The Arabic language is unique among the major mainstream languages of the world. For one thing, it’s written and read from right to left and is the root source of many words in Latin. Very difficult to learn, it’s also the fifth most spoken language in the world. Here are some facts about the language that you probably did not know:
1. The Arabic alphabet is not an alphabet per se
One thing that makes Arabic unique and hard to learn is the fact that its writing system is not based on an alphabet but on an abjad. In an abjad system, each letter represents a consonant but no vowels. In Arabic, a speaker reads vowel marks to pronounce vowels.
2. Arabic is the most popular of the Afro-asiatic family of languages
Arabic pertains to the Afro-asiatic family tree of languages. Commonly spoken in the Middle East and large segments of Africa, the Afro-asiatic family is made up of six branches that encompass 300 living languages and dialects. Arabic is the most widely spoken language of the family spoken by 350 million speakers.
3. Maltese is rooted in Arabic
The official language of Malta, Maltese, arose in the 11th century when migrants from the nearby island of Sicily settled there. These people spoke an Arabic dialect that resulted from the Arab conquest of Sicily in the second half of the ninth century. Maltese is a derivative of Siculo-Arabic, a universally recognized branch of Arabic. The language of Malta is the sole Arabic dialect to be written in the Latin alphabet and the only Semitic language to be granted official status in the European Union.
4. Arabic and Hebrew are very similar
Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages that are branches of the Central Semitic Languages group. Common characteristics include the fact that they are both based on abjads, not alphabets, and both use a negation marker.
5. It takes around 1.69 years to learn Arabic
In a 2014 study, the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute found that Arabic is one of the hardest languages to learn for native English speakers. The study found that it takes around 88 weeks or 1.69 years (2,200 class hours) for a non-Arabic person to become proficient in the language. The world’s easiest language, in comparison, only requires about 23-24 weeks of study, or 575-600 class hours.
6. Arabic is influenced by other languages
Although several other modern languages have been greatly influenced by Arabic, the Semitic language itself has been significantly influenced by languages that are close relatives. Over millennia, Arabic has borrowed words from Hebrew, Persian, Hellenistic Greek and Aramaic. For example, the Arabic word for city, “madina”, is rooted both in Hebrew and Aramaic.
7. Arabic is at least 1,500 years old
Classified as originating in the sixth century, classical Arabic actually has older language versions, such as the Safaitic dialect, an ancient Arabic dialect spoken by the pre-Islamic nomads of the Syro-Arabian desert. The written language can be traced back to the first century.
8. Arabic language is the fifth most spoken language in the world
The most popular of the Semitic languages, Arabic is well represented in the Middle East and is one of the world’s main languages. Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world behind Chinese, Spanish, English and Hindi, respectively.
Learning these facts about the Arabic language will hopefully make you appreciate the language and culture more. Beautiful and complex, and over 1,500 years old, it is particularly rich in descriptive vocabulary which makes it ideal for poetry. Due to its beauty and old age, Arabic has influenced world culture and history for centuries and continues to be a vital and important language in the modern world.