How Old Is The Arabic Language?
On December 18 of every year, we celebrate the World Arabic Language Day. The day was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2010, and “coincides with the day in 1973 that the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Arabic as the sixth official language of the Organization” (source: UNESCO website).
Each year, institutions, organizations as well as Arabic and non-Arabic speakers use this day to celebrate the Arabic language and appreciate its many amazing facets.
Spoken by over 400 million people, this Semitic language is the world’s 5th most widely-spoken language, and its number of learners increases every passing day. If you are looking forward to being one of them, start your journey with an online Arabic language course right now and waste no time!
Keep reading to learn more about the Arabic language, its history, origins and other amazing facts!
Arabic Language History
It’s hard to keep track of when and how some language first appeared, especially that the origin of the Arabic language is still a debated topic. However, there are some sources that provide insights on when Arabic first emerged, and scholars agree that Arabic is one of the oldest languages ever discovered and used in the world.
Arabic Language Origin
Arabic is an Afroasiatic language, according to the language family tree. Arabic is the family’s most commonly spoken language. The Afroasiatic language family, which spans the Middle East and most of Africa, consists of six branches and over 300 living languages and dialects, with over 350 million native speakers.
When Did The Arabic Language Emerge?
The Arabic language as we know it is thought to have originated in the sixth century, but older variations of the language existed, including the Safaitic dialect, an old Arabic dialect used by pre-Islamic nomadic inhabitants of the Syro-Arabian desert. However, according to various sources, the language’s first appearances date back to the second millennium BC.
The Arabic of the Maghreb (North Africa), Egyptian Arabic (Egypt and Sudan), Levantine Arabic (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine), and Iraqi/Gulf Arabic are the four main regional dialects spoken in the Arab world today, with dialectic differences in different countries.
Modern Standard Arabic differs from both Quranic and Classical Arabic. It has undergone a period of “Europeanisation” in the 19th century which has modified parts of the language and has had a major impact on grammar.
How Old is The Arabic Alphabet?
First of all, the Arabic alphabet is incorrectly labeled as an “alphabet”. Rather, it is an “abjad”. An abjad is a system that makes every letter in the language stands for a consonant rather than a vowel, requiring the language’s user to include the vowels using vowel markers.
The Arabic alphabet was established in the fourth century CE, but the oldest extant Arabic writing is a 512 CE trilingual inscription (Greek-Syriac-Arabic).
Some argue that the Arabic script developed in the North, in Al Hirah (fourth to seventh-century Mesopotamia), while others argue that it originated in the South, in Himyar (110 BC to AD 525).
The Nabatean Aramaic script is the ancestor of the North Arabic script, the oldest extant copies of which date from the 4th century B.C. However, since the Aramaic script represented fewer consonants than the required number for Arabic, the use of certain shapes was extended by the use of dots put on the letters.
Arabic letters are distinguished by their use of dots. Often the only way to distinguish such letters is to add a dot above or below the letter. The Arabic letters weren’t dotted until several years after the Quran was turned into a book. To unify and standardize it, diacritics, as well as various tone and pronunciation grids, were added.
The Kufic, named after the town of Kufah in Mesopotamia, which hosted a popular Muslim academy, and the Naskh, or Mecca-Medina script, were the two main styles of alphabet Arabic writing that evolved rather early in the Muslim era.
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Facts About The Arabic Language
How Many Words Are There In The Arabic Language?
The approximate number of words in the Arabic language is 12.3 million words. These are counted according to the number of words included in the dictionary “Mo’jam”. This is 20 times the number of words in English!
Arabic is famous for being rich in vocabulary. It has over 100 terms for “camel”, 11 words for “love”, which originates from “hubb” relating to seeds that can grow and turn into something amazing.
What Are The Arabic-Speaking Countries?
There are 25 countries in the world that claim Arabic as an official or co-official language. These countries are Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
5 Unique Features Of The Arabic Language
As one of the oldest and most widely spoken languages in the world, it’s not surprising that the Arabic language is a unique and influential language.
The Arabic language has influenced both Latin and Greek in Europe. As a result, many Romance languages, including Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, and Sicilian, borrow many vocabulary words from Arabic.
The influence didn’t stop there: it can also be seen in Turkish, Kurdish, Persian, and Urdu. The African languages of Somali and Swahili have also been touched by the Arabic language. The language’s influence has spread to Asian languages such as Hindi, Malay, Indonesian, Pashto, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hausa, and Tagalog.
At the same time, many English words were strongly influenced by Arabic, such influence is apparent in words like amber, candy, racquet, lemon, alchemy, arsenal, giraffe, alcohol, algebra, sherbet, algorithm, alkaline, coffee, sugar, cotton, hazard, kebab, loofah, camel, magazine, ghoul, sofa, tariff. A similar phenomenon can be found in other languages such as French or Spanish.
Here’s a list of other things that distinguish the Arabic language, other than the ability to influence:
1. Arabic Alphabet (Abjad) Has Only 3 Vowels
It’s wonderful how a 12.3 million-word language is capable of making up this number of words with only 3 vowels out of 28 letters! There are five distinct variations of these three vowels. This means that the vast majority of Arabic words contain only consonants.
2. Arabic Is Written From Right To Left
Contrary to English and most Latin-based languages, Arabic text is written from right to left. However, the numerals are written from left to right, in the Arabic language used in India, Pakistan, and Iran, with many variants for the numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7.
3. Arabic Has Letters Not Pronounced In Any Other Language
There are also a few sounds that don’t exist in other languages, such as ‘ح’ , which is a deep ‘ha’ sound, and ‘ض’ which is a very heavy “daad” sound.
4. The Variations Are Limitless
Every word in Arabic has an alternative that precisely describes the difference. Some words, like camel, have over 100 variations. Each of these variations is used to describe a specific state. For example, “Al-Jafool” refers to a scared camel. “Al-Harib” refers to a female camel that walks ahead of the others by a long stretch, giving the impression that it is fleeing.
5. Arabic Has Different Forms According To The Context Used
Doesn’t that make sense in all languages? However, Arabic takes on different forms depending on the context. Standard or Classical Arabic “Fusha” for example, is a distinct version of the language used in media, publications, literature, and other formal settings.
“Aamiya,” or colloquial (spoken) Arabic, has many variants that are used in everyday speech, and they vary from country to country, and even town to town.
How Long Does It Take To Learn The Arabic Language?
Said to be one of the most difficult languages to learn, many people wonder how long it takes to learn the Arabic language perfectly. It requires an average of 1.69 years (88 weeks), or 2,200 hours of Arabic language classes, to reach speaking and reading proficiency.
Do I Have To Learn Arabic To Understand The Quran?
Yes, you have to learn Arabic in order to understand the Quran. Allah ordered Muslims to recite Quran in its original language which is Arabic. Even though the Quran encapsulates the Words of Allah, and as such, no human being or any other being or technology will ever be able to fully comprehend it, learning Classical Arabic (Fusha) will definitely help you increase your understanding of the Book of Allah and grow closer to the Creator. Quranic Arabic is such a subtle, unique and precise language that you will be able to fully appreciate once you start learning it.
Is Learning Arabic Hard?
Yes, Arabic is defined as one of the most difficult languages to learn. It takes time and effort to grasp its rules and regulations in pronunciation and grammar. However, Studio Arabiya is here for you! Check out our online classes and start this beautiful learning journey today!