The Arab people inhabit a vast area of two continents called the Arab World. This area are stretching from northern Africa up to western Asia and consists of at least 22 Arab countries. Not only in this area, but the descendants of Arabs are also present in many countries around the world. They are very notable for their appearance since most of them keep their ethnic identity attached to them and use the Arabic language for communication within their society.
Regarding Arabic language, it was the branch of Semitic language families mainly used by people groups in the Middle East for about four millenniums. Arabic was born in the first century in the Arabian Peninsula and spread throughout all Arab world regions. Because of the sociocultural and geographical differences, the language breaks into multiple dialects with numerous speaking accents that we know today.
Modern Standard Arabic as formal register and lingua franca
Today, the term Arabic will refer to the modern standard Arabic language or MSA which is used by more than 400 million speakers around the world. Linguists use this name to differentiate it from the classical form of Arabic used in the Quran. Both classical Arabic and MSA follow the same grammatical rules even though there are several classical rules and construction that were abandoned due to their relevance to the current situation in the spoken and vernacular varieties.
Simply said, the modern Arabic language is the simplified form of classical Arabic that is considered too complex in conversation. Even for literary authors, classical Arabic is hard to mimic due to obsolete vocabulary and normative style with contextual syntactic construction.
Currently, standard Arabic is used in formal contexts such as law and education. It is also called literary Arabic for its usage in literature and writings. The mass media and television also use this language variety even though not all Arabs speakers will fully understand it. This language is also one of six official languages used by the United Nation and also becomes the national language of the members of the Arab League.
While it has been standardized, which means that there are approved registers and a set of rules that govern it, written and spoken Arabic are two things that often go in different directions. With the vast area of the Arab world, MSA will be like a second language that is only taught in school. The colloquial forms of Arabic are sometimes not completely understood by other Arabs from different regions thus it makes the localization process become difficult.
Characters and writing format
Arabic script is known as the script used in Islam’s holy book Quran. Then, it becomes the standard script for writing in the Arabic language, and currently, 18 states adopt this script as their official script for writing. Due to religion’s spread, this script is not only for the Arabic language but also used for writing in many family languages.
Unlike Latin script, Arabic script is written from the opposite direction. There are 29 basic characters called abjads, which in writing, they are joined in a cursive style. There is also no letter that represents vowels in Arabic, while in reading, the reader can predict the sound according to the context and meaning. However, diacritic vowels (harakat) can be added to avoid ambiguity and ease the language learner to read and write the scripts. These diacritic signs could change the sound of the letters and add other clues for reading Arabic text.
Another difference with Latin script is the changing form in writing. Basically, every letter has four forms that actually look similar to each other. Each form is used differently depending on how it stands – whether it stands alone or in a word. When the letter is in a word, the style depends on the letters that come before and after it, or it depends on the position; in the first, middle, or end of a word.
Note for Arabic language learners
For English speakers or non-Arabic natives, learning this language could take a longer time compared with learning languages that use Latin script. Not only because of the writing script, but this language is also context-dependent, high-nuance, and other characteristics that are unfamiliar to foreign learners. The context-dependent noun like camel, for instance, can be expressed in more than a hundred variations depending on what context and nuance of the sentence.
Aside from the semantic complexity, speaking Arabic could serve as a challenging task for non-natives. It could take years of practice to gain full comprehension of speaking putting aside different dialects with the tricky tone, intonation, and stops. The special sounds are also difficult to spell. Someone may need to have a lot of exercises involving breathing practice to be fluent in speaking.
However, the effort of learning Arabic will be completely paid off after someone successfully masters this language both in writing and speaking. The beautiful and poetic forms are unmatched by other languages. A study in 2010 suggested learning Arabic to train and enhance brain capability. It was said that learning Arabic could improve the brain, especially in the later stages of age.