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About Arabic (classical) Language

Classical Arabic (CA), also known as Qur'anic or Koranic Arabic, is the form of the Arabic language used in literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries). It is based on the Medieval dialects of Arab tribes. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the direct descendent used today throughout the Arab World in writing and in formal speaking, for example, prepared speeches, some radio broadcasts, and non-entertaining content. While the lexis and stylistics of Modern Standard Arabic are different from Classical Arabic, the morphology and syntax have remained basically unchanged (though MSA uses a subset of the syntactic structures available in CA). The vernacular dialects, however, have changed more dramatically. In the Arab world, little distinction is made between CA and MSA, and both are normally called al-Fuṣ-ḥā (الفصحى‎) in Arabic, meaning 'the clearly spoken one' or the 'language of eloquence'.

Because the Qur'an is written in Classical Arabic, the language is considered by most Muslims to be sacred. It is the only language in which most Muslims recite their prayers, regardless of what language they use in everyday life.

History

Classical Arabic has its origins in the central and northern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and is distinct from Old South Arabian languages that were spoken in the southern parts of the peninsula, modern day Yemen. Classical Arabic is the only surviving descendant of the Old North Arabian languages. The oldest inscription so far discovered in Classical Arabic goes back to 328 CE and is known as the Namārah inscription, written in the Nabataean alphabet and named after the place where it was found in southern Syria in April 1901.

With the spread of Islam, Classical Arabic became a prominent language of scholarship and religious devotion as the language of the Qur'an (at times even spreading faster than the religion). Its relation to modern dialects is somewhat analogous to the relationship of Latin and the Romance languages or Middle Chinese and the modern Chinese languages.

Morphology

Classical Arabic is one of the Semitic languages, and therefore has many similarities in conjugation and pronunciation to Hebrew, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Amharic. Its use of vowels to modify a base group of consonants resembles similar constructions in Biblical Hebrew.

More on Arabic language

Arabic (العربية al-ʿarabīyah, ( Arabic pronunciation (help·info)) or عربي ʿarabi) is a Central Semitic language, thus related to and classified alongside other Semitic languages such as Hebrew and the Neo-Aramaic languages. Arabic has more speakers than any other language in the Semitic language family. It is spoken by more than 280 million people as a first language, most of whom live in the Middle East and North Africa, and by 250 million more as a second language. Arabic has many different, geographically-distributed spoken varieties, some of which are mutually unintelligible. Modern Standard Arabic is widely taught in schools, universities, and used in workplaces, government and the media.

Modern Standard Arabic derives from Classical Arabic, the only surviving member of the Old North Arabian dialect group, attested in Pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions dating back to the 4th century. Classical Arabic has also been a literary language and the liturgical language of Islam since its inception in the 7th century.

Arabic has lent many words to other languages of the Islamic world. During the Middle Ages, Arabic was a major vehicle of culture in Europe, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy. As a result, many European languages have also borrowed many words from it. Arabic influence is seen in Mediterranean languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and Sicilian, owing to both the proximity of European and Arab civilizations and 700 years of Islamic rule in the Iberian peninsula (see Al-Andalus).

Arabic has also borrowed words from many languages, including Hebrew, Persian and Syriac in early centuries, Turkish in medieval times and contemporary European languages in modern times.

Classical, Modern Standard, and colloquial Arabic

Arabic usually designates one of three main variants: Classical Arabic; Modern Standard Arabic; colloquial or dialectal Arabic.

Classical Arabic (فصحى fuṣḥā) is the language found in the Qur'an and used from the period of Pre-Islamic Arabia to that of the Abbasid Caliphate. Classical Arabic is considered normative; modern authors attempt to follow the syntactic and grammatical norms laid down by classical grammarians (such as Sibawayh), and use the vocabulary defined in classical dictionaries (such as the Lisān al-Arab).

