World Languages: Arabic

Number 5: Arabic

We’re half way through our countdown and have made it to the fifth most spoken language in the world: Arabic! As a recap, we’ve covered Javanese (10th), Japanese (9th), Russian (8th), Bengali (7th) and Portuguese (6th).

Arabic has over 237 million speakers – just under 3.5 per cent of the world’s population speaks this language! It is spoken across 60 different countries worldwide. This language has been used verbally since the 4th Century AD; written formats of the language can be traced back to the 5th Century AD. As part of the Afro-Asiatic language family it has similar ties with Hebrew, Maltese and Egyptian.

With such popularity and large language size, there are a variety of dialects spoken regionally, which can be almost impossible to understand across each region. Despite this difficulty, there is a form of Arabic that is widely understood despite the region a speaker may be from. This form of Arabic is known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). MSA is the form of Arabic that is widely spoken across Arabic speaking countries by politicians, television and radio announcers and even newspapers.

The more formal style of this language is known as Classical Arabic. This formal format is what the Qur’an is written in and it forms the basic syntax and grammar structure of the language and is mainly used by religious scholars and is more of a written language than spoken.

The Arabic alphabet consists of 28 letters. Only three of these letters are vowels while the other 25 are consonants. When writing and reading, all sentences are written from right to left (the opposite of English). Oddly enough, numbers are written from left to right.

For native English speakers, Arabic may be one of the more difficult language to learn. This is because the pronunciation and inflection of some letters is difficult to master. But don’t let that scare you away! Practice will always make perfect. Arabic is a great language to learn if you’re also interested in learning Aramaic or Hebrew.

Next week we’re in the bottom half of our Top 10 World Languages!

References

http://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/arabic/guide/alphabet.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/arabic/guide/facts.shtml

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/arabic.htm

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2005/06/im_trying_to_learn_arabic.html

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