Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages, which includes Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, and several languages of Ethiopia, such as the Amharic and the Tigrinya. Arabic and Hebrew are the only Semitic languages that are still used today both in their writing and speaking forms.
Arabic is spoken from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. It is the official language of 20 countries, placing it among the top ten languages of the world in a number of speakers. The numerical, political, cultural, and religious status of the language was formally recognized by the United Nations in 1973 when Arabic was made the sixth official language of that body (the others are Chinese, English, Russian, French, and Spanish).
Most people know that Arabic is the written and spoken language of the 220 million people of the Arab world, but few realize that the Arabic script is used by approximately one-seventh of the world’s population.
Its core alphabet (with some modifications) is used to write non-Semitic languages as well, such as Persian, Urdu, and Kurdish.
Several African and Asian languages, such as Swahili and the Malaysian tongue, have also used the Arabic script at some point. The Arabic script is still used today in Afghanistan, sections of China, and Muslim areas of the Soviet Union.
While it is universally written, read, and understood in its standard (or formal) form, spoken Arabic has undergone regional and dialectical variations. Colloquial Arabic is diverse from region to region. For instance, the diversity within the family of dialects spoken in the Levantine (Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon) resembles the diversity between British and American English. The same can be said of the family of dialects spoken in Iraq and the Gulf (Arabic) countries.
The Arabic language was developed in what is today Yemen and Saudi Arabia far before the birth of Christ (there is no evidence available as to how far back the development of any of the Semitic languages began). Pre-Islamic Arab poets had developed a language of incredible richness and flexibility despite the fact that many were desert Bedouin’s with little or no formal education.
The power of the Arabic language allows it to create new words and terminology in order to adapt to the demands of new scientific and technological discoveries.
The most important thing to know about the Arabic language is that, like other Semitic languages, it is based on what is usually called a ” consonantal root system,” which means that almost every word in the language is ultimately derived from one or another “root,” usually a verb.
In written Arabic, unlike European languages, there has been no change in the alphabet, in spelling, or in the majority of the vocabulary, in, at least, four millenniums.