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al-ʿArabiyyah in written Arabic ( Naskh script)
|Pronunciation||/al ʕarabijja/, /ʕarabiː/|
|Native to||Majorities in the countries of the Arab League, minorities in neighboring countries: Israel, Iran, Turkey, Eritrea, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sengal, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Arabic-speaking communities in the Western World|
|Native speakers||295 million (2010)|
Modern Standard Arabic
Central (incl. Egyptian, Sudanese))
Northern (incl. Levantine, Iraqi)
Southern (incl. Gulf, Hejazi)
|Writing system|| Arabic alphabet
Syriac alphabet ( Garshuni)
Hebrew alphabet ( Judaeo-Arabic)
|Official language in||Standard Arabic is an official language of 27 states, the third most after English and French|
|ISO 639-3||ara Arabic (generic)|
Dispersion of native Arabic speakers as the majority (green) or minority (chartreuse) population
Use of Arabic as the sole official language (green) and an official language (blue)
Arabic (العربية al-ʻarabīyah or عربي/عربى ʻarabī ) ([alʕaraˈbijja] or ([ˈʕarabiː]) is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD. This includes both the literary language and varieties of Arabic spoken in a wide arc of territory stretching across the Middle East and North Africa.
The literary language is called Modern Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic. 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 Hebrew, Aramaic, 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, 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 ethnic 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 may be spoken by as many as 280 million first language speakers, 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—still greater than any other Semitic language.
Arabic is the 11th most spoken language in the United States.
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 counterpoint 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 Old North Arabian dialect group attested in Pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions dating back to the 4th century. 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 with no standardized forms.
Arabic has lent many words to other languages of the Islamic world, like Persian, Turkish, Bosnian, Kazakh, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Malay 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, both in vocabulary and grammar, is seen in Romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and Sicilian, owing to both the proximity of European and Arab civilizations and 800 years of Muslim ( Moorish) rule in some parts of the Iberian Peninsula referred to 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; 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 Lisān al-ʿArab). 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 and the Middle East, and understood by most educated Arabic speakers. "Literary Arabic" and "Standard Arabic" (فُصْحَى fuṣḥā) 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 MSA.
- 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 Mandarin 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 ʼinna. MSA, following the spoken varieties, tends towards SVO order, and rarely uses ʼinna.
- 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., ḏahaba "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 in fact continues to evolve). Some words have been borrowed from other languages, notice that transliteration mainly indicates spelling not real pronunciation (e.g., فيلم fīlm "film" or dimūqrāṭiyyah "democracy"). However, the current preference is to avoid direct borrowings, preferring to either use loan translations (e.g., farʿ "branch", also used for the branch of a company or organization; jināḥ "wing", also used for the wing of an airplane, building, air force, etc.) or to coin new words using forms within existing roots (istimātah " apoptosis", using the root m/w/t "death" put into the Xth form, or jāmiʿah "university", based on jamāʿah "to gather, unite"; jumhūriyyah "republic", based on jumhūr "multitude"). An earlier tendency was to re-purpose older words that had fallen into disuse (e.g., هاتف hātif "telephone" < "invisible caller (in Sufism)"; jarīdah "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. The varieties are typically unwritten. They are often used in informal spoken media, such as soap operas and talk shows, 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.
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 hamza (which was preserved in the eastern dialects but lost in western speech) and the use of ʾalif maqṣūrah (representing a sound preserved in the western dialects but merged with ā in eastern speech).
Language and dialect
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.
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, a linguistically innovative variety such as Moroccan Arabic is essentially incomprehensible to all non-Moroccans other than Algerians and Tunisians, much as French is incomprehensible to Spanish or Italian speakers. However, there is some mutual comprehensibility between conservative varieties of Arabic even across significant geographical distances. This suggests that the spoken varieties, at least, should linguistically be considered separate languages.
