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1. Three types of Arabic
2. Sacred language
3. The letters

Detailed articleArabic dialects
Here are also statistics for the size of the 28 Arabic dialects.

Babel : arabic
Completely free, an introduction course in Arabic complete with writing lessons and sound.

An Arabic Koran.
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Reading the Koran in original Arabic.

By country
2: Figures in 1000.
3: Percent of inhabitants in country.
26,000 79.0%
610 55.0%
82,200 99.0%
1,400 1.9%
23,100 80.0%
1,300 18.0%
6,160 97.0%
2,200 80.0%
3,550 90.0%
5,800 92.0%
2,600 76.0%
22,200 71.0%
2,650 78.0%
4,220 99.9%
500 60.0%
Saudi Arabia
22,500 90.0%
27,000 68.0%
17,500 87.0%
10,000 99.6%
580 0.8%
Western Sahara
900 100.0%
United Arab Emirates
2,400 50.0%
22,180 93.0%
288,000 59.0%

*) Total figures are calculated for a total of 490 million inhabitants of the MENA region.

The Arabic alphabet

Arabic alphabet

Semitic language used by Arabs — caused by some historical tie, as the majority of Arabs are Arabs by language and not by blood.
Arabic is used as the principle language in most countries covered by the Encyclopaedia of the Orient: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel (as one of the official languages), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Arabic is used by around 250 million people, but is understood by up to four times more among Muslims around the world. Arabic is also central to other languages in the Muslim world, as a large exporter of words and expressions. Arabic writing is also used for other languages like Persian and Urdu.

Three types of Arabic
Arabic is a language divided into 3 separate groups: Classical written Arabic; written Modern Standard Arabic; and spoken Arabic.
Classical written Arabic is principally defined as the Arabic used in the Koran and in the earliest literature from the Arabian peninsula, but also forms the core of much literature up until our time.
Modern Standard Arabic is a modernization of the structures of classical Arabic, and includes words for modern phenomenons as well as a rich addition from the many dialects spoken all over the Arabic world.
Spoken Arabic is a mixed form, which has many variations, and often a dominating influence from local languages (from before the introduction of Arabic). Differences between the various variants of spoken Arabic can be large enough to make them incomprehensible to one another. Hence it could be correct to refer to the different versions as separate languages named according to their areas, like Moroccan, Cairo Arabic, North Syrian Arabic etc.

Sacred language
Arabic also has a dimension of being a sacred language, as it is the only language from which the Koran is believed to be fully understood — all translations will reduce the quality of the revelations of God.
Arabic is based upon a very strict grammar, in which nearly all nouns and verbs are built from a stem of 3 consonants. From these 3 consonants, a large range of words are derived — there are 10 forms of verbs, there are a number of nouns which can be both feminine and masculine. As an example, s-l-m is the root of the words Islam, muslim, salam (peace), salama (safety), in addition to many others.
Arabic grammar is fairly simple compared to Western languages, but the language has a richness in its used vocabulary that exceeds most languages in the Western world.

The letters
Arabic writing is an alphabetic script, based upon distinct characters, adjoined to other characters, which in most cases change their looks depending on where they stand in the word. The Arabic alphabet developed from Nabatean characters, one of the West Aramaic languages of the ancient Middle East.
Arabic writing is put together of 28 signs, where 3 have vowel qualities (a, i, u, but i is often used for the letter y, and u often for the letter w). Since some regions of the Arabic world have different dialects, extra letters have been added. The sounds that are not covered by standard Arabic are: p, g, v. These are written almost like the letter that comes closest in standard Arabic, but with an extra dot.
The following Arabic letters does not have any correspondence in the Latin alphabet: kh (equals German ch), gh (a softer version of kh), ¢ayn (guttural stop, but clearly pronounced from the back of the throat), th (as in English), dh (softer version of th), sh (as in English) and strong and emphasized versions of the letters t, d, s, z, h.
One letter, called hamza, is not even pronounced, other than as a stop. In transcriptions it is marked with a ' only.
Vowels are not letters, only signs added to the letter preceding them. In most cases the vowels are not written, so that the name 'Muhammad' is written 'mhmd'. The vowels are normally only indicated in special cases, like where there is doubt about the correct meaning of the word, and in reading books for school children. There are also "long" vowels, and these are written, and in transcriptions they are marked with lines over or under the letter. Due to limited fonts on computers, this encyclopaedia writes such letters like this: ā, ī, ū.
There are 3 declensions (nominative, accusative, genitive), and 2 tenses (perfect and imperfect). In general, sentences are built up as verb-subject-object constructions.

By Tore Kjeilen