Where is Arabic Spoken?
By Mahmoud Nassar Arabic Editor at VEQTA Translations
Arabic is spoken by approximately half a billion people and, as such, it’s the sixth most spoken language worldwide. We love the Arabic language and its beautiful cursive style of writing is like no other language!
Arabic is also used at various levels by approx. one billion Muslims worldwide. Geographically, Arabic and Islamic countries are strongly influenced by the Arabic language, including the Middle East as well as a few Asian countries. It’s one of the six official languages adopted by the United Nations for its daily operations and considerable efforts are made to translate Arabic to English and vice versa.
The Arabic alphabet is written from right-to-left and comprises 28 letters. Any major computing platform nowadays, whether on desktop computers or mobile phones, include at least one popular font for desktop formatting in Arabic. As a result of Arabic being spread across many countries, the language has many dialects, including Maghrebi, Egyptian, Sudanese, Gulf, Yemeni etc. However, while these dialects are used during daily interactions, they have no influence on the modern Arabic written language or how translators translate the Arabic language.
The modern written Arabic language derives its roots from the Classical Arabic which is the language of the Quran, the Holy book of Islam. This is the form of the standard Arabic language used by all Arabs in writing, schools and formal communications. As Arabic is the official language of 26 countries across the Middle East, and with the advancement of international relations, the demand for those who translate Arabic to English is experiencing ever increasing growth. This facilitates international relations, cultural exchange, mutual understanding and trading relationships. Different regions use the same form of written and formal Arabic, but they might differ greatly in their spoken Arabic and the dialect used. The variance is so evident that people from certain countries, such as Egypt or Sudan, might find it hard to comprehend what is being said by locals from other parts of the region, such as Tunisia or Algeria. This is due to the fact that the speed of speech, its tone and its local ‘words’ might be completely new to the listener. However, this hurdle is overcome by switching back and forth between the local dialect and formal Arabic during the conversation. It is noteworthy that although Arabic speakers from different parts of the region might not understand each other, they very rarely express this fact due to their feelings of embarrassment.
Islam and its dissemination played a major role in advancing the Arabic language across the Middle East. This took place by Islamic expansions from the Hejaz area (currently known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) towards the east and west, aided by international trade routes established with Asia and Europe, as well as interracial marriages. The European Renaissance, which took place from the 14th to 17th century, was influenced culturally by the efforts to translate Arabic to English and European languages, as the Arabic culture was at its peak. Thus, many modern-day words entered those languages from Arabic, such as algebra, admiral, alchemy, apricot, jar, jasmine, orange, safari, tuna and many more.
Arabic is a Central Semitic language. The term Semitic refers to the languages of West Asia, North and East Africa and Malta. Semitic languages include Arabic, Aramaic, Amharic (used in Ethiopia), Tigre (used in Eritrea) and Hebrew (used by Jews worldwide). The Arabic language first made its appearance in the Arabian Peninsula as far back as 2,000 years ago. After the rise of Islam in the Hejaz in the 7th century, both the Arabic culture and language were spread through conquests, trading, and marriages between members of the non-Arab local population and the Arabs.
Arabic is one of the very few languages that cannot be easily learned by non-Arab speakers. Just like the Chinese language, its writing system appears very different than any other alphabet and its opposite right-to-left direction makes it even more so. Arabic is a cursive language, meaning its letters are joined together in writing. Words, therefore, have two forms; there is a form when disconnected and another when connected.
This is why even though desktop formatting Arabic font is natively available in major browsers and computer systems, a task like copying and pasting a piece of Arabic text can be cumbersome and formatting in Arabic should always be done by a native Arabic translator. VEQTA Translations have a team of native linguists who can perform and advise on DTP in Arabic.
It is also noteworthy that both Hebrew and Maltese languages have been heavily influenced by Arabic to the extent that Maltese (the official language of the country of Malta) is considered a branch of the Arabic language! This came by way of the influence of the Arabic conquests of the country back in the 9th century.
Due to its influence and widespread use, the Arabic language was given its own day – the UN Arabic Language Day on 18 December, as set by the United Nations in 2010. It is standard that major translating agencies nowadays present the service to localize and translate Arabic to English due to the increased demand. Being an immensely rich language with approx. 90 million to 500 million words (according to different sources), there are over 10 words for ‘love’ and 100s of words for ‘camel’, which shows some of the many synonyms and replacements found in abundance within the Arabic language.
Today, Arabic is facing many challenges as a language with a deep history. Namely, the challenges of the natives’ weak grasp of its standard written form, and their departing to English and Western languages in scientific, work and even leisure settings. Some writers even started speaking about the death of the Arabic as a language, although this is indeed an extreme view. The central part that the religion of Islam plays in the everyday lives of Muslims ensures that the language is well preserved. Its everyday use is a ‘must’ by around a billion Arabs and Muslims around the globe.
As the Internet is a part of the daily routine of billions of people, it is normal that many applications, websites, and apps are translated into the world’s major languages. Arabic is a complex language and one that is colourful too. Therefore, human translations are a must for an acceptable and comprehensible output. It is common today to translate Arabic to English apps in order to enter the major market of English-speakers via Google Play and the Apple Store.
Arabic is a language that is enjoying an increasing popularity, both online and offline, and it seems that this will also be the situation for many decades to come.
If you need help with translation into Arabic, our translation firm in Singapore and Malaysia has a strong team readily available, so contact us today!