Background and status
There is no language in the world that is as systemically comprehensible as Arabic. This beautiful Semitic language, one of the six official languages of the United Nations, is also the official language of the 22 countries which form the Arab League. Arabic is spoken by at least 280 million Arabs residing in this geographical region, which stretches from Southwest Asia to Northwest Africa and is also known as the Arab World.
Arabic is also an important language in many countries bordering on the Arab World such as Mali, Niger, Chad, Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia. There are also Arabic-speaking populations in parts of southern Turkey and south western Iran.
The ‘formal’ Arabic language, known as Classical Arabic or Fusha, is also the liturgical language of over a billion Muslims around the world, as it’s the language in which the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, is written.
Growth and usage
There are two main types of written Arabic:
- Classical Arabic is highly respected across the Muslim world. Many non-Arab Muslim children begin learning Arabic at early age, to enable them to read and understand the Quran. It differs from Modern Standard Arabic mainly in style and vocabulary, some of which is archaic. This Classical form of Arabic remains widely used by religious scholars and is taught in schools around the world. However, it is considered today more of a written language than a spoken one.
- Modern Standard Arabic or MSA, is similar but easier than Classical Arabic. It's understood across the Arab world and used by television presenters and politicians, as well as to teach Arabic as a foreign language. You'll also find it in newspapers and works of modern Arabic literature. Modern Standard Arabic has been accepted as a common and unifying bond among Arabs, transcending their diversity in economic status, political realities, religious beliefs, and national aspirations.
With the migration of Arab nationals to countries outside the Arab World, the Arabic language has spread to practically all corners of the Earth. It is also the fastest-growing foreign language taught at US colleges and universities, and also the fastest growing language on the internet. And with an estimated 280 million speakers of Arabic as their first language, there is still room for growth.