On the other hand, a significant difference between Arabic and the Romance languages is that the latter also correspond to a number of different standard written varieties, each of which separately informs the related spoken varieties, while all spoken Arabic varieties share a single written language. Indeed, a similar situation exists with the Romance languages in the case of Italian. As spoken varieties, Milanese, Neapolitan and Sicilian (among others) are different enough to be largely mutually incomprehensible, yet since they share a single written form (Standard Italian), they are often said by Italians to be dialects of the same language. As in many similar cases, the extent to which the Italian varieties are locally considered dialects or separate languages depends to a large extent on political factors, which can change over time. Linguists are divided over whether and to what extent to incorporate such considerations when judging issues of language and dialect.
Influence of Arabic on other languages
The influence of Arabic has been most important in Islamic countries. Arabic is also an important source of vocabulary for languages such as Baluchi, Bengali, Berber, 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. Other languages such as Maltese 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 ṣalāt), 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 was a language originating as an Indo-Iranian language. Many words of Persian origin were transferred to Arabic as it is a language which predates Arabic by numerous centuries. 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" (quṭn) and "magazine" ( maḫāzin). English words more recognizably of Arabic origin include "algebra", "alcohol", "alchemy", " alkali", " zenith" and " nadir". Some words in common use, such as "intention" and "information", were originally calques of Arabic philosophical terms.
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.
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, 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, and Hellenistic Greek (kimiya has as origin the Greek chymia, meaning in that language the melting of metals); see Histoire de la Médecine de l`Antiquité au XXe siècle, Roger Dachez, Tallandier 2008, p. 251), alembic (distiller) from ambix (cup), qalam (pen, pencil, feather) from kalamos (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:
- rahman (merciful), from Hebrew and Aramaic, where it had a similar meaning
- nabi (prophet), old non-Arab term that came into Arabic from Aramaic and Hebrew before the emergence of Islam.
- madina, medina (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'.
- jizya, the tax imposed by the caliphate on individuals of religion other than Islam (dhimmis), a tax in addition to the levy on agricultural land (kharadjy). The term comes from the Syriac (gzita), which is in turn borrowed from Persian (gazit).
- kharaj, kharaji, 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, Strapis were supposed to collect them.
- jazeera, as in the well-known form Al Jazeera, means island and has its origin in Syriac gazīra/gzīrta.
- faruk (Savior), is the naturalized form of the Aramaic word poruk, which in the Syriac Bible (Peshita) means the Savior or Liberator. Once naturalized, the term produced mnemonic derivatives or shortcuts, so the f-r-q (meaning cutting) became a folk etymological explanation for faruk: the Savior was one who cuts (separates) the truth from falsehood.
- munafiq (hypocrite), a term borrowed from Ethiopian, where it had the sense of heretical sect.
- lāzaward is taken from Persian lājward, 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 Qur'an. Among Non-Arab Muslims, translations of the Qur'an 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 primarily upon its system of triconsonantal roots, spoken by man from which all other languages were derived. This language became corrupted and changed radically due to a number of factors, with the dispersion of 'modern humans' out of Africa, Arabia, the Middle East and subsequently throughout the world .
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.
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 favour of new moods formed by endings attached to the prefix-conjugation forms (e.g. -u for indicate, -a for subjunctive, no ending for jussive, -an or -anna for energetic).
- The development of an internal passive.
Of the 29 Proto-Semitic consonants, only one has been lost: */ʃ/, which merged with /s/. 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 Qur'an and / d͡ʒ/, / ɡ/ or / ʒ/ in MSA (see Arabic phonology#Local variations for more detail). An original voiceless alveolar lateral fricative */ɬ/ became /ʃ/. Its emphatic counterpart /ɬˠ~ɮˤ/ was considered by Arabs to be the most unusual sound in Arabic (Hence the Classical Arabic's appellation luġatu ḍ-ḍād or "language of the ḍād"); for most modern dialects, it has become an emphatic stop /dˤ/ with loss of the laterality or with complete loss of any pharyngealization or velarization, /d/. (The classical ḍād 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.
