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The Arabic Language

Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages of the world. It is also one of the oldest existing languages in the world. It is a member of the Semitic language family. Semitic languages were among the first to have a written form. Arabic in particular uses the type of script that post modern typographer, Peter Daniels called, Abjad. This is a writing system in which the symbols stand for consonants. Written Arabic has existed for more than 12 centuries. Arabic literature can be given credit for its vast contribution to classical learning. Much that we know today in the realms of chemistry, medicine, mathematics, astronomy would have been lost if not for the achievement of Arab scholars and translators who collated the information and recorded it all.

Arabic is the national language of most of the North African countries and those in the Arabian Peninsula. It is the liturgical or sacred language of the Islamic religion. Estimates of 186-422 million people speak Arabic as a native language. It is also an official United Nations’ language, the African Union and the Arab League. Arabic is an extremely important language in the Muslim world because the Holy Quran is written in Arabic. Therefore, it is imperative to teach Arabic in elementary and middle school anywhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

The modern version of Arabic replaces most of the old dialects making the lingua of all the twenty six countries in the Arab world more understandable. However colloquial dialects are still widely used in regional conversations and they are starkly different from the standard official version of the language. Not only do the North African countries have their own dialects but there are some conservative Bedouin (Arab nomadic tribes) dialects that are also still in practice. The different dialects are influenced largely by languages which were previously spoken in the region. This is because Arabic only became the official language of the region after the rise of Islam in the 7th century. Some regional linguas are influenced by European languages depending on who colonized the country. There are about fourteen different dialects and language derivatives. These include, Egyptian Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic which is spoken in Morocco and Algeria, Levantine Arabic, Iraqi Arabic and Gulf Arabic. Other varieties include, Hassaniya spoke in western Saharan countries, Najdi Arabic, Hijazi Arabic and so on. Andalusi Arabic and Siculo Arabic were spoken in Spain, Iberia and Sicily during the years of the crusades and mainland trading between the 13th and 17th century. Maltese is a separate language which is very similar to Tunisian Arabic but it is the only Semitic language derivative that uses the Latin alphabets. The North African dialects are influenced by Italian and French grammar and vocabulary.

Arabic literature is, to say the least, diverse. It emerged in the 6th century but was brought under the limelight in the 7th century with the writing of the Islamic Holy book, the Quran. Thus began a flourishing age of cultural enrichment when the Islamic world saw prolific development in the fields of Science, Art and Writing of all sorts. Arabic literature continues to thrive.

Even though the Arabic script looks difficult, it is not very tricky to decipher it. Most words are pronounced as they are spelled and there are not any combinations of vowels and consonants. This means each letter produces a separate sound. Arabic is written from right to left as a result what most people regard as the back of a book will be the front in case of one written in Arabic. The script is always joined or cursive and there aren’t any capital letters. However, slight modifications are made in joining the letters and there are a few letters that do not join to a proceeding letter. There are twenty eight letters in the alphabet out of which there are three vowels. The letters ‘p’ and ‘v’ from the English alphabets do not have Arabic counterparts and in foreign words that contain these letters and are spelt in Arabic, they are replaced with a baa’ and a , faa.

The standard pronunciation of the language is the one used to recite the Quran. However, every region has its own colloquial variation. The letters can have a long pronunciation as well as a short pronunciation. The difference is specified by special markings when writing. These are known as ‘harkaa’.

Arabic grammar and syntax follows an intricate science that has existed since 8th century AD. There are four main branches. The first explains the vocabulary of the language and is know as ‘Al- Lugah’ (lexicon). The second determines the form of the individual word and is called ‘At-Ta-Rif’ (morphology). The third branch concerns itself with the order of the words and syntax that is an agglomeration of several dialects. This is known as ‘An-Na-w’ (syntax). Finally the branch known as ‘Al-Istiqaq’ (derivation) which deals with the origin of the words.

The noun in Arabic changes with quantity. The noun is singular, dual or plural depending on the number being referred to.

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