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Learn Arabic: Face-to-Face and Online Classes Offered

About Learning Arabic with Berlitz

Arabic is one of the world’s major languages, spoken in a broad belt extending from the Arabian Peninsula north to the Fertile Crescent and then west to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the official language of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania, making it the mother tongue of about 230 million people. In addition many millions of Moslems in other countries have some knowledge of Arabic, it being the language of the Moslem religion and of the sacred Koran. In 1974 Arabic was made the sixth official language of the United Nations.

Great languages spring from great empires and Arabic is no exception. A Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, its use was confined to north-western and central Arabia until the 7th century AD. But the spectacular Islamic conquests of that century carried the language far beyond its original borders, and it supplanted almost all the previous languages of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa. After further conquest in succeeding centuries Arabic was spoken as far east as Afghanistan and as far west as Spain.

The Arabic alphabet dates from about 500 AD. It was based on the alphabet of an ancient people called the Nabateans, who in turn borrowed it from Aramaic. By the early Mohammedan period two scripts were in use: the Naskhi, the ordinary cursive form used in books and correspondence, and the Kufic, an angular script used mainly for decorative purposes. The present alphabet of 28 letters consists basically of consonants, the vowel signs being indicated by marks above or below the letters. While these marks are generally omitted, they do appear in elementary school books and in all editions of the Koran. Like the other Semitic languages, Arabic is written from right to left. The script is employed in many other languages whose speakers are Moslems: e.g., Persian, Pashto, Urdu, and Sindhi.

Spoken Arabic naturally varies from country to country, but classical Arabic, the language of the Koran, has remained largely unchanged since the 7th century. It has served as a great unifying force in the development and standardization of the language. When educated Arabs from different countries meet, they generally converse in classical Arabic. On the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula the people speak a number of dialects known collectively as South Arabic, but these differ so greatly from the Arabic of the north that South Arabic is often considered a separate language.

Arabic has contributed many words to the English language, many of them beginning with the Arabic definite article al-. These include algebra, alcohol, alchemy, alkali, alcove, alfalfa, and albatross. Others are mosque, minaret, sultan, elixir, harem, giraffe, gazelle, cotton, amber, sofa, mattress, tariff, magazine, arsenal, syrup, and artichoke. Coffee is also an Arabic word, which entered English by way of Turkish and Italian. The word assassin comes from a similar Arabic word meaning “hashish addicts.”

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Authorized from the original edition of The Languages of the World 3rd edition by Keneth Katzner published by Routledge, a member of the Taylor & Francis Group.

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