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 Koran (and hence of Classical Arabic) is that it contains certain features of Mohammed'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 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 maqṣūra "broken 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
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 nearly incomprehensible to Arabic speakers east of Algeria (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)
أنا أحب القراءة كثيرا
عندما ذهبت إلى المكتبة
لم أجدإلا هذا الكتاب القديم
أردت أن أقرأ كتابا عن تاريخ المرأة في فرنسا
| Classical Arabic
(liturgical or poetic only)
|ʔanaː ʔuħibbu l-qiraːʔata kaθiːran||ʕindamaː ðahabtu ʔilaː l-maktabati||lam ʔaɡʲid haːðaː l-kitaːba l-qadiːma||kuntu ʔuriːdu ʔan ʔaqraʔa kitaːban ʕan taːriːxi l-marʔati fiː faransaː|
|Modern Standard Arabic||ʔana(ː) ʔuħibb al-qiraːʔa kaθiːran||ʕindama(ː) ðahabtu ʔilaː l-maktaba||lam ʔaɡʲid haːða(ː) l-kitaːb al-qadiːm||kuntu ʔuriːd ʔan ʔaqraʔ kitaːb ʕan taːriːx al-marʔa fiː fara(ː)nsa(ː)|
|Syrian Arabic||ʔana ktiːr bħibb el-ʔraːje||ˈlamma ˈreħt ʕal-ˈmaktabe||ma laʔeːt ˈilla ha-l-ikˈtaːb el-ʔˈdiːm||kaːn ˈbeddi ˈʔeʔra ktaːb ʕan taːˈriːx l-ˈmara b-ˈfraːnsa|
|Egyptian||ana baħebb el-ʔeraːja ʔawi||ˈlamma ˈroħt el-makˈtaba||ma-lˈʔet-ʃ ˈella l-keˈtaːb el-ʔaˈdiːm da||ˈana ˈkont-e ˈʕawz-ˈaʔra kˈtaːb ʕan taˈriːx el-setˈtaːt fe faˈransa|
|Lebanese Arabic||ktiːr bħibb il-ʔiˈreːje||ˈlamma ˈreħit ʕal-ˈmaktabe||ma lʔeːt ˈilla ha-l-ikˈteːb le-ʔˈdiːm||keːn ˈbeddi ˈʔeʔra kteːb ʕan teːˈriːx l-ˈmara b-ˈfraːnsa|
|Moroccan||ana ʕziz ʕlija bzzaf nqra||melli mʃit l-lmaktaba||lqit ɣir had l-ktab l-qdim||kent baɣi nqra ktab ʕla tarix l-ʕjalat f-fransa|
|Iraqi||ˈaːni aˈħibb el-qˈraːja ˈkulliʃ||ˈlamman ˈreħit lel-maktaba||ma liˈɡeːt ɣeːr haːða l-ketaːb al-qadiːm||redet aqra ketaːb ʕan tariːx al-niswan eb-fransa|
|Algerian||eːne nħibb il-qreːje bezzaf||waqtelli rouht l il-maktaba||ma-lqiːt-ʃ keːn ha l-kteːb l-qdiːm||kunt haːb naqra kteːb ʕala tariːx l-mra fi fraːnsa|
|Tunisian||eːne nħibb il-qreːje barʃa||waqtelli mʃiːt l il-maktba||ma-lqiːt-ʃ keːn ha l-kteːb l-qdiːm||kunt nħibb naqra kteːb ʕala tariːx l-mra fi fraːnsa|
|Kuwaiti||ʔaːna waːyed aħibb aɡraː||lamman reħt al-maktaba||ma liɡeːt illa hal ketaːb al-ɡadiːm||kent abiː aɡra ketaːb an tariːx el-ħariːm eb fransa|
|Hejazi Arabic||ˈana aˈħubb al-ɡiraːja kaθiːr||ˈlamma ruħt al-ˈmaktaba||ma laɡeːt ɣeːr haːða l-kitaːb al-ɡadiːm||kunt abɣa aɡra ktaːb ʕan tariːx al-ħariːm fi faransa|
|Western Libyan||ʾaniː nħieb li-ɡraːja halba||lamma mʃeːt lil-maktba||malɡeːtiʃ ʾiːlla ha li-ktaːb le-ɡdiːm||kunt nibi naɡra ktaːb ʔleː tariːx e-nsawiːn fiː fraːnsa|
|Urban Palestinian||baˈħibb (ə)l-ʔiˈraːje ktiːr||ˈlamma ˈruħ(ə)t ʕal-ˈmaktabe||ma laˈʔeːt(ə)ʃ ˈilla ha-l-(ə)kˈtaːb l-(ə)ʔˈdiːm||kaːn ˈbiddi ˈʔaʔra ktaːb ʕan taˈriːx (ə)l-ˈmara fi fˈraːnsa|
According to Charles A. Ferguson, 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:
- Loss of the dual (grammatical number) except on nouns, with consistent plural agreement (cf. feminine singular agreement in plural inanimates).
