5 facts about Arabic

As some of you might know, I learned Arabic at university for four semesters. Yet I can’t speak Arabic at all haha that’s such a shame, I know.
But still, it’s a language which is as beautiful as complex. Here are 5 facts about Arabic :

1. Arab, Arabic, or Arabian?

Many people, even Arabs themselves, missuse these three words, so here is a little explanation :

Arab is the word which designates people whose place of ethnic origin is the Arabian Peninsula, which consists of the following countries: Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also relates to places and culture of the Arab world like, for instance, the Arab cuisine.

Arabic specifically relates to the written and spoken language of the Arab world : the Arabic literature, the Arabic dialects…

Arabian, by itself, normally refers to Arabian horses. The other main use of the word is in referring to the historic or literary relation to people or things of the Arab world like The Arabian nights.

2. Arabic is read from right to left

Here is a possible explanation of why Arabic is written from right to left :

“Before the papermaking process emerged in China, the Arabs used chisels to engrave their ideas and concepts in stone. 
Considering most of the “writers” [and individuals in general] were right-handed, they would use their right hand to hold [and carve with] the chisel and the left hand to hold a hammer. Such direction is more natural because it involves an outward motion and is, therefore, easier to perform from a motor point of view. A left-to-right motion would have been counterintuitive, especially with the risk of personal injury involved. (Think of the way you cut vegetables 😉)

Writing systems for Latin and Greek were invented later when paper was made available. In order to avoid smudging the ink on the paper [also due to the majority being right-handed], a left-to-right direction was found to be more favorable.”

3. Arabic numbers are written from left to right

Here are the Arabic numbers from 0 to 9: ٠١٢٣٤٥٦٧٨٩

Some are similar to the ones used in the Roman language since it is borrowed from the Western Arabic system, itself copied from the Eastern Arabic system, inspired by the Hindu numeral system.
There are two different explanations to why Arabs write numbers from left to right :
The first one is that since Indians write and read from left to right, when Indians and Arabs started to exchange goods, it was easier to keep the numbers in the same order to avoid confusion.
The second theory is simply that in standard Arabic, the smaller number should be read first.

4. One Arabic letter might have up to four different shapes !

Good luck learning how to read and write Arabic ! 😅
Here is what the Arabic alphabet looks like :

ا ب ت ث خ ح ج د ذ ر ز س ش ص ض ط ظ ع غ ف ق ك ل م ن ه و ي 

Not only it has nothing to do with the roman letters that we know as non-Arab people, but the shape of the letters also change according to their position in the word, whether the letter is isolated, initial, medial, or final, which, to me at least, makes it actually easier to read and write.

For example :
a b d f h j k = ا ب د ف ح  ج ك but abdfhjk = ابدفح

Some combinations of letters also have their own shape :
For example, ”no” is ”la” → La = l + a = لا  = ل + ا 

5. No one speaks the Modern Standard Arabic (the one we’re taught at uni.)

And finally that is one of the main reasons why I still can’t speak Arabic even though I live in Dubai. Because the Modern Standard Arabic, – the one we’re taught at school, university and in the books – is not commonly spoken. Every Arab speaker can understand it but the chances for you to hear a conversation in MSA in the street are very, very low. However, it is the Arabic used in the media.

One of the best ways to learn a new language is to speak it, right? But the thing with Arabic is that each and every country in the Middle East/North Africa region has its own dialect, when not several dialects. Not only the vocabulary is different but the accent, too. The Lebanese accent is very soft, the Kuwaiti/Iraqi accents have some “tsh/shl/shf” sounds which are pretty unique in Arabic…
This is why it’s complicated to learn “Arabic”. However, if you really want to learn Arabic, I would recommand you to start by learning the Lebanese arabic, which is pretty easy to speak and understand, and it is the closest one from the standard Arabic.

I learned more Arabic vocabulary by talking with my Lebanese friends for a few months than at university for two years, but, again, it is a dialect so what you’ll learn in Lebanese will be different in other countries but still understandable.

And to show you how easy is Arabic :
“Hammam” is bathroom, “hamam” is pigeon, and “amam” is in front of.

But it is a beautiful language, very rich & actually, writing this post makes me feel like studying Arabic again…

– One of my favorite quotes –

I hope you learned something by reading to this post. And for those of you who speak Arabic or who attempted to learn it, let me know in comment if there are other facts about Arabic that you’d like to share ! 🙂

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