Based on Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic (فصحى fuṣḥā) is the literary language used in most current, printed Arabic publications, spoken by the Arabic media across North Africa and the Middle East, and understood by most educated Arabic speakers. "Literary Arabic" and "Standard Arabic" are less strictly defined terms that may refer to Modern Standard Arabic and/or Classical Arabic.

Colloquial or dialectal Arabic refers to the many national or regional varieties which constitute the everyday spoken language. Colloquial Arabic has many different regional variants; these sometimes differ enough to be mutually unintelligible and some linguists consider them distinct languages. The varieties are typically unwritten. They are often used in informal spoken media, such as soap operas and talk shows, as well as occasionally in certain forms of written media, such as poetry and printed advertising. The only variety of modern Arabic to have acquired official language status is Maltese, spoken in (predominately Roman Catholic) Malta and written with the Latin alphabet. It is descended from Classical Arabic through Siculo-Arabic and is not mutually intelligible with other varieties of Arabic. Most linguists list it as a separate language rather than as a dialect of Arabic.

The sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in modern times provides a prime example of the linguistic phenomenon of diglossia, which is the normal use of two separate varieties of the same language, usually in different social situations. In the case of Arabic, educated Arabs of any nationality can be assumed to speak both their local dialect and their school-taught Standard Arabic. When educated Arabs of different dialects engage in conversation (for example, a Moroccan speaking with a Lebanese), many speakers code-switch back and forth between the dialectal and standard varieties of the language, sometimes even within the same sentence. Arabic speakers often improve their familiarity with other dialects via music or film.

Like other languages, Modern Standard Arabic continues to evolve. Many modern terms have entered into common usage, in some cases taken from other languages (for example, فيلم film) or coined from existing lexical resources (for example, هاتف hātif "telephone" < "caller"). Structural influence from foreign languages or from the colloquial varieties has also affected Modern Standard Arabic. For example, texts in Modern Standard Arabic sometimes use the format "A, B, C, and D" when listing things, whereas Classical Arabic prefers "A and B and C and D",[citation needed] and subject-initial sentences may be more common in Modern Standard Arabic than in Classical Arabic.[8] For these reasons, Modern Standard Arabic is generally treated separately in non-Arab sources.

Influence of Arabic on other languages

The influence of Arabic has been most important in Islamic countries. Arabic is a major source of vocabulary for languages such as Amharic, Baluchi, Bengali, Berber, Catalan, Cypriot Greek, Gujarati, Hindustani , Indonesian, Kurdish, Malay, Marathi, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Rohingya, Sindhi, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Turkish and Urdu as well as other languages in countries where these languages are spoken. For example, the Arabic word for book (/kitāb/) has been borrowed in all the languages listed, with the exception of Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese which use the Latin-derived words "libro","llibre" and "livro", respectively, and Tagalog which uses "aklat". In addition, English has quite a few Arabic loan words, some directly but most through the medium of other Mediterranean languages. Other languages such as Maltese[9] and Kinubi derive from Arabic, rather than merely borrowing vocabulary or grammar rules.

The terms borrowed range from religious terminology (like Berber taẓallit "prayer" < salat), academic terms (like Uyghur mentiq "logic"), economic items (like English sugar) to placeholders (like Spanish fulano "so-and-so") and everyday conjunctions (like Hindustani lekin "but", or Spanish hasta "until"). Most Berber varieties (such as Kabyle), along with Swahili, borrow some numbers from Arabic. Most Islamic religious terms are direct borrowings from Arabic, such as salat 'prayer' and imam 'prayer leader.' In languages not directly in contact with the Arab world, Arabic loanwords are often transferred indirectly via other languages rather than being transferred directly from Arabic. For example, most Arabic loanwords in Hindustani entered through Persian, and many older Arabic loanwords in Hausa were borrowed from Kanuri. Some words in English and other European languages are derived from Arabic, often through other European languages, especially Spanish and Italian. Among them are commonly-used words like "sugar" (sukkar), "cotton" (quṭn) and "magazine" (maḫāzin). English words more recognizably of Arabic origin include "algebra", "alcohol", "alchemy", "alkali", "zenith" and "nadir". Some words in common use, such as "intention" and "information", were originally calques of Arabic philosophical terms.