- Change of a to i in many affixes (e.g., non-past-tense prefixes ti- yi- ni-; wi- "and"; il- "the"; feminine -it in the construct state).
- Loss of third-weak verbs ending in w (which merge with verbs ending in y).
- Reformation of geminate verbs, e.g., ḥalaltu "I untied" → ḥalēt(u).
- Conversion of separate words lī "to me", laka "to you", etc. into indirect-object clitic suffixes.
- Certain changes in the cardinal number system, e.g., ḫamsat ʾayyām →ḫam(a)s tiyyām, where certain words have a special plural with prefixed t.
- Loss of the feminine elative (comparative).
- Adjective plurals of the form kibār "big" → kubār.
- Change of nisba suffix -iyy → i.
- Certain lexical items, e.g., jāb "bring" < jāʾ bi- "come with"; šāf "see"; ʾēš "what" (or similar); illi "(relative pronoun)".
- Merger of /ɮˤ/ and /ðˤ/.
- Egyptian Arabic, spoken by around 80 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.
- Maghrebi Arabic includes Moroccan Arabic, Algerian Arabic, Saharan Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, and to a more particular extent, Libyan Arabic, and is spoken by around 75 million North Africans in Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya ; it is often difficult for speakers of Middle Eastern Arabic varieties to understand. The Berber influence in these dialects varies in degree.
- Levantine Arabic includes North Levantine Arabic, South Levantine Arabic, and Cypriot Arabic. It is spoken by almost 35 million people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus, and Turkey.
- Sudanese Arabic is spoken by 30 million people in Sudan and some parts of southern Egypt. Sudanese Arabic is quite distinct from the dialect of its neighbour to the north; rather, the Sudanese have a dialect similar to the Hijazi dialect.
- Iraqi Arabic, spoken by about 29 million people in Iraq, eastern Syria and southwestern Iran ( Khuzestan).
- Gulf Arabic, spoken by around 22 million people, predominantly in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, eastern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain. Also spoken in Iran's Bushehr and Hormozgan provinces.
- Yemeni Arabic spoken in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia by 25 million people. Similar to Gulf Arabic.
- Najdi Arabic, spoken by around 10 million people, mainly spoken in Najd, centre and northern part of Saudi Arabia.
- Hejazi Arabic (7 million speakers), spoken in Hejaz, western Saudi Arabia
- North Mesopotamian Arabic, spoken by around 7 million people in northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, northern Syria and southern Turkey.
- Hassaniya Arabic (2.8 million speakers), spoken in Mauritania, some parts of Mali and Western Sahara
- Bahrani Arabic (1,000,000+ speakers), spoken by Bahrani Shia in Bahrain, Qatif, and Al Ahsa, where it exhibits some differences from Bahraini Arabic and Gulf Arabic. It is also spoken to a lesser extent in Oman.
