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Introduction to Arabic
Introduction to Arabic

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4 A short history of Arabic

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date of the emergence and development of the Arabic Language, but it was likely around the 7th century BC on the Arabian Peninsula. Arabic belongs to the Semitic Language Family (along with Hebrew, for example) and has been influenced by and impacted other languages over the course of its almost 3000 year long history.

Figure 2 The Ramadan Kaaba

Arabic was chosen to be the Holy Qur'an's language at the advent of Islam (622). Arabic then became an important language of all Muslims, and non-Arab Muslims started to learn it to understand the Qur'an. This situation also transformed Arabic from a language spoken in a relatively small area into a language used worldwide. The Qur'an was also central to the development of Arabic language sciences. The Qur'an as the holy text of God is seen as unlikely to contain any mistakes in linguistics, and Arab linguists therefore regard the language used in the Qur’an as a rule of linguistics based on this belief. You will find that the Qur'an is quoted in most Arabic grammar books not to primarily reinforce religious beliefs, but to teach the language.

Those who is interested in learning Arabic will find it difficult in several stages of learning the language, regardless of their first language. The majority of these difficulties are due to the quite complex grammar of Arabic. In Arabic, as was previously explained, vowels are important in determining meaning. Examples for this are that unlike many other languages, Arabic distinguishes between singular, plural and dual. Nouns, adjectives, pronouns and articles can furthermore be male and female. This is something you might know from European languages like French and German, but unlike in these languages, verbs are also gendered.

The Arabic alphabet will be new to most learners, and Arabic, unlike many other languages, is written right to left. The letters are not written separately within the word. Each letter can take three different forms depending on its position within the word.

While it is important to be aware of these potential challenges, worry not – it is by no means impossible to learn Arabic, but it will take practice!