History of Arabic Language by Langfocus

The Langfocus channel published a video recently on History of Arabic Language. It gives some very interesting aspect of Arabic Language.  Lets see what he says. We are adding the video and transcript for the convenience of our readers.


History of Arabic Language by Langfocus

Today’s topic is the Arabic language or “al Arabiya” as it’s called in arabic. Arabic is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world with 293 million native speakers, and 422 million speakers in total.

It’s an official language in 26 countries. That doesn’t mean it’s the majority language in all of those countries, but it’s one of the official languages.

It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and as the language of the Quran – the holy book of Islam – it is also the liturgical language of 1.7 billion Muslims around the world. Most of those people don’t speak Arabic but many have some knowledge of Arabic for reading, and for reciting prayers, and religious study.


History of Arabic Language by Langfocus


Speaking about Arabic can be confusing, because there are many different varieties of the language.

One of the main varieties is the classical arabic of the Quran.

This is considered by many to be the most perfect form of Arabic, and some say it’s the only true Arabic, because it was the language in which God revealed the quran to Muhammad.

Then there’s Modern Standard Arabic, which is the form of Arabic used as an official language today. It’s the modern form of literary arabic which was based on the classical Arabic of the Quran, but with some adaptations and a greatly expanded vocabulary to make it more suitable for modern times.

It’s not exactly the same as classical Arabic, but both of them are referred to by Arabs as “Al-Fusha”, meaning “eloquent speech”. Modern Standard Arabic is the language of books, media, education and formal situations, but not as the language of everyday speech. For everyday speech, Arabic speakers use their local dialects – or “Amiya” -Which can differ quite significantly from country to country, and even from one place to another within a single country.

Arabic is a semitic language. Arabic and other Semitic languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician all developed from the same proto-semitic language. Arabic forms one branch of Central Semitic, while another branch of Central Semitic includes Hebrew, Aramaic, and Phoenician.

Old Arabic. Numerous Semitic languages related to Arabic were spoken in Arabia between the 13th and 10th century CE, but they don’t have features that would classify them as Arabic. The earliest evidence of people referred to as “Arab”, is in an Assyrian inscription from the Eighth Century Bce. But, it just mentions the Arabs.

It doesn’t give any examples of their language. From the 6th century BCE to the 4th century CE we have inscriptions showing evidence of an early form of Arabic. Some of those inscriptions are written in that early form of Arabic, and others are written in Aramaic, but show some influence from Arabic.

Those inscriptions consist mostly of proper names, so they don’t give us an awful lot of information about what the language was like. The earliest inscription that is unmistakably Arabic is from the 1st Century BCE, and was found at Ein Avdat. It’s an Aramaic inscription, but it contains three lines of Arabic.

Another inscription was discovered at An-Namaara, 120 kilometers southeast of Damascus, dating back to 329 CE.

The language of this inscription is nearly identical to classical Arabic as we know it, even though these inscriptions are unmistakably written in Arabic, They are not written in the Arabic script, but rather the Nabataean script, which derived from the Aramaic script.

But there are also inscriptions from the 4th and 5th century CE that are written in a script that’s more like Arabic.

It’s generally thought that the Arabic script developed from the Nabataean Script, and these inscriptions might be written in a script that’s somewhere between those two.

Classical Arabic Before the beginning of Islam, there were numerous dialects of Arabic spoken around the peninsula, but there was also a common literary language used among the different tribes for poetry, a koine, which was a compromise between the various dialects.

The pieces of Poetry written in this literary koine are the earliest examples of classical Arabic.

The Quran was written in the 7th century when muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, and then it was written down over a 23-year period. At the time the quran was written, there were seven dialects of classical Arabic, the Quran was written in all of them.


Comparison of a 20th-century edition of the Quran (left) and the Birmingham Quran manuscript (right)
Comparison of a 20th-century edition of the Quran (left) and the Birmingham Quran manuscript (right)


But the Quraishi version became the standard upon which the text of today’s quran is based. The differences are in pronunciation, not in vocabulary or grammar.

The Arabic of the Quran is similar to that of the pre-Islamic classical Arabic poetry, but not exactly. Beginning during the life of Muhammad, and continuing into the eighth century, the Islamic conquests spread the Arabic language into new faraway lands.

After the Islamic conquests, there was an important need to standardize the language, because vast numbers of people were beginning to speak it.

The script was made more practical, new vocabulary was created, and the grammar and style of prose was standardized.

Neo-Arabic and Middle Arabic, While classical Arabic was being standardized as a written language, local dialects of Arabic also emerged in the cities of the Arab Empire.

These dialects did not descend directly from classical Arabic, but rather from pre-islamic Arabic dialects or from a single Arabic “koine”, which was the common language of conquering Arab armies.

These new dialects were also influenced by the original languages of areas that were conquered.

The dialects of the Levant and Mesopotamia were influenced by Aramaic.

