Getting to Know the Arabic
Language ©
A Brief Overview
Susan A. Hodge
September 2011
Did you know?
• -Arabic is one of the 6 official languages of the
United Nations (+ English, French, Chinese,
Russian, and Spanish)
• -Arabic is the fourth most widely-spoken
language, after English, Spanish, and Chinese
• -number of native speakers: 220-280 million
(Did you know?)
• There are 3 functional types of Arabic language:
– Classical Arabic is the language of the Qur’an,
and is used primarily for reading and reciting
Islamic holy text
– Spoken Arabic has 4 regional dialects, but over
30 actual varieties of colloquial (spoken) Arabic
around the world
– Modern Standard Arabic is used in the news and
on TV—the “common language” used by
speakers of different dialects
Dialect
• A dialect is a different way of speaking the SAME
language to say the SAME thing
• A dialect is not right or wrong, just different
• Can you name a dialect of English?
• Do you think that Rasha, Sami, Yasmin, and
Akram speak the same dialect?
(Did you know?)
Countries where Arabic is the primary spoken
language:
Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq,
Palestinian territories in Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian West Bank
& Gaza, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria,
Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
(Classical Arabic is read everywhere that Islam is
practiced.)
(Did you know?)
• Speakers of colloquial Arabic from different parts
of the world use dialects and may not understand
each other! (They can use Modern Standard
Arabic to communicate with each other.)
• Native speakers of Arabic include Muslims,
Christians, and people of other faiths…but Arabic
is the liturgical (religious) language of Islam.
• Which character in Bayoumi’s book is Christian?
Arabic literature
• Arabic has been a highly developed literary
language for over 1,500 years (including poetry).
• Some writers:
– Hafiz (poet)
– Khalil Gibran (poet)
– Mourid Barghouti
– Naguib Mahfouz – living novelist from Egypt
(Nobel Prize for literature, 1988)
Words derived from Arabic
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Algebra (al Jabr)
Cipher (sifr, the name for “zero”)
Alcohol (al quhul)
Sugar (sukkar)
Cotton (qutun)
Coffee (kahwa)
Lemon (limon)
Checkmate (shek mat, “the king is dead”)
Characteristics of Arabic language
• Arabic an Afro-Asiatic language of the Semitic group
• Arabic is considered one of the “younger” Semitic
languages (4th century)
• As the religious language of the Qur’an (7th century), it
expanded rapidly during the rise of Islam in the 8th century
• Can you name another Semitic language?
•
… Hebrew … Aramaic
(characteristics of Arabic language)
• Semitic languages share this characteristic:
Verbs (and related adjectives) are based on a
group of 3 consonants
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For example: k-t-b : “write”
‘aktubu = I write
katib = writer
maktub = written
kuttab = writers
kitab = book
maktab = office
kutub = books
maktabah = library
Text is written from right to left
• Spartanburg = “sbartanboorgk”

An Arabic name and an American
name – both written in Arabic
Kareem
Robert
Numbers are also listed from right to left, but a
number with meaning is written left to right:
12,345,678,910

(Characteristics of Arabic language)
• 28 letters (plus variations to make the sounds for
/p/ and /g/)
• no distinction between capital and small letters
• Only 3 long vowels (a, i, u)
• Other vowels are indicated by diacritical marks
(slashes, small circles, squiggles)
Arabic alphabet
Letter and its name
Letter and its name
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‫ا‬
‫ب‬
‫ت‬
‫ث‬
‫ج‬
‫ح‬
‫خ‬
‫د‬
‫ذ‬
‫ز‬
‫ر‬
aleph
bet
taw
ta’
gimel
heth
ha’
dalet
dal
zayin
resh
‫ز‬
‫س‬
‫ش‬
‫ص‬
‫ض‬
‫ط‬
‫ظ‬
‫ع‬
‫غ‬
‫ف‬
‫ق‬
zayin
sin
shin
tsad
daad
teth
za’
ayin
ghain
pe
Qoph
Arabic alphabet, continued
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‫ك‬
‫ل‬
‫م‬
‫ن‬
‫ه‬
‫و‬
‫ي‬
kaph
lamedh
mim
nun
he
waw
yaa
Vowels:
/a/ ‫ا‬
aleph
/i/
‫ي‬
yaa
/u/
‫و‬
waw
Summary of the alphabet
Diacritical marks
ِ‫َّح ِيم‬
ِِ ‫للِ ٱلر َّْح ٰم‬
ِ ‫بِ ْس ِِم ٱ‬
ِ ‫ن ا لر‬
bismi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīmi
In the Name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
-Qur’an, (Al-Fatiha 1:1)
(Characteristics of Arabic writing)
• Most letters change form and look different
when they appear at the beginning, in the
middle, or at the end of a word.
• Ex:
hā’ h /h/
‫ه هـ ـهـ ـه‬
• Sometimes the letters are connected, but not
always – it depends.
“M’brook” = “congratulations!”
(notice: only some letters connect)
Writing as religious art – Bism’allah
(“In the name of God the Merciful the Compassionate”- Qur’an)
Dr. Bayoumi’s book title
“Kaifa tashour wa
ladaika ahnsas
anaka mushkela”
• (Mushkela = problem)
Some commonly used expressions
• In sha’ Allah =
God willing
(said seriously or even informally)
• Bism’ Allah
=
in the name of God
(said when beginning a trip, reading, walking,
or even eating)
• Alhamdulillah! =
Praise to Allah!
(said to express satisfaction, even after eating)
Meeting friends, in Arabic
• Please:
• Thank you:
• You’re welcome:
min fadlak (m), fadliki (f)
shukran
afwan
• Hello! (informal)
• Welcome!
• Hello (peace to you):
ahlan wa sahlan!
Marhaba!
Salaam.
• How are you?:
• I’m very well:
• And you?
kheif halak? (m), haliki (f)
ana bekhair
Wa anta? (m), anti (f)
Now, meet the person next to you!
A: What is your name?
B: My name is ___
ma ismuk? (m), ismuki? (f)
ismee _____
A: I live in _____
B: I am a student
askun fi __________
ana talib (m), ana taliba (f)
Both: Good bye!
Ma’a salaama
(peace with you)
Sources
Contact Susan Hodge at: [email protected]
if you would like a list of websites for further
investigation, or a copy of these slides.
Special thanks to my teachers:
Dr. Mirko Hall (Converse College)
Mrs. Laila Miraziz (USC Upstate)
and to Mr. John Miraziz
Shukran jiddan! (Thank you very much!)
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