- Judeo-Arabic dialects
- Central Asian Arabic, spoken in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, is highly endangered
- Maltese, spoken on the Mediterranean island of Malta, is the only one to have established itself as a fully separate language, with independent literary norms. 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 tongue written in the Latin script. Siculo Arabic, spoken on Sicily, South Italy until 14th century, developed into Maltese language.
- The Muslim Hui people in China had knowledge of archaic forms of Arabic. The Hui of Yunnan (Burmaese called them Panthays) were reported to be fluent in Arabic. During the Panthay Rebellion, Arabic replaced Chinese as official language of the rebel kingdom. In 1844 "The Chinese repository, Volume 13" was published, including an account of an Englishman who stayed in Ningbo in China. There he visited the local mosque, the Hui running the mosque was from Shandong, and he was a descendant of Muslims from the city of Medina. He spoke both Arabic and Chinese, and could read Arabic as well. In Tianjin, Hui could speak an old, archaic form of Arabic, when they met Arab Muslims in recent times, it was found out that Old Arabic and Modern Arabic were very different, so Modern Arabic is now being taught to Hui.
- Samaritan Arabic - spoken by only several hundred in the Nablus region
- Andalusi Arabic, spoken in Spain until 15th century, now extinct.
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.
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 [ d͡ʒ] or [ ʒ] will use the same pronunciation when speaking MSA, even speakers from Cairo, whose native Egyptian Arabic has [ ɡ], normally use [ ɡ] when speaking MSA. [ j] 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 [ ɑ(ː)] in these circumstances, and very often fronted to [ æ(ː)] 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 [ æ(ː)], [ a(ː)] or [ ɛ(ː)] in most situations, but a back [ ɑ(ː)] in the neighbourhood of emphatic consonants. (Some accents and dialects, such as those of Hijaz, have central [ ä(ː)] 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 "neighbourhood" 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/; / q/; and / r/, if not followed immediately by /i(ː)/. Frequently, the uvular 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., waqt [wɑqt] "time"; waṭan [wɑtˤɑn] "homeland"; wasṭ al-madīnah [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 sayf [sajf ~ sæjf ~ sɛjf] "sword" but ṣayf [sˤɑjf] "summer"). However, in accents with no emphatic allophones of /a/ (e.g., in the Hijaz), the pronunciation [äj] occurs in all situations.
|Dental/ Alveolar|| Post-
|voiced||b||dˤ3||d||ʒ~ d͡ʒ~ ɟ~ ɡʲ~ ɡ1|
|voiced||ð||ðˤ~ zˤ||z||ɣ~ ʁ5||ʕ4|
- This phoneme is represented by the Arabic letter jīm ( ج) and has many standard pronunciations. [ d͡ʒ] is characteristic of north Algeria, Iraq, also in most of the Arabian peninsula but with an allophonic [ ʒ] in some positions; [ ʒ] occurs in most of the Levant and most North Africa; and [ ɡ] is used in most of Egypt and some regions in Yemen and Oman. Generally this corresponds with the pronunciation in the colloquial dialects. In some regions in Sudan and Yemen, as well as in some Sudanese and Yemeni dialects, it may be either [ɡʲ] or [ ɟ], representing the original pronunciation of Classical Arabic. Foreign words containing / ɡ/ may be transcribed with ج, غ, ك, ق, گ, ݣ or ڨ, 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 jīm ( ج) is normally pronounced [ ɡ], a separate phoneme / ʒ/, which may be transcribed with چ, occurs in a small number of mostly non-Arabic loanwords, e.g., /ʒakitta/ "jacket".
- /l/ is pronounced [ ɫ] 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.
- The emphatic consonant /dˤ/ was actually pronounced [ɮˤ], or possibly [d͡ɮˤ]—either way, a highly unusual sound. The medieval Arabs actually termed their language luġatu l-ḍād "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.)