The dialects of the Maghreb were influenced by Berber. The dialects of Egypt were influenced by Coptic, and so on. The early centuries of these newly-emerging dialects are referred to as neo-Arabic. Even though classical Arabic was standardized, not everybody could write it perfectly. Writing that contains features of both classical Arabic and neo-Arabic or dialects, is referred to as middle Arabic. “Middle” doesn’t refer to a time period But rather these texts were somewhere in the middle between classical and colloquial.

Modern Arabic Over the centuries the neo arabic dialect continued to evolve into [the] modern colloquial dialects of today, but literary arabic remained relatively constant because the arabic of the quran was always seen as the ideal Arabic to imitate and this probably had a conservative effect on the dialects limiting them from changing too much after.

Napoleon entered Egypt in 1798 the Arab World entered a period of greater contact with the West the influx of new Western concepts required the arabic language to be updated in the early 20th century regional academies of the Arabic-language began a process of language reform focused Mainly on Expanding and updating the languages vocabulary these updates culminated in what is now known as modern Standard arabic?

Diglossia Arabic is well known for its state of diglossia Arabic speakers used two distinctly different Forms of the language in parallel for different purposes modern Standard Arabic is not learned by anyone as a native language

But it’s used in reading and writing in Media on children’s TV shows and in formal speeches while the colloquial dialects are used almost universally

For daily conversation as I mentioned [before] there’s quite a lot of variation amongst arabic dialects

how well two speakers

Understand each other depends on the geographic distance of their dialects as well as exposure many arabic speakers have told me that

Speakers of the Middle Eastern dialects really have no trouble understanding each other and that the main trouble comes in understanding the Maghrebi dialect

Especially Moroccan but these days with the spread of cable TV and the internet people are being exposed to a wider range of dialects on

a more regular basis which helps people understand different dialects more and of course there’s also alpha Ska Modern Standard Arabic when speakers of

significantly different dialects communicate with each other they can switch [to] Modern Standard arabic

Or they can adjust their speech to make it more formal and literary and similar to Modern Standard arabic

But not exactly another common way [for] native speakers to bridge the dialect gap is to use something called the white

Dialect which is a more formal version of dialectal speech that uses features that are common to most of the different dialects

But it leaves out features that are limited to specific dialects

this is essentially a modern arabic coin a sowhat’s arabic like

Let’s take a look at some features of Arabic focusing on Modern Standard Arabic

the Script the Arabic Script is written from right to left and

Consists of letters that imitate handwriting most letters join to the letter that comes after them however [a] few letters remain disjoint

the letters that join have two forms one short form at the beginning or in the middle of words and

Another long form at the end of words or when the letter is by itself

The Arabic Script is an abjad meaning that each letter represents a consonant

And that short vowels are not really and that long vowels and diphthongs can be ambiguous

How can we read Arabic without vowels well can you read this?

Here the short vowels are not written and the others seem somewhat incomplete

But we have a hint about what the vowels are this is kind of like reading arabic

But arabic has more predictable vowel patterns than English so it’s easier to guess


Arabic can be written with [hodduk] [ad] which are extra diacritic markings that indicate the short vowel sounds

These are generally only used in texts that are really important to pronounce perfectly like the quran or poetry or children’s materials

Phonology, Arabic has a number of consonant sounds which are surprising or challenging for speakers of many other languages for example?


The lower text of the above folio, recovered through X-Ray Fluorescence Imaging at Stanford University. The lower text covers Quran 2,191-196.
The lower text of the above folio, recovered through X-Ray Fluorescence Imaging at Stanford University. The lower text covers Quran 2,191-196.


ha as in the word

Salines meaning golf

Then there’s pause as in the word column pen this is like a [que] but pronounced further back in your throat

Then there’s the letter ha like in the word par meaning hot

Wine some say [that] this is similar to the french r sound for example the word orifice meaning room

Arabic also has a number of in phatak consonants for example. There’s scene

Which is like the regular s sound in English, but there is also [saab]

Which is an emphatic s as in the word [fuzzy] meaning small also notice the [sign] in the middle

To make this sound you have to keep your tongue close to the roof of your mouth if you want to try it

Position your mouth as though you are going to say a k and hold that position

Then make an s sound instead go ahead try it saw saw

There are three other emphatic consonants – an emphatic tall dog and Zhou?


Arabic words are mostly constructed from three-letter roots or sometimes for and these letters are then inserted into templates

Consisting of a fixed vowel pattern and some structural


if you know the root letters you can identify the core meaning of the word and

If you know the template you know what type of word it is

Let’s take the root ha ha

[Jean] which means to go out or to exit and let’s put it into this template we get the word maharaj

Which is the noun meaning exit like a door you exit through to?

This template indicates a place where the action of the route is done if we use the route [Dala] kah

Lam which means to come in we get led the hunt which means entrance

If we use the route cast that bear we get elected

meaning office

these kinds of recurring templates help you to know how to pronounce words even when the short vowels are not written if you see the

letter Meme followed by three route letters altogether with no long vowels you can guess [that] the word is in this template and

Pronounce it with too short a vowels


Sura al-Baqarah, verses 282–286, from an early Quranic manuscript written on vellum (mid-late 7th century CE)
Sura al-Baqarah, verses 282–286, from an early Quranic manuscript written on vellum (mid-late 7th century CE)


Verbs in Arabic are part of the same system of roots and templates the templates tell us the 10th

Person Gender and number of the verb and the Route Provides us the core meaning again

Let’s take the route ha ha Jean and pop it into this template here

And we get hat Azzam, and we know what this means it’s the past tense third [person] masculine singular conjugation

He exited

How does I mean Adam, [Edessa]?

