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The Fascinating Arabic Language

With its elegant script, right-to-left orientation and ancient origins, the Arabic language holds a fascination for many. Here is a brief introduction:
 
The Arabic script

The Arabic ‘alphabet’ contains 28 letters but, unlike English, there are actually two different orders that they are presented in. One is termed the abjad, and is similar to Hebrew, with each character representing both a letter and a number. The hija order puts characters that look the same together, and is used when ordering phonebooks and directories.



Spoken Arabic: Language or languages?

Spoken – or colloquial – Arabic varies so much between regions that there are legitimate grounds to classify each ‘dialect’ as a different Arabic language in its own right. The most widely recognized is the Egyptian language, spoken by 52 million Egyptians as a first language and a further 24 million as a second language. The popularity of the Egyptian language is fueled by the widespread adoption of Egyptian cinema. Arabic came to Egypt during the 7th Century Arab-Muslim conquests, supplanting the existing Greek and Coptic Egyptian language, although there is still a strong influence of these former languages.



The language of Islam

Spoken and written Arabic form a ‘diglossia’, two very different languages co-existing within a culture. The written Arabic language is termed Modern Standard Arabic (although there are several variations). It is based on the Classical Arabic which is found in the Qu’ran, with obsolete words removed and new words added from colloquial Arabic. MSA is used in formal writing and speech and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Classical Arabic (CA) is still used during prayers and other religious duties since the language of the Qu’ran is considered sacred and therefore unalterable.



Arabic words in English

The Middle Ages was an influential period for Arabic scholars, and many of the words they used have passed into the English language. These include alchemy, alcohol, algebra, algorithm, alkali, cheque, chemistry, coffee, guitar, jar, jumper, sofa, spinach, the number zero and more.

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