There is no such thing as a definitive Arabic language. Like many other languages, Arabic is very fragmented from a geographical perspective and has been spoken in several countries for a very long time.
This means that it is now possible to identify different forms of Arabic, ranging from classical variants (the ‘eloquent’ variant used to recount Allah’s words in the scriptures) to the many dialects that constitute neo-Arabic.
Due to the vast geographical area in which Arabic is spoken and the different cultures of the millions of people who express themselves in the language, there are many more ‘languages’ than those spoken by linguistic communities in non-Arabic-speaking countries.
Of course, all of the above makes studying and translating Arabic somewhat complex. To understand and translate texts correctly, translators need to have a comprehensive understanding of the context in which Arabic came to be and is used today.
Classical Arabic and Standard Arabic
Classical Arabic is the language in which the Quran was written. The Arabic expression used to describe this ancient and precious language is the ‘most eloquent language’.
To draw a parallel between Arabic and Italian, classical Arabic is a bit like Cicero’s Latin, and standard Arabic is more like modern-day Italian.
Standard Arabic is the most widely spoken variant and is the official language taught in the Arab League. It is the language used in schools and public offices for bureaucratic and official documents. It is also the language used in everyday speech.
Middle Arabic and Mixed Arabic
Mixed Arabic is spoken by individuals who has appropriated specific words and language connotations over the course of their lives based on the region in which they have lived and the education they have received. Mixed Arabic is not an official language and does not use standardised grammar but is spoken by all native Arabic speakers.
Middle Arabic is a mediation language that people who speak Arabic but come from different geographical areas use to communicate with each other. Middle Arabic is also an uncoded language that does not (and cannot) have any universal rules. It is defined merely as the improvised speech of speakers who want to understand each other in a given moment.
How many Arabic dialects are there?
Arabic dialects are essentially regional variants of Arabic. These include:
- Peninsular Arabic
- Mesopotamian Arabic
- Palestinian Arabic
- Egyptian Arabic (which is the most similar to standard Arabic)
- Sub-Saharan Arabic
- Maghrebi Arabic
The latter is by far the most distant variant from classical Arabic. The reason comes down to the large number of people who have invaded the Maghreb and settled there over the centuries.
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