Arabic words also made their way into several West African languages as Islam spread across the Sahara. Variants of Arabic words such as kitaab (book) have spread to the languages of African groups who had no direct contact with Arab traders.

Arabic was influenced by other languages as well. The most important sources of borrowings into (pre-Islamic) Arabic are Aramaic, which used to be the principal, international language of communication throughout the ancient Near and Middle East, Ethiopic, and to a lesser degree Hebrew (mainly religious concepts).

As Arabic occupied a position similar to Latin (in Europe) throughout the Islamic world many of the Arabic concepts in the field of science, philosophy, commerce etc., were often coined by non-native Arabic speakers, notably by Aramaic and Persian translators. This process of using Arabic roots in notably Turkish and Persian, to translate foreign concepts continued right until the 18th and 19th century, when large swaths of Arab-inhabited lands were under Ottoman rule.

Arabic and Islam

Arabic is the language of the Qur'an. Arabic is often associated with Islam, but it is also spoken by Arab Christians, Mizrahi Jews and Iraqi Mandaeans.

Most of the world's Muslims do not speak Arabic as their native language but many can read the script and recite the words of religious texts. Some Muslims consider the Arabic language to be "the language chosen by God to speak to mankind" and the original revealed language spoken by man from which all other languages were derived having been corrupted. It is most notably understood by Muslims as being the lingua franca of the afterlife.

History

The earliest surviving texts in Proto-Arabic, or Ancient North Arabian, are the Hasaean inscriptions of eastern Saudi Arabia, from the 8th century BC, written not in the modern Arabic alphabet, nor in its Nabataean ancestor, but in variants of the epigraphic South Arabian musnad. These are followed by 6th-century BC Lihyanite texts from southeastern Saudi Arabia and the Thamudic texts found throughout Arabia and the Sinai, and not actually connected with Thamud. Later come the Safaitic inscriptions beginning in the 1st century BC, and the many Arabic personal names attested in Nabataean inscriptions (which are, however, written in Aramaic). From about the 2nd century BC, a few inscriptions from Qaryat al-Faw (near Sulayyil) reveal a dialect which is no longer considered "Proto-Arabic", but Pre-Classical Arabic. By the fourth century AD, the Arab kingdoms of the Lakhmids in southern Iraq, the Ghassanids in southern Syria the Kindite Kingdom emerged in Central Arabia. Their courts were responsible for some notable examples of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, and for some of the few surviving pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions in the Arabic alphabet.

Writing system

An example of a text written in Arabic calligraphy. The Arabic alphabet derives from the Aramaic script through Nabatean, to which it bears a loose resemblance like that of Coptic or Cyrillic script to Greek script. Traditionally, there were several differences between the Western (North African) and Middle Eastern version of the alphabet—in particular, the fa and qaf had a dot underneath and a single dot above respectively in the Maghreb, and the order of the letters was slightly different (at least when they were used as numerals). However, the old Maghrebi variant has been abandoned except for calligraphic purposes in the Maghreb itself, and remains in use mainly in the Quranic schools (zaouias) of West Africa. Arabic, like all other Semitic languages (except for the Latin-written Maltese, and the languages with the Ge'ez script), is written from right to left. There are several styles of script, notably Naskh which is used in print and by computers, and Ruq'ah which is commonly used in handwriting.

Numerals

In most of present-day North Africa, the Western Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) are used. However in Egypt and Arabic-speaking countries to the east of it, the Eastern Arabic numerals (٠.١.٢.٣.٤.٥.٦.٧.٨.٩) are in use. When representing a number in Arabic, the lowest-valued position is placed on the right, so the order of positions is the same as in left-to-right scripts. Sequences of digits such as telephone numbers are read from left to right, but numbers are spoken in the traditional Arabic fashion, with units and tens reversed from the modern English usage. For example, 24 is said "four and twenty", and 1975 is said "one thousand and nine hundred and five and seventy."

 

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