- In many varieties, /ħ, ʕ/ (ح, ع) are actually epiglottal [ʜ, ʢ] (despite what is reported in many earlier works).
- /x/ and /ɣ/ (خ, غ) are often post-velar, though velar and uvular pronunciations are also possible.
- /θ/ (ث) can be pronounced as [ t] or even [ s]. In some places of Maghreb it can be also pronounced as [ t͡s].
Arabic has consonants traditionally termed "emphatic" /tˤ, dˤ, sˤ, ðˤ/ (ط, ض, ص, ظ), 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. 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, ⟨ḍ⟩.
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 šaddah, which indicates doubled consonants. In actual pronunciation, doubled consonants are held twice as long as short consonants. This consonant lengthening is phonemically contrastive: qabala "he accepted" vs. qabbala "he kissed."
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 ḥārr "hot", māddah "stuff, substance", taḥājjū "they disputed with each other", where a long ā 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 -nā "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 underlyingly begin with a vowel, such as the definite article al- or words such as ištarā "he bought", ijtimāʿ "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., al-ijtimāʿ "meeting" /alid͡ʒtimaːʕ/.
- If the word occurs after another word ending in a vowel, the initial vowel of the word is elided, e.g., baytu (a)l-mudīr "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., al-baytu huwa ... "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 inkatab(a) "he subscribed" (whether or not the final short vowel is pronounced), yankatib(u) "he subscribes" (whether or not the final short vowel is pronounced), yankatib "he should subscribe (juss.)". Likewise Form VIII ištarā "he bought", yaštarī "he buys".
Examples:kitāb(un) "book", kā-ti-b(un) "writer", mak-ta-b(un) "desk", ma-kā-ti-b(u) "desks", mak-ta-ba-tun "library" (but mak-ta-ba(-tun) "library" in short pronunciation), ka-ta-bū (Modern Standard Arabic) "they wrote" = ka-ta-bu (dialect), ka-ta-bū-h(u) (Modern Standard Arabic) "they wrote it" = ka-ta-bū (dialect), ka-ta-ba-tā (Modern Standard Arabic) "they (dual, fem) wrote", ka-tab-tu (Modern Standard Arabic) "I wrote" = ka-tabt (short form or dialect). Doubled consonants count as two consonants: ma-jal-la-(tan) "magazine", ma-ḥall(-un) "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 mak-ta-ba-tun "library" in full pronunciation, but mak-ta-ba(-tun) "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 mad-ra-sa "school", qā-hi-ra "Cairo". This also affects the way that Modern Standard Arabic is pronounced in Egypt. In the Arabic of Sana, stress is often retracted: bay-tayn "two houses", mā-sat-hum "their table", ma-kā-tīb "desks", zā-rat-hīn "sometimes", mad-ra-sat-hum "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 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 -ā in other nouns (hence its writing in this fashion in the Arabic script).
- The tāʾ 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 ʾanti "you (fem. sg.)"
- sometimes, first-person singular past-tense -tu
- sometimes, second-person masculine past-tense -ta, and likewise ʾanta "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., taqrīban تَقْرِيبًا "almost, approximately", ʿādatan 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., ʿādatan عَادَةً "usually", where the entire -tan is pronounced).
- The masculine singular nisba ending -iyy is actually pronounced -ī, and is unstressed (but plural and feminine singular forms, i.e. when followed by a suffix, still sound as -iyy-).
- Full endings (including case endings) occur when a clitic object or possessive suffix is added (e.g., -nā "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 ʾanta 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., -nā "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 ʾab "father" and ʾax "brother" with special long-vowel case endings in the construct state, the nominative is used everywhere, hence ʾabū "father of", ʾaxū "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).
