Why Study Arabic?
Arabic is...
One of the six official languages of the UN.
Spoken by some 250 million people.
The principal language in 22 countries in
Africa and the Middle East...
…the Language of the
League of Arab States
Arabic is ranked #4 among the most
widely spoken languages in the world.
• Chinese Mandarin
• Spanish
• English
• Arabic
885 million
By 2050, Arabic speakers could
outnumber those in English worldwide!
…the Language of Islam
Arabic is the language of Scripture
and prayer for 1.2 billion Muslims
That includes approximately six
million Muslims in the US!
…a Language for Christians
Arabic is also the language of Scripture and prayer
for some 30 million Christians in Africa and the
Middle East.
…for Arab-Americans
Arabic is the mother tongue of some
three million people of Arab origin living
in the US.
…the fastest-growing spoken language of
study at U.S. colleges and universities.
A survey of the Modern Language
Association indicated that the number
of students studying Arabic at U.S.
colleges climbed 92.3% - to 10,584 –
between 1998 and 2002. The number
of undergraduate campuses teaching
Arabic jumped 48%, to 233.
Arabic Literature
There is a vast
body of Arabic
literature, both
secular and
In 1988, Egypt’s
Naguib Mahfouz
became the first
author to win the
Nobel Prize for
Business Interests & International Trade
According to the International Trade
Commission, in 2007 US exports to the
Middle East & North Africa World reached
$55.6 billion!
And US imports reached $102 billion!
International Affairs
relations with
the Arab world
are an
aspect of US
foreign policy.
From Arabic to Spanish
Arabic words have made their way into
many European languages.
Some 4,000 words in Spanish, mostly
nouns, were borrowed from Arabic
• Aceite, Alfombra, Algodon, Arroz, etc.
From Arabic to Spanish to English
From Spanish, many Arabic words passed
into other languages, including English:
• admiral, alcohol, algebra, algorithm, almanac
• candy, chemistry, coffee, cotton, crimson
• magazine, mascara, mattress, mocha
• safari, sequin, sherbet, sofa, syrup
• zenith and zero
Arabic Script
A number of other languages use or have
used a version of the Arabic script.
These include:
• Persian or Farsi (Iran)
• Pashto
(Afghanistan, Iran, India)
• Urdu
(India & Pakistan)
• Formerly Turkish
The Classification &
History of Arabic
The Classification of Arabic
Arabic is a Semitic language
It is related to languages such as:
Akkadian (ancient Mesopotamian language)
Hebrew & Aramaic
Semitic Languages
Map of
The History of Arabic ‫تاريخ العربية‬
Evidence for written Arabic before the
advent of Islam is quite limited.
The first inscription in a language
recognized as Arabic dates from 328 CE.
Arabic script is probably derived from a
cursive form of Nabataean, which is itself
derived from Aramaic.
The Origins of
Arabic Script
Some Basic Features of Arabic
An alphabet of 28 letters
Written from right to left
Three long & three short vowels (a, i, u)
Short vowels are not normally written
except in:
The Qur’an, Bible, children’s books,
dictionaries, etc.
Root and pattern system
Most verbs and nouns are derived from
a 3-letter root
For example from the root D R S come:
• Darasa
• Darrasa
• Dars
• Madrasa
• Mudarris
to study
to teach
lesson, class
Varieties of Arabic
Classical, Modern Standard & Colloquial
Classical Arabic
The Qur’an
represents the
greatest example of
Classical Arabic and
set the standard for
the language for
Modern Arabic is characterized by what is
called diglossia.
This means that modern Arabic virtually
comprises two languages:
Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Arabic.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)
Modern Standard Arabic (“fus-Ha”) is derived
from Classical Arabic and was developed in
the late 19th-early 20th centuries:
To guard the integrity of the Arabic language and
preserve it from foreign influences
To adapt the Arabic language to the needs of
modern times, especially to express modern
political ideas and technological terms
To unite the Arab world under a common
Modern Standard
Arabic ‫الفصحى‬
MSA is used for:
Print & electronic media
Formal speeches
TV and radio news
Colloquial Arabic (CA) ‫العامية‬
CA is the first language of Arabic-speakers.
It’s the everyday dialect.
CA is the ONLY language for many people.
Colloquial Arabic “is the mother
tongue of the Arab & remains
throughout his life the primary
medium of interpersonal
-Mary Catherine Bateson,
Arabic Language Handbook (2003)
Colloquial Arabic
There are over 30 varieties of CA in 5 groups:
North African
(Egypt & the Sudan)
(Palestine, Leb., Syr. & Jordan)
(Saudi Arabia & the Gulf States)
They vary tremendously in grammar,
vocabulary & pronunciation, even within
a single country!
“How are you?”
In Syria, someone may ask: shlonak?
In Egypt, you will hear:
In Morocco:
kee deir?
Differences may be so great, speakers
from two different Arab countries may
have to resort to MSA or another
language (usually English or French) in
order to communicate.
“There can be no doubt that those who
want to have a real command of the
Arabic language in all situations need to
master both varieties.”
– Woidich, Kulla Tamam! (2004)
The Goals of the Arabic Program
at St. Bonaventure University
To introduce students to MSA for:
• signs, books, newspapers, etc.
• correspondence, completing forms, etc.
Speaking & Listening
• Formal addresses, news broadcasts, etc.
Introduce students to Colloquial Arabic
everyday communication & conversation
But which colloquial?
Primarily Egyptian Colloquial
It’s the most widely understood Colloquial
Arabic due to Egyptian TV and movies
broadcast throughout the Arab world.
However, through
the Institute of
Education (IIE),
teaching assistants
from the Arab world
introduce students
to other varieties of
Colloquial Arab such
as Lebanese and
Moroccan Arabic.
It’s time to begin your journey to the
Arabic-speaking world!
Or as we say in Arabic...
Ahlan wa sahlan

Why study Arabic? - St. Bonaventure University