Arab Culture and Civilization: A collaborative web project created by NITLE and sponsored by MEPC
Musharaka [ Cooperation ]  Calligraphy by Khaled Al-Saai

The Arabic Language

Main Menu   Introduction   Readings   Audio/Video   Links   Bibliography  

-Ethnicity and Identity
-Arab Americans
-Literature and Philosophy
-Popular Culture and the Performing Arts
-Family and Society
-Art and Architecture
-The Arabic Language
-Geography, Demographics, and Resources
-New Media
A website for K-12 educators featuring innovative resource on the culture, geography, history and religions of the Middle East, including essays, classroom activities, downloadable multimedia content and interactive Google Earth tours.


Arabic is the primary language of more than 20 countries, from Morocco to Iraq and throughout the Arabian Peninsula. It is the first language of over 195 million people, and at least another 35 million speak it as a second language. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language throughout the Arab world, and in its written form it is relatively consistent across national boundaries.

Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages, and, like Hebrew, is written from right to left. It is also the language of Islam, one of the world's major religions, and has a literary tradition that dates back to before the days of the prophet Mohammed in the 7th century. In fact, the spread of Islam transformed the regions of Northern Africa and the Middle East into Arabic-speaking areas within a century of its founding. In later centuries, Arabic was spoken in parts of Europe and Asia following additional Arab conquests. Today, words of Arabic origin can be found in some European languages such as Italian and Spanish, due to periods of Arab reign in those countries. English words of Arabic origin include algebra, alcohol, mosque, tariff, alcove, magazine, elixir, sultan and cotton.

The goals of this unit are two-fold. In it you will find materials about the Arabic language that will help you understand its origins, development, structure, dialects and the importance it has in the culture of the region. You will also find resources to help those interested in learning the language further explore its richness. Additional resources to aid learners of the language are under development.

In this unit you will find readings on the historical development of the language from one of the best known linguistic works on the language by Kees Versteegh, and texts by Niloofar Haeri and Yasir Suleiman that discuss the enormously important role of the Arabic language in relation to social organization of society in the Arab world. We also include a reading on the role of translation in the development of Arabic language and culture. In the AV section of this unit you will find video presentations by Mahmoud Al-Batal and Kristen Brustad and interviews with Alaa Elgibali and El-Said Badawi and Rachid Aadnani that address key aspects of the language, its historical development, and the forms of the language. Each of these five scholars also offers advice to students of Arabic.

The links list and supplemental bibliography for this unit are particularly rich. In them you will find links to an online course in Arabic, a directory of Arabic programs in the United States and elsewhere, a bibliography of some language learning materials, and a number of interactive sites about the Arabic language.

A new component of this unit that is currently under development is a series of comprehension exercises on the texts in Arabic that are being added to various units of the site. Also under development are glossaries of words in Arabic that appear in readins throughout the site.

A good way to explore the diversity of Arabic dialects in this site would be through the audio and video files in various units. For example, in the unit on Islam, you can listen to a short clip of recitation that is sacred text, and therefore in Classical Arabic, whereas in the A/V section of the units on Popular Culture and the Performing Arts, as well as in the unit on Family and Society, you will find numerous examples of numerous Arabic dialects at different registers of formality.

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