Arabic is a Afroasiatic language in the Central Semitic family. Estimates to the number of native speakers can range up to 420 million across the globe. The difficult thing to measure here is that Arabic has many distinct languages within it that can sometimes be incomprehensible to other speakers. Still, throughout Western Asia, North Africa, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and other regions, there is a common language for writing and media. This is called Modern Standard Arabic, or “fus-ha” to Arabic speakers.
This Literary Arabic is derived from the Classical Arabic that was spoken during the revelation of the Qur’an. Quranic Arabic is the starting point for measuring the growth of the language. That is because the delicate vocabulary of the Qur’an made it necessary for linguists to save meanings for the benefit of future generations. Thus, giving birth to dictionaries and lexicography. For many learners of Arabic as a second language, they may forgo the geographical dialects in place of the Quranic variant for its numerous linguistic benefits. It is required for the world’s 2 billion Muslims to at least learn how to read the language in order to access their holy text for prayers.
Arabic is closely related to two other languages found in Abrahamic books of revelation. This is, Hebrew and Aramaic (Syriac), found in the Old and New Testaments, respectively. The written alphabets of these language chains vary in their form, but are related in their breakdown.
The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, all distinguishing consonant sounds. Like the other Semitic tongues, vowels are not written, but rather an assumed pronunciation based on the word’s meaning and place in the sentence. For formal texts, or books that native Arabic speakers don’t access exclusively, such as the Qur’an, there is a system for labeling vowel sounds above the letters. For native speakers, these sounds are a natural part of their grammatical approach to the language. Still, most would not be able to tell you why the word will carry certain vowels in specific locations.
Transliteration of Arabic is a little difficult, as some of the sounds come from the back of the throat, or use parts of the mouth not found in the Latin letters. Arabic is often called the “language of the daad,” in reference to one of its letters that only exists in Arabic. This sound is made by folding the tip of the tongue around the back molars. Consider it a rounder, harder version of the “d” sound.
Like the other Semitic languages, the alphabet does not distinguish between uppercase and lowercase letters. Also, it is written right-to-left, unlike the left-to-right European alphabets. However, the interesting thing about Arabic’s writing system is that numbers are written left-to-right. These numbers are the foundation of the modern numerals found in nearly every language. Previous to the “Arabic numerals,” mathematics was done using Roman numerals and there was no “0.”
As one of the official languages of the United Nations, Arabic is also the official language of over 26 global states. Its connection to Islam ensures that the language will continue as an important field of study. Although changes in technology and media have added new vocabulary to the language, Classical Arabic is not going anywhere.