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Introduction

al-ʿArabiyyah in written Arabic (Naskh script)

Arabic (Arabic: العَرَبِيَّةal-ʻarabiyyah [ʔal.ʕa.ra.ˈbij.jah] (About this soundlisten), or عَرَبِيّʻarabī [ˈʕa.ra.biː] (About this soundlisten) or [ʕa.ra.ˈbijj]) is usually classified as a Central Semitic language, and linguists widely agree that the language first emerged in the 1st to 4th centuries CE.. It is now the lingua franca of the Arab world. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living in the area bounded by Mesopotamia in the east and the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, in northwestern Arabia, and in the Sinai Peninsula. Arabic is classified as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, which is derived from Classical Arabic.

As the modern written language, Modern Standard Arabic is widely taught in schools and universities, and is used to varying degrees in workplaces, government, and the media. The two formal varieties are grouped together as Literary Arabic (fuṣḥā), which is the official language of 26 states, and the liturgical language of the religion of Islam, since the Quran and Hadith were written in Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic largely follows the grammatical standards of Classical Arabic, and uses much of the same vocabulary. However, it has discarded some grammatical constructions and vocabulary that no longer have any counterpart in the spoken varieties, and has adopted certain new constructions and vocabulary from the spoken varieties. Much of the new vocabulary is used to denote concepts that have arisen in the post-classical era, especially in modern times. Due to its grounding in Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic is removed over a millennium from everyday speech, which is construed as a multitude of dialects of this language. These dialects and Modern Standard Arabic are described by some scholars as not mutually comprehensible. The former are usually acquired in families, while the latter is taught in formal education settings. However, there have been studies reporting some degree of comprehension of stories told in the standard variety among preschool-aged children. The relation between Modern Standard Arabic and these dialects is sometimes compared to that of Latin and vernaculars (or today's French, Czech or German) in medieval and early modern Europe. This view though does not take into account the widespread use of Modern Standard Arabic as a medium of audiovisual communication in today's mass media—a function Latin has never performed.

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Did you know...

  • ... that while most Indonesians do not speak Arabic, they learn to read the Quran using a textbook called Iqro?
  • ... that Jonah ibn Janah, one of the most important medieval Hebrew grammarians, wrote his major works in Arabic?

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