me main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʕafwan/
I'm sorry main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʔaːsif/
What's your name? main}} main}} Template:Transl /masmuka, -ki/
How much? main}} main}} Template:Transl /kam/
I don't understand. main}} main}} Template:Transl /laː ʔafham/
I don't speak Arabic. main}} main}} Template:Transl /laː ʔatakallamu lʕarabijja/
I don't know. main}} main}} Template:Transl /laː ʔaʕrif/
I'm hungry. main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʔanaː dʒaːʔiʕ/
Orange main}} main}} Template:Transl /burtuqaːliː/
Black main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʔaswad/
One main}} main}} Template:Transl /waːħid/
Two main}} main}} Template:Transl /iθnaːn/
Three main}} main}} Template:Transl /θalaːθa/
Four main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʔarbaʕa/
Five main}} main}} Template:Transl /xamsa/
Six main}} main}} Template:Transl /sitta/
Seven main}} main}} Template:Transl /sabʕa/
Eight main}} main}} Template:Transl /θamaːnija/
Nine main}} main}} Template:Transl /tisʕah/
Ten main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʕaʃarah/
Eleven main}} main}} Template:Transl /ʔaħad(a) ʕaʃar/
Twelve main}} main}} Template:Transl /iθnaː ʕaʃar/

Arabic speakers and other languages

Template:Expand section Historically, Arab linguists considered the Arabic language to be superior to all other languages, and took almost no interest in learning any language other than Arabic. With the sole example of Medieval linguist Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati - who, while a scholar of the Arabic language, was not ethnically Arab - scholars of the Arabic language made no efforts at studying comparative linguistics, considering all other languages inferior.[35] In modern times, the educated upper classes in the Arab world have taken a nearly opposite view. Yasir Suleiman wrote in 2011 that "studying and knowing English or French in most of the Middle East and North Africa have become a badge of sophistication and modernity and when feigning, or asserting, weakness or lack of facility in Arabic is sometimes paraded as a sign of status, class, and perversely, even education through a mélange of code-switching practises."[36]

See also






  1. Template:Cite web Template:Sv icon
  2. "Arabic language." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved on 29 July 2009.
  3. Template:Cite web
  4. Template:Ethnologue16
  5. Template:Cite web
  7. Template:Cite web
  8. Template:Harvcoltxt
  9. Template:Harvcoltxt
  10. "Arabic Language." Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2009. Retrieved on 29 July 2009.
  11. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}
  12. Template:Cite web
  13. Template:Harvcoltxt
  14. See the seminal study by Siegmund Fraenkel, Die aramäischen Fremdwörter im Arabischen, Leiden 1886 (repr. 1962)
  15. See for instance Wilhelm Eilers, "Iranisches Lehngut im Arabischen", Actas IV. Congresso des Estudos Árabes et Islâmicos, Coimbra, Lisboa, Leiden 1971, with earlier references.
  16. Template:Cite web
  17. Template:Cite web
  18. Template:Cite web
  19. Template:Harvcoltxt
  20. Template:Harvcoltxt
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Template:Harvcoltxt
  22. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}.
  23. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}(Original from Harvard University)
  24. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}(Original from the University of Virginia)
  25. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}(Original from Harvard University)
  26. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}
  27. Template:Harvcoltxt
  28. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}.
  29. Template:Harvcoltxt
  30. e.g., Template:Harvcoltxt
  31. Rydin, Karin C. (2005). A reference grammar of Modern Standard Arabic. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  32. Template:Harvcoltxt
  33. Kharusi, N. S. & Salman, A. (2011) The English Transliteration of Place Names in Oman. Journal of Academic and Applied Studies Vol. 1(3) September 2011, pp. 1–27 Available online at
  34. Template:Cite web
  35. Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 106. Part of Landmarks in Linguistic Thought series, vol. 3. New York: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 9780415157575
  36. Suleiman, p. 93

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External links

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