Tag Archives: Language

Bassam Frangieh Describes the Roots and Development of the Arabic Language

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.

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Bassam Frangieh: Arabic Program at Claremont McKenna College

Bassam Frangieh serves as the head of the Arabic program at Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) Modern Languages and Literature Department. He is well liked by students in the program, who voted him as the most effective teacher. For this honor, Bassam Frangieh received the 2010 Glenn R. Huntoon Teaching Award.

Professor Frangieh was the natural choice to lead CMC’s Arabic Program. He earned his Ph.D. in Arabic Language and Literature from Georgetown University’s School of Languages and Linguistics. He served as Senior Lector of Arabic at Yale University for 14 years and directed Yale’s Modern Arabic Language Program for two years. Professor Frangieh is also an esteemed translator of multiple classic Arabic works into English.

Students in CMC’s Arabic program can take beginning through advanced-level courses, including language, literature, and English translation. Language courses focus on reading, speaking, and writing. Advanced level courses include Readings in Modern Arab Culture and Thought, as well as Modern Arabic Poetry in Translation. In these classes, students can gain more insight into Arabic culture by reading the works of well-known and influential poets and writers. Students can also participate in cultural activities that Professor Frangieh hosts. The professor is also piloting a summer study abroad program in Amman, Jordan, for students.

The Arabic program also offers a major in Middle Eastern studies, which delves into cultural constructs. Students in the program also pursue in-depth studies in literature such as novels, poetry, and prose.

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