Originating in Arabia and near present-day Syria, Arabic remains the world’s sixth major language, spoken by more than 300 million individuals, including those in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. Part of the Semitic language family, Arabic features a rich history that dates thousands of years. In the following discussion, Arabic language and culture scholar Bassam Frangieh shares some ideas about the development and growth of Arabic and reveals instances of English words with Arabic roots.
Q: How did Arabic become a major world language?
A: Many scholars agree that Arabic was first spoken by nomadic tribes that lived on the Arabian Peninsula. As the religion of Islam spread, Arabic solidified its place as a major language. Muhammad died in 632 CE. Within one century of his death, Arabic was officially spoken throughout an empire spanning from Central Asia to the Atlantic and north to the Iberian Peninsula.
Q: What are some distinct qualities of written Arabic?
A: Consisting of a 28-consonant alphabet, written Arabic is composed on a page from right to left, using a cursive script. Many letters appear identical to one another and are differentiated by adding a dot below or above the letters. In its written form, Arabic can be traced to the fourth century BC, when North Arabic script was first documented. The Qur’an, written in Classical Arabic, is considered to be the prime example of the Arabic language in its most clear and complete form.
Q: Are there many English words with Arabic origins?
A: Yes. About 1,000 common English words are “loaned” from Arabic. Examples include algebra, giraffe, and tambourine.