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Arabic Languages of the Middle East

January 7, 2020

For thousands of years, Arabic has made numerous cultural and linguistic contributions to millions of people living in many parts of the Middle East. The term "Arab" is not used to define a race or a religion but denotes a large group of native language speakers. Having emerged in the Mediterranean region during the 1st century CE, Arabic survived many generations and is now considered to be the lingua franca of the Arab World. Moreover, during the Middle Ages, Arabic became a major voice for spreading culture, science, math and philosophy throughout parts of Europe and Asia. Today, Arabic is widely taught in schools and universities and is used in the Arab world for media, the workplace, and government.

Arabic Spreads across the Middle East, Europe and Asia

Although there are varying definitions of the area we know as the Middle East, the Arab World is more concretely defined and consists of 200 million people in 22 countries. The Arabic language can be divided into Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) as well as by various geographical dialects, including:

  • Gulf Arabic (Kuwait)
  • Syrian Arabic
  • Lebanese Arabic
  • Urban Palestinian
  • Rural Palestinian
  • Yemeni Arabic
  • Jordanian Arabic
  • Mesopotamian Arabic
  • Hejazi Arabic
  • Najdi Arabic
  • Egyptian Arabic
  • Libyan Arabic
  • Tunisian Arabic
  • Algerian Arabic
  • Moroccan Arabic
  • Central Asian Arabic
  • Shirvani Arabic
  • Maltese Arabic
  • Baharna Arabic
  • Judeo Arabic
  • Chadian Arabic

Iran and Turkey are not Arab countries, as the primary languages spoken are Farsi in Iran and Turkish in Turkey. However, all Muslims across the globe have a direct religious connection to the language as both the Quran and Hadith are scripted in Classical Arabic, which has a similar position in Islamic nations to that of Latin in Europe.

Borrowed Words and Arabic Loanwords

Arabic has influenced numerous other languages around the globe throughout history. During medieval times, Arabic borrowed words from other languages, such as Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Persian, as well as adopted modern loanwords from English and French. Conversely, European languages borrowed numerous words from Arabic, including Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, English, Greek and Bulgarian. South and Central Asian languages like Bengali, Tagalog, Punjabi, Indonesian, Malaysian, Bosnian, Maldivian, Pashto, and more also have many words borrowed from Arabic. Nowadays, as many as 422 million speakers speak the combined varieties of Arabic ranking it fifth among all languages. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations and the liturgical language of approximately 1.8 billion Muslims.

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