Introduction to Arabic language (part 1)

‘’Few cultures place more emphasis on their language
as a unifying factor than do the Arabs’’
(Quote taken from UN Arabic language Programme- 2009)


Arabic language is spoken by over 220 million people as a first language and by about 250 million people as a second language ( It is part of the Semitic language family together with Amharic, Aramaic, Tigrinya, (A)Syriac and Hebrew. These languages are written in other than the Roman script, with the exception of Maltese, a language spoken in Malta that has its origins in Arabic and is believed to have been spoken since between the ninth and fourteenth centuries (a topic for another post!). The vast majority of speakers live in the Middle East (Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine/Israel, and Jordan- map 1 below) and North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Libya, Niger and Mauritania) and serves as a second language to Muslim countries from Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia to places like Nigeria and the coast of East Africa.

Arabic language is a liturgical language (used for religious purposes and seen as a sacred language to some degree) and has been in use since the beginning of Islam in the 7th century in Arabia (modern day Saudi Arabia). It is the language of the Qur’an (see this website for an introduction to the Qur’an: or this site where you can see the Arabic and even hear some recitation! the religious book of Muslims just as the Bible is for Christians. Perhaps it is because of its religious connection that Arabic has retained much, if not all, of its original linguistic structure and semantic meaning. It is very possible to for an Arabic speaker to read a script from fourteen hundred years ago and understand it without a need for translation or assistance from language scholars in order to understand the text.

The Arabic alphabet (Abjad)

The alphabet is called an abjad (non-Roman script) usually written from the right to the left and is usually cursive (can be joined up and flow). The abjad consists of 28 letters (consonants) and we have three main vowels; a-case (a/aa), i-case (ee/i) and u-case (u/oo) and these sounds can be lengthened or doubled (nunation) see this link to read more on nunation sorry to those who don’t like Wiki it was the simplest explanation of the topic:
These are the letters (consonants): أ ب ت ث ج ح خ د ذ ر ز س ش ص
ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ك ل م ن وه و ي

See: for the letters and you can see other similar languages like Hebrew- I hope someone will put up a post about Hebrew up. Especially because of its sociolinguistic situation today and the great revival it’s going through due to its excellent language policy and ideology.
This is how you would write ‘a house’: بَيْتٌ the consonants: b-y-t and vowels /a/ and /un/ and it is pronounced as: ‘b-a-y-t-un’

Types of Arabic

The Arabic language situation is quite unique and being a language spoken by so many people it is expected that it will have more than one variety. The varieties differ depending on many factors such as contact with other languages whether this is due to colonisation or other dominant languages being spoken in the country. Most Arabs understand each other even with the different varieties with the exception of the Arabic of North Africa that is not usually intelligible to for example Gulf and Levant Arabs and even Egyptians.
There are three types of Arabic although scholars differ on this some say it is only two and others say it is three. For the sake of introduction in this post- we will say three types. The famous linguist Fergusson (1959) was one of the early scholars who realised that Arabic was one of those languages that had, what he termed, the low and high varieties- calling this phenomenon diglossia.

In the next post I will complete this topic in detail defining the concept and showing how this theory is an excellent attempt to explain the complex situation of Arabic varieties. If you are interested in Fergusson read some basic information here:]

taken from my blog contribution where I head the Special interest group of sociolinguistics at: