Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Arabic language

The Arabic language


ARABIC ranks sixth in the world's league table of languages, with an estimated 186 million native speakers. As the language of the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, it is also widely used throughout the Muslim world. It belongs to the Semitic group of languages which also includes Hebrew and Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia.

There are many Arabic dialects. Classical Arabic – the language of the Qur'an – was originally the dialect of Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. An adapted form of this, known as Modern Standard Arabic, is used in books, newspapers, on television and radio, in the mosques, and in conversation between educated Arabs from different countries (for example at international conferences).

Local dialects vary, and a Moroccan might have difficulty understanding an Iraqi, even though they speak the same language.

Arabic personal names
The components of names - abu, ibn, etc. How they are used and what they mean.

Alternative Arabic Dictionary
This lists the words that respectable dictionaries leave out. Not for anyone who is easily offended.

How to write your name in Arabic 
A French site showing 167 first names written in the Arabic script. Includes some English names.

Names of Arabic origin
Mainly refers to place names in Spain, Portugal and the Americas.

Arabic Language Academy
The idea of maintaining linguistic standards, through an Arab equivalent of the French Academy, has been around since the 19th century. Report by ArabicNews.

Major languages of the world
(Number of native speakers)

1.     Mandarin Chinese     836,000,000
2.     Hindi     333,000,000
3.     Spanish     332,000,000
4.     English     322,000,000
5.     Bengali     189,000,000
6.     Arabic     186,000,000
7.     Russian     170,000,000
8.     Portuguese     170,000,000
9.     Japanese     125,000,000
10.     German     98,000,000
11.     French     72,000,000
12.     Malay     50,000,000

Is Arabic difficult?

YES - and no. Learning Arabic certainly takes time and practice, but there are not many irregularities in the grammar. It's much less complicated than Latin, and probably simpler than German, too.

If you speak a European language, the root system of Arabic is an unfamiliar concept. Arabic words are constructed from three-letter "roots" which convey a basic idea. For example, k-t-b conveys the idea of writing. Addition of other letters before, between and after the root letters produces many associated words: not only "write" but also "book", "office", "library", and "author".

Learning vocabulary may cause problems at first. In most European languages there are many words which resemble those in English. Arabic has very few, but it becomes easier once you have memorised a few roots.

Arabic has many regional dialects, and if you want to master one of these the only really effective way is to spend a few years in the place of your choice. For general purposes – such as reading or listening to radio - it's best to concentrate on Modern Standard Arabic (numerous courses and textbooks are available). This would also be useful if you're interested in Islam, though you would need some additional religious vocabulary.

There are 28 consonants and three vowels – a,  i, u – which can be short or long. Some of the sounds are unique to Arabic and difficult for foreigners to pronounce exactly, though you should be able to make yourself understood.

The normal word order of a sentence is verb/subject/object. The function of nouns in a sentence can also be distinguished by case-endings (marks above the last letter of a word) but these are usually found only in the Qur'an or school textbooks.

Feminine nouns add the suffix …aat to form the plural but masculine nouns generally have a "broken" plural which involves changing vowels in the middle of the word: kitaab ("book"); kutub ("books").

Arabic has very few irregular verbs and does not use "is" or "are" at all in the present tense: "the king good" means "the king is good". Subtle alterations in the basic meaning of a verb are made by adding to the root. These changes follow regular rules, giving ten possible "verb forms" (though in practice only three or four exist for most verbs. The root k-s-r produces:

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