The language of one thousand and one nights

Last Updated July 20, 2016

Arabic is a global phenomenon – apart from being a means of communication, it is also a factor cementing the entire Arab and Muslim community around the world. Its importance in the international arena continues to grow, so does the number of people interested in learning it.

The proto-Arabic language emerged as early as in the 8th century BC, but it was not until the 7th century AD that its expansion started and its significance increased. This process coincided with the rise of Islam. The dialect which appeared along with the teachings of Muhammad is presently referred to as classical Arabic, and is the direct source of contemporary Arabic (its origins date back to the 19th century). Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages, and it is estimated to be currently spoken by 230-280 million people.

We must remember, however, that it is primarily the language of Muslims – it is the language of the scriptures of Islam and is still the liturgical language of this religion. We can therefore say that the Arabic language is present in the daily lives of more than 2.9 billion people around the world. Islam is considered the most expansionist religion of the world – given the high population growth in the Arab and Muslim communities, anthropologists and language researchers estimate that by 2050, Arabic will be the dominant language on the Earth.

With the spread of Islam, Arabic has become a global language. Interestingly, the five countries with the greatest numbers of followers of this religion are far away from the Arab world. These are Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria. Arabic is also the liturgical language of Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, which shows the enormous scale of its expansion, which took its toll during the greatest conquests pursued by the Muslim-Arab empire, stretching – from the 8th to the 15th centuries – from Spain to as far as India and China.

“Wisdom has alighted upon three things: the brain of the Greeks, the hands of the Chinese and the language of Arabs”

Anthropologists draw attention to the high importance of the Arabic language as a medium which ensured the continuity of the development of civilization, not only in Asia and Africa, but mainly in Europe.

As regards the greatest achievements of the sciences and humanities in the Old Continent, two distinctive periods can be identified: antiquity and the Renaissance. These ages were separated from each other by 1,300 years during which the dynamics of scientific development was slow. At the same time, scientists writing in Arabic were very successful. Regardless of the ethnic origin or religion, they made a huge contribution to sciences such as medicine, pharmacy, astronomy, geometry, algebra, music and geography.

Arabic became a sort of bridge between civilizations. Nicolaus Copernicus referred to his Arab predecessors in his work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, and the first “foreign” description of the early Polish state at the time of Mieszko I was written by Ibrahim Ibn Jacob, a traveler and chronicle writer.

There is no way to communicate in Arabic

Sociolinguistic reality in the modern Arab countries is not simple, as these areas are characterized by diglossia (bilingualism), i.e. a situation in which the literary version of the language is different from that commonly used.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is mostly a written, rarely spoken language. Its spoken form is used in the mass media – television and the radio. MSA is the language of the media, science, politics – it is used only in the public space. Children must learn it at school as their native language, but it is uncommon to use it in everyday life. Everyday language differs from MSA depending on the region or country, as regional varieties or dialects of Arabic are commonly spoken. For this reason, learners of MSA are recommended to learn also one of the regional dialects.

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