Arabic Around The World
If considered as one language, there are perhaps as many as 422 million speakers across the Arab world, however in reality as many as 18 distinct varieties exist, stretching in an arc across northern Africa to Western Asia. The most popular singular variant is Egyptian Arabic, with 89 million native speakers, and is also dominant thanks to Egypt’s rich cultural output, including TV and films.
It is an official language of 27 nations, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. The Arabic referred to in these cases, however, is what is referred to as “Modern Standard Arabic”, used in reading, writing and high-register speech. Arabic is also a liturgical language of 1.6 billion Muslims across the world and is also an official language of the United Nations.
Interpreting: We were proud to be able to provide experienced Arabic interpreters to the Foreign Office on long-term assignment in the Middle East. We also regularly provide Arabic interpreters to the NHS, the Department for Work and Pensions and more.
History of the Arabic Language
Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages, together with Aramaic, Amharic, Tigre and Hebrew. The Arab Conquests carried speakers of varied Arabic dialects across nearly all of the Middle East and northern Africa, into the Iberian Peninsula and across Asia to China. The word ‘Arab’ means ‘nomad’, and to chart the history of the spread of Arabic one really has to examine the early history of Islam, as the two are so closely interlinked. As speakers of Arabic spread and began to intermarry with indigenous peoples, so did the prominence of the language. Whilst some native languages are still spoken, the dominance of Arabic is unquestioned. For example, prior to the arrival of Muslims in Egypt, the preeminent language was Coptic, a direct descendant of the Ancient Egyptian language, but today Coptic survives only as a liturgical relic, used only by the Coptic Church.
Interestingly, as a result of the contact Arabic has had with other languages over the past 1,500 years, many languages have significant proportions of their vocabulary ‘borrowed’ from Arabic, including Persian, Turkish, English and Swahili. Spanish and Portuguese have a large Arabic vocabulary dating back to 800 years of influence in the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim rule.
A standardised Arabic developed almost simultaneously alongside highly distinctive regional variants of Arabic, now more commonly referred to as ‘Colloquial Arabic’. These dialects differ greatly from one another to the point of mutual unintelligibility. This divergence between Modern Standard Arabic and regional dialects has led to a phenomenon referred to in linguistics as diglossia. Modern Standard Arabic is of course not a native language to any speaker of Arabic, and speakers will often switch between Modern Standard Arabic and their local dialect, even in the same sentence. In Morocco, for instance, the language of broadcast television is Fusha Arabic, restaurant menus might be entirely in French, whilst patrons will speak a mixture of Darija (a colloquial Arabic) and Tamazight, a native language of the Amazigh peoples.
Our Arabic linguists are well versed in managing the differences between variants – use the link below to discuss your language requirements with us.