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 [ ɑ(ː)] 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 / j/ or / ʃ/; 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 [ v] is used in the Maghrebi dialects as well in the written language mostly for foreign names. Semitic [ p] 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 [ p] and [ b]. The Iraqi Arabic uses also sounds [ ɡ], [ t͡ʃ] and uses Persian adding letters, e.g.: گوجة gawjah – a plum; چمة čimah – a 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 interdental 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 / q/, / d͡ʒ/ ( Proto-Semitic / ɡ/), and / k/:
- ق / q/ 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 [ ʔ] in several prestige dialects, such as those spoken in Cairo, Beirut and Damascus. But it is rendered as a voiced velar plosive [ ɡ] 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 [ k], as do Shia Bahrainis. In some Gulf dialects, it is palatalized to [ d͡ʒ] or [ ʒ]. It is pronounced as a voiced uvular constrictive [ ʁ] in Sudanese Arabic. Many dialects with a modified pronunciation for / q/ maintain the [ q] pronunciation in certain words (often with religious or educational overtones) borrowed from the Classical language.
- ج /d͡ʒ/ is pronounced as an affricate in Iraq and much of the Arabian Peninsula, but is pronounced [ ɡ] in most of North Egypt and parts of Yemen and Oman, [ ʒ] in Morocco, Tunisia and the Levant, and [ j], [i̠] in most words in much of Persian Gulf.
- ك / k/ usually retains its original pronunciation, but is palatalized to / t͡ʃ/ in many words in Israel & 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 [ ɑ] 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 / t/ vs. / tˤ/ in Moroccan Arabic, because the former is pronounced as an affricate [ t͡s] but the latter is not.)
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 k-t-b "write" with the pattern -a-a-tu "I X'd" to form katabtu "I wrote". Other verbs meaning "I X'd" will typically have the same pattern but with different consonants, e.g. qaraʾtu "I read", ʾakaltu "I ate", ðahabtu "I went", although other patterns are possible (e.g. šaribtu "I drank", qultu "I said", takallamtu "I spoke", where the subpattern used to signal the past tense may change but the suffix -tu is always used).
From a single root k-t-b, numerous words can be formed by applying different patterns:
- katabtu "I wrote"
- kattabtu "I had (something) written"
- kātabtu "I corresponded (with someone)"
- ʾaktabtu "I dictated"
- iktatabtu "I subscribed"
- takātabnā "we corresponded with each other"
- ʾaktubu "I write"
- ʾukattibu "I have (something) written"
- ʾukātibu "I correspond (with someone)"
- ʾuktibu "I dictate"
- ʾaktatibu "I subscribe"
- natakātabu "We correspond each other"
- kutiba "it was written"
- ʾuktiba "it was dictated"
- maktūb "written"
- muktab "dictated"
- kitāb "book"
- kutub "books"
- kātib "writer"
- kuttāb "writers"
- maktab "desk, office"
- maktabah "library, bookshop"
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 five moods ( indicative, imperative, subjunctive, jussive and energetic). 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, respectively, 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 sa- or sawfa onto the non-past. The past and non-past differ in the form of the stem (e.g. past katab- vs. non-past -ktub-), 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, kataba "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 k-t-b "write" (using ḥ-m-r "red" for Form IX, which is limited to colors and physical defects):
|I||kataba||"he wrote"||yaktubu||"he writes"|
|II||kattaba||"he made (someone) write"||yukattibu||"he makes (someone) write"|
|III||kātaba||"he corresponded with, wrote to (someone)"||yukātibu||"he corresponds with, writes to (someone)"|
|IV||ʾaktaba||"he dictated"||yuktibu||"he dictates"|
|VI||takātaba||"he corresponded (with someone, esp. mutually)"||yatakātabu||"he corresponds (with someone, esp. mutually)"|
|VII||inkataba||"he subscribed"||yankatibu||"he subscribes"|
|VIII||iktataba||"he copied"||yaktatibu||"he copies"|
|IX||iḥmarra||"he turned red"||yaḥmarru||"he turns red"|
|X||istaktaba||"he asked (someone) to write"||yastaktibu||"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. maktab "desk, office" < k-t-b "write", maṭbax "kitchen" < ṭ-b-x "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. maktabah "library" (also a writing-related place, but different than maktab, as above).
- The nisba suffix -iyy-. 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 nisba suffix -iyyah. This is formed by adding the feminine suffix -ah onto nisba adjectives to form abstract nouns. For example, from the basic root š-r-k "share" can be derived the Form VIII verb ištaraka "to cooperate, participate", and in turn its verbal noun ištirāk "cooperation, participation" can be formed. This in turn can be made into a nisba adjective ištirākiyy "socialist", from which an abstract noun ištirākiyyah "socialism" can be derived. Other recent formations are jumhūriyyah "republic" (lit. "public-ness" < jumhūr "multitude, general public"), and the Gaddafi-specific variation jamāhīriyyah "people's republic" (lit. "masses-ness" < jamāhīr "the masses", pl. of jumhūr, as above).
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.
|Tense/Mood||Past||Present Subjunctive||Present Indicative||Future||Imperative|
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 fa 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 Ruq'ah, which is commonly used in handwriting.
The Arabic writing system is sometimes seen to be more readable than the Latin writing system. Edward William Lane, the writer of "The Arabic-English Lexicon," complained once that he was so used to the cursive calligraphy of his Arabic manuscripts that the Western print strained his eyes.
After Khalil ibn Ahmad al Farahidi finally fixed the Arabic script around 786, many styles were developed, both for the writing down of the Qur'an 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 Qur'an, 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.
|ا||aː||ā||ʾ||ā||aa||aa / A||a||a/e/é|
|ي||j, iː||y||y; ī||y; e||y; ii||y||y; i/ee; ei/ai|
|ج||d͡ʒ~ ɡ~ ʒ||j||ǧ||ŷ||j||j||^g||j/g/dj|
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 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. 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.
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⟩. 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⟩, may be represented by d. Its emphatic counterpart, ⟨ض⟩, 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 (٠ – ١ – ٢ – ٣ – ٤ – ٥ – ٦ – ٧ – ٨ – ٩) 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."
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.
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. 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.
|English||Arabic||Arabic (vowelled)||Romanization ( DIN 31635)||IPA|
|al-ingilīziyyah (varies)||/alʔinɡ(i)liːzijja/ (varies)|
|Peace (Usually Islamic)||السلام عليكم||السَّلامُ عَلَيْكُمْ||ʾassalāmu ʿalaykum||/ʔassalaːmu ʕalajkum/|
|How are you?||کيف الحال؟||کَيْفَ ٱلْحَال؟||kayfa l-ḥāl||/kajfa lħaːl/|
|Goodbye||مع السلامة||مَعَ السّلامَة||maʿa s-salāma||/maʕa ssalaːma/|
|Please||من فضلك||مِنْ فَضْلِك||min faḍlik||/min fadˤlik,/|
|What's your name?||ما اسمك؟||مَا ٱسْمُك؟||mā ʾismuk(a/i)?||/ma ʔismuk(a, i)/|
|I don't understand.||لا أفهم||لا أفْهَم||lā ʾafham||/laː ʔafham/|
|I don't speak Arabic.||لا أتكلم العربية||لا أتَكَلّمُ الْعَرَبيّة||lā ʾatakallamu l-ʿarabiyyah||/laː ʔatakallamu lʕarabijja/|
|I don't know.||لا أعرف||لا أعْرِف||lā ʾaʿrif||/laː ʔaʕrif/|
|I'm hungry.||أنا جائع||أنا جائِع||ʾanā jāʾiʿ||/ʔanaː ɡʲaːʔiʕ/|
|Eleven||أحد عشر||أَحَدَ عَشَر||ʾaḥad(a) ʿašar||/ʔaħad(a) ʕaʃar/|
|Twelve||اثنا عشر||إِثْنَا عَشَر||ʾiṯnā ʿašar||/ʔiθnaː ʕaʃar/|