This means he exited the school

Now put the root into this template how let’s do this means I exited this Suffix here indicates past tense first person singular

[are] still me get elected?

this means I exited the office if

We put it into this template [yeah], so it means he exits. This is the present tense template

[yes], what was only elected this means he exits the office


The recto of the first folio of codex Parisino-petropolitanus
The recto of the first folio of codex Parisino-petropolitanus


Resumed means they exit saya who’s una Manera [negative] this means

They will exit the office the sentence is in [the] future tense to change the present tense to the future tense

You simply add the suffix [sap] to the beginning of the present tense template sap is used for near future and a separate particle

[sofa] is used for the more distant future arabic has no other verb tenses only past and present and future

Which uses the present tense conjugation?

This semitic system of roots and templates is really quite intuitive once you get used to it

and it’s quite ingenious if you ask me word order Modern Standard arabic is a

Vso language by default as opposed to arabic dialects which are Mainly Svo

Yet [looser] Roger Lavinia the means the man is studying arabic. Here’s the verb the subject and the object

These are the definite article al but before certain letters the [lam] or the L sound assimilates to the following letter

So Al dajjal becomes [our] [rajala]

This is the basic word order

But Svo is also possible in a sentence with a pronoun

Vso is not possible for example and a sofa a druce Al arabiya this means

I will study arabic in the future you can’t say south a drisana [Al] [arabiya]

You can either say it with the pronoun first or with no pronoun just sofa, [Drusilla], Ravinia

Because the verb conjugation tells us that this is the first person singular so we don’t need the pronoun

Cases one aspect of Standard Arabic is cases there [are] three cases in Arabic nominative genitive?

And accusative and nouns take special endings to show their function in the sentence

Let’s take the word [Khattab] which means book in nominative. It’s [t] Tableau in generative

it’s Keypad be in accusative it [kitada], Al

[Khattab] [we’ll] Valdez ooh this means the excellent book the noun key tab is in the nominative and the adjective is also

Inflected to agree with the noun and an upper al-Khattab and this means I am reading a book

Here key tab is in the accusative, and it’s indefinite the end sound at the end here indicates that it’s indefinite

What if’ will get a b this means the author of the book here key tab is in the genitive case?


Sana'a manuscript
Sana’a manuscript


These case endings are not used at the end of a sentence

But only when the word is followed by something the form at the end of a sentence without a case ending is called the puzzle


These case endings are often not [used] in Modern Standard Arabic

They’re generally only used in prepared texts or prepared speeches two more sentences

– Louie all except this means I usually don’t work on Saturday word-for-word

it’s usually no I work day the

Saturday that is the negation particle used for the present tense

Armen is the verb for work and its root is ein. Meme lem and this is the first person singular present tense

young and [acept] [Irani] Dafa so together they mean the day of Saturday Yadava is a

construction of two nouns side by side to show possession

Fun fact the word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat which is related to this arabic word Sabbath

Seth would say you’re a tienen victim this means. I’ll drive my car to the office word for word. [‘it’s] will

I drive my car to the office remember saw is added to the present tense verb to form the future food

Contains the verb off wow Dal and this is the first person singular present tense conjugation?


Recto side of the Stanford '07 folio. The upper text covers Quran 2 (al-Baqarah), verses 265–271.
Recto side of the Stanford ’07 folio. The upper text covers Quran 2 (al-Baqarah), verses 265–271.


saya Fe is the word Saya with a possessive suffix meaning my at the end and when a Suffix is added the letter hat

becomes @ @

Allah is a preposition showing direction the L here or the lamb is the definite article. [L]

but the a sound or the aleph assimilates [to] the preceding long a as

You can see arabic is a fascinating language with lots of interesting features from its script to its

Phonology to its root and template system

It’s a language that often seems intimidating to learners

But that’s partly because modern standard arabic materials are aimed at reading and writing and grammar rather than on

communication materials for learning Arabic dialects tend to be more fun and communicative

The question that’s asked over and over and over is what form of arabic should I learn a dialect or modern Standard arabic?

in my opinion

It’s important to learn some modern Standard Arabic either before you start to learn a dialect or at the same time

But if you know some modern standard arabic it will help you to make sense of different dialects that you encounter and it will help


Birmingham Quran manuscript
Birmingham Quran manuscript


You to understand different registers [of] speech even when [people] are speaking in their dialects, but if your main goal is communications

then I don’t think it’s necessary to learn to speak Modern Standard Arabic at a high level [and]

That brings me to the question of the day [two] native speakers of Arabic and to learners of Arabic alike

What do you think which form of arabic is the best to learn Modern Standard Arabic or a dialect?

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