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Arabic language

The expressions Arabic and Classical Arabic usually refer to ?al luGat ul?\\arabi:yat ulfus'X\\a: ( Literally: the pure Arabic language - اللغة العربية؛الفصحى ) which is, according to Arabic speakers, both the language of present-day media across North Africa and the Middle East (from Morocco to Iraq) and the language of the Qur'an. The expression media includes not only television, radio, newspapers and magazines, but also all written matter, including all books, documents of every kind, and reading primers for small children.

The word "Arabic", in a wide sense, can also refer to one of the many national or regional so-called "dialects", spoken daily across North Africa and the Middle East, which can sometimes differ enough to be mutually incomprehensible. These dialects are not frequently written.

It is sometimes difficult to separate concepts in Islam from concepts specific to Arab culture, from the language itself. The Qur'an is expressed in Arabic and traditionally Muslims deemed it untranslatable, though this view has changed in some circles, e.g. those advocating the Islamization of knowledge in recent decades. A list of Islamic terms in Arabic covers those terms which are too specific to translate in one phrase.

The English word algorithm is derived from the name of the inventor of algebra - an Arabic word like alchemy, alcohol, azimuth, nadir, zenith and oasis. Arabic numerals are what we use in English - but, except in some North African countries, modern Arabs generally use Hindi numerals. Spanish is the European language with the most borrowings from Arabic. See a List of the Arabic loan-words in Spanish.

Arabic is a Semitic language, closely related to the Hebrew language. Many dialects are spoken in modern Arabic states such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco, but all of these countries use Modern Standard Arabic for printed media. Its function however is different from Western standard languages: it is mainly the language of the Qur'an (in its Classical form), and is not spoken in everyday life. Consequently, prestigious vernacular varieties have some of the functions that standard languages have in Western countries (see Chambers, Sociolinguistic Theory). Arabic is the language of Islam, but is also spoken by Arab Christians and Oriental Jews.

Table of contents
1 Alphabet
2 Phonology
3 Grammar
4 Calligraphy
5 Arabic Script
6 External links


The Arabic alphabet derives from the eastern version of Aramaic script (the western version resembles Greek of that era), a loose resemblance like that of Coptic or Cyrillic script to Greek script; but the underlying language does not vary as much between eastern and western variants as the scripts themselves do - a situation a little like the differences between Serb and Croat). Arabic, like Hebrew, is written from right to left.

note the "" is inbetween "a" (car) and "e" (bed).

Arabic alphabet:
Letter Standard
Name Typical SAMPA value
ا lef
alif a
ب b ba:? b
ت t ta:? t
ث th Ta:? T
ج jm
dZi:m dZ
ح h. X\\a:? X\\
خ khaa xa:? x
د dl
da:l d
ذ thl
Da:l D
ر r'aa
ra:? r
ز zai
za:j z
س si'n
si:n s
ش shn
Si:n S
ص s'aad
s_ea:d s_e
ض d'aad
d_ea:d d_e
ط t' t_ea:? t_e
ظ z' z_ea:? z_e
ع 'ayn
?\\ajn ?\\
غ ghan
Gajn G
ف faa
fa:? f
ق qf
qa:f q
ك kf
ka:f k
ل lm
la:m l
م mm mi:m m
ن nuun
nu:n n
ه h ha:? h
و waau
wa:w w
ى y ja:? j
ء (hamza)
hamza ?
  1. hamza typically occurs as a small superscript over ا, و, or ى. There are also two variants, each used in special contexts: ٱ , آ.

Arabic special characters:
Commonly-used variants:
ى word-final variant of ا; has value of ى elsewhere
ligature of ل and ا
ة teh marbuta; nominally feminine ending /at/, but the /t/ is dropped except in special cases; changes to ت when suffixes are added
ّ shadda; marks gemination of a consonant; kasra (see below) moves to between the shadda and the geminate consonant when present; not used consistently in modern texts
Short vowels are indicated only in the Qur'an and in children's reading primers:
ْ suku:n; marks a consonant with no following vowel
َ fatX\\a; short /a/ vowel
ِ kasra; short /i/ vowel
ُ d'am:a; short /u/ vowel
tanwiin letters:
ً , ٍ , ٌ used in combination with ا to produce the grammatical endings /an/, /in/, and /un/ respectively ( اً , اٍ , اٌ ); only اً is commonly used


Standard Arabic has only three vowels, in long and short variants, namely /i, a, u/. Naturally, considerable allophony occurs.

Arabic consonant phonemes
  Bilabial Inter-
Dental Emphatic
Velar Uvular Pharyn-
Stops Voiceless     t t'   k q   ?
Voiced b   d d' dZ¹        
Fricatives Voiceless f T s s' S x   X\\ h
Voiced   D z D'   G   ?\\  
Nasals m   n            
Rhotic (trill)     r            
Semi-vowels w     j          

  1. /dZ/ is /g/ for some speakers, i.e. a plosive
  2. /l/ becomes [l'] only in /?alla:h/, the name of God, i.e. Allah.

/'/ is used to indicate velarization and pharyngalization (=emphatic consonants; usually transcribed as dotted consonants). The other symbols are SAMPA.

In the dialects there are more phonemes, one occurs in the Maghreb as well in the written language mostly for names: /v/.

Vowels and consonants can be (phonologically) short or long.


