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Arabic 101 : A beginners introduction

Updated: Feb 1

I have a special relationship with Arabic. I can read it and speak a dialect of it, but I can’t write it or understand it very well (but I can communicate well enough if lost, or hungry or need the bathroom!). It depends on where the speaker is from, what accent they have, what topic they are talking about, and so on.

Arabic is a fascinating language that I love to explore and share with others. I have more than just a passing interest in it; I have immersed myself in it several times.

This is the first blog post in a series about Arabic. In this post, I will try to explain some basic facts about the language (for example: Arabic uses an alphabet of 28 letters, not characters). In a future post, I will tell you about my long and somewhat unsuccessful journey of trying to learn Arabic (spoiler: it’s not because Arabic is hard)."

So here goes:

  • Arabic as a Semitic language that originated in the **Arabian Peninsula**

  • It is spoken by over **300 million native speakers** in over 20 countries, -mostly in the Middle East and North Africa¹²⁴.

  • It is one of the **oldest languages** in the world and one of the **six official languages** of the United Nations¹².

  • There is Standard or Classical Arabic, which is the form of the language used in media, newspapers, literature and other formal settings.

  • Colloquial (spoken) Arabic, which has many forms that vary from country to country, and even town to town³. The different forms are used side by side to serve different functions in society.

  • Arabic is written from **right to left** in a consonant alphabet of 28 letters

  • Some letters change their shape depending on their position in a word.

  • Vowels are usually omitted or marked with diacritics.

  • Arabic is the language of the Qurʾān, the sacred book of Islam, and studied by over one billion Muslims as a foreign or second language

  • Arabic has more than **11 words for love**, each with a different meaning and connotation. For example, ‘hubb’ means ‘seed’, which implies potential for growth; ‘ishq’ means ‘passion’ or ‘infatuation’; ‘gharam’ means ‘longing’ or ‘desire’; and ‘mawadda’ means ‘affection’ or ‘tenderness’³.

Arabic is widely used in art through **calligraphy** and it is now common to see more modern and contemporary Arabic art being produced; some of it uses a fusion of calligraphy and graffiti, known as 'calligraffiti'²³.

How about some beginner information about Arabic Grammar

I don't know whether Arabic grammar is difficult or not. I don't view languages as difficult in general. They are what they are. But with Arabic in particular, it being a language I've been familiar with my whole life, sentences make sense to me as they are.

  • There are 12 personal pronouns in Arabic, which vary according to person (first, second, and third), gender (masculine and feminine), and number (singular, dual, and plural).

Arabic personal pronouns

  • Arabic constructs words from basic roots. That means that a pattern of three letters such as ‘k-t-b’, will always be the foundation of words that have the semantic field of ‘writing’,

kitab : book كِتَاب

kitaba : writing, script كِتَابَة

maktab : desk, office مَكْتَب

maktaba : library مَكْتَبَة

Another example of 3-letter pattern words (the ' is actually a letter, a sound that is difficult for non-natives to make)

jam' : gathering; collection جَمْع

jum'a : Friday; congregation جُمْعَة

jama'a : group; community جَمَاعَة

mujtama' : assembly; society مُجْتَمَع

jami' : mosque; gatherer جَامِع

Interestingly, each trilateral Arabic root can theoretically be transformed into one of ten possible verb forms (الأوزان, al-awzaan). Each form has a basic meaning associated with the general meaning of the root being used. Not all verbs exist in all 10 forms. Some forms may be rare or obsolete, while others are more common or modern (you should always check the dictionary for the meanings and usages of different forms of verbs in Arabic).

Let me show you with:

  • Form 1 - Expresses the general verbal meaning of the root in question - درس means to study

  • Form 2 - Built on form 1 by doubling the middle radical of the form 1 verb (adding a shadda to it) - درّس means to teach

  • Form 3 - Built on form 1 by adding an alif between the first and second radicals of the form 1 verb - it describes someone doing the act in question to or with someone else - دارس means to study with another person.

and so on :-)

Arabic verbs

There are so many other things about the language I could share with you. But this article needs to end somewhere, and this is where I decided to end it. This is plenty enough of information for a 101 Arabic lesson :-)

النهاية - The end

(1) Arabic Language: Facts & History.

(2) BBC - Languages - A Guide to Arabic - 10 facts, 20 key phrases, the ....

(3) 5 Facts about the Arabic Language | Language Insight.

(4) A few surprising facts about the Arabic language | British Council.

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