Like many Semitic languages the grammar is based on a (usually) triconsonantal root, which is not a word in itself. The consonants k t b together indicating 'write', q r ? indicate 'read', ? k l indicate 'eat'. The pattern of vowels and affixes gives the exact meaning. The simplest form of the verb is the perfect, third person masculine singular: kataba 'he wrote', qara?a 'he read'. From this the other persons and numbers form:

The imperfect has a different shape and different affixes: Derived verbs are variations on the shape of the primary kataba stem, such as kattaba, ka:taba, inkataba, takattaba, etc., with senses such as intensive, reflexive, and causative, though the exact meaning varies from verb to verb and needs to be recorded in a lexicon.

In Arabic, a word is classified as one of three: a noun, a verb, and a preposition. There are simply no separate categories for adjectives, adverbs, etc.; all are fulfilled by either a noun or a verb, or in some cases, a preposition. For example, to say in Arabic the sentense "the man ran slowly", one would say in Arabic a sentense whose word-for-word translation is "the man ran with slowness", or "the man ran (with) a slowness". Similarily, the Arabic word for "quick" would be treated as a noun, thus it is more properly translated not as the English word "quick", but as the English phrase "quick one".

This concept of using nouns and verbs to fulfill other linguistic functions is different from other languages, such as English, where usually there are words dedicated to fulfilling these functions. Note, though, that in English, this method is sometimes used with respect to adjectives, as in "the city hall", "the town meeting", etc.

Besides these rules, there are a number of other grammar and literary rules that dictate such things as what position in the sentense is the most proper for a certain word, advanced grammatical rules, word morphology, etc. These rules are known collectively in Arabic as al naX\\u (Arabic النحو), which means "the orientation", as it is viewed as the science that defines the proper orientation (rules) of the Arabic language.

Like many Semitic languages, Arabic has a dual grammatical number.


In the beginnings of Islam, the Qur'an was mostly recorded in the memory of those who memorized the entire text; they were known as the Huffaz. After witnessing the unreliability of such a form of transmission, mostly because of the untimely death of many of those Huffaz in battle, it was decided to record it in written form and compile it into one book instead of several pieces.

Given its sacred nature to Muslims, as the Qur'an is considered the word of Allah, the book would be made with great attention to quality and readability. Given Islam's taboo against pictural representation, however, drawings could not be used to enjolivate the book, as was done in the Christian world. Thus, the art of calligraphy became very important in the Muslim world, and today it is still a major art form; calligraphers are held in great esteem. The aesthetic of their art, which allows for the teaching of the Qur'an, is a unifying aspect of Islam.

After the definitive fixing of the Arabic script around 786, by Khalil ibn Ahmad al Farahidi, many styles were developed, both for the writing down of the Qur'an and other books, and for inscriptions on monuments as decoration.

The first of those to gain popularity was known as the Kufic script; it was angular, made of square and short horizontal strokes, long verticals, and bold, compact circles. It would be the main script used to copy the Qur'an for three centuries; its static aspect made it suitable for monumental inscriptions, too. It would develop many serifs, small decorations added to each character.

More often used for casual writing was the cursive Naskh script, with rounder letters and thin lines; with refinement of its writing techniques it would come to be preferred to Kufic for copying the Qur'an. Most children are taught the Naskh font first, and at a later stage they are introduced to the Riq'a font. Almost all printed material in Arabic is in Naskh so, to avoid confusion, children are taught to write in the same script. It is also clearer and easier to decipher.

In the 13th century, the Thuluth would take on the ornamental role formerly associated with the Kufic script. Thuluth meaning "one third", it is based on the principle that one third of each letter slides downward. As such it has a strong cursive aspect and is usually written in ample curves.

As Islam extended farther east, it converted the Persians, who took to using Arabic script for their own language. They contributed to Arabic calligraphy the Taliq and Nastaliq styles. The later is extremely cursive, with exaggeratedly long horizontal strokes; one of its peculiarities is that vertical strokes lean to the right rather than (as more commonly) to the left, making Nastaliq writing particularly well flowing.

The Diwani script is a cursive style of Arabic calligraphy developed during the reign of the early Ottoman Turks (16th-early 17th century). It was invented by Housam Roumi and reached its height of popularity under Süleyman I the Magnificent (1520-66). As decorative as it was communicative, Diwani was distinguished by the complexity of the line within the letter and the close juxtaposition of the letters within the word.

A variation of the Diwani, the Diwani Al Jali, is characterized by its abundance of diacritical and ornamental marks.

Finally, the most commonly used script for everyday use is Riq'a. Simple and easy to write, its movements are small, without much amplitude. It is the one most commonly seen. It's also considered a step up from the Naskh script, and as children get older they are taught this script in school.

The traditional instrument of the Arabic calligrapher is the qalam, a pen made of dried reed; the ink is often in color, and chosen such that its intensity can vary greatly, so that the greater strokes of the compositions can be very dynamic in their effect.

Indeed, Arabic calligraphy hasn't fallen out of use as in the western world. Being cursive by nature, unlike the Latin alphabet, Arabic script is used to write down a verse of the Qur'an, a Hadith, or simply a proverb, in a spectacular composition that is often indecipherable. The composition is often abstract, but sometimes the writing is shaped into an actual form such as that of an animal. One of the current masters of the genre is Hassan Massoudy.

Arabic Script

Arabic script is not used solely for writing Arabic. The script, while still inherently Arabic, has been modified to fit the other languages it is used with. There are phonemes that Arabic doesn't have, but yet Farsi or Malay or Urdu may contain, especially since those three languages are not related to Arabic. For example, the Arabic language lacks a "P" sounding letter, so many languages add their own "P" in the script, yet the symbol used may differ between languages.

Arabic script is currently used for:

In the past, it has also been used to represent other languages:

External links

Web references and examples: