The Existing Variations of Arabic Language

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As they start to learn Arabic online, many students still do not know the different existing variation of the Arabic language. Still, many students find it difficult to decide, which variation of the Arabic they should pursue and which is a better choice to learn: Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) vs Spoken dialects. In this article, I will go into this topic in more detail and give you all what you need to know in order to make an informed decision before starting Arabic courses

So let us start right away.

Arabic is a Semitic language, part of a big family of Afro-asiatic languages that originated in West Asia. Examples of Semitic languages are Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic and Aramaic. The origin of Arabic in specific is controversial, but there is almost a general agreement that the old variations of the Arabic language originated somewhere in the Arab peninsula, probably toward the south in Yemen. The old versions transformed into an almost ‘unified’ classical version afterwards. 

This classical version continued to develop and was spread among the world after the emergence and spread of Islam. The main reason was that the holy ‘Quran’ for Muslims was in classical Arabic. Note that during this time, it was not regarded as classical.

Existing variations of Arabic language

We use the term ‘classical’ today as we compare this version to the ‘Modern Standard Arabic’ that Arabs use in Writing and even communication in specific occasions. Now comes an important point, what are the current variations of Arabic today. Principally, Arabic language that is being used today has three main forms:

  • Classical Arabic
  • Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)
  • Spoken dialects

The differences between these variations are substantial. By this, I mean that each form has its own type and structure. The student should have a very clear idea, which form he or she is interested to pursue. Even the form, the spoken dialects, consists of many sub-dialects that are different form each other.

For instance, Iraqis cannot understand Moroccans although both speak ‘Arabic’. The reason is that the dialects differ substantially across the Arab world. This phenomenon is not strange, considering the difference in dialects even within one country.

Significance of each variation

Therefore, it is very important for each Arabic learner to have a clear idea, why he or she is interested in learning Arabic. This will reflect later on the variations of Arabic language he or she learns.  Is he/she interested in communication, reading, writing or may be Islamic studies? The answer to this question will save you a lot of time, effort and money. As I told you before, each form has its own significance and use.

Let’s have a closer look at the three Arabic language variations:

Classical Arabic

From its name, the ‘classical Arabic’ is a classic form that Arabs do not use for daily communication or even writing, still many intellectuals, especially Islamic-based scholars, adapt vocabulary from this form in their speech or writing. The holy book for Muslims ‘Quran’ is in classical Arabic. This is because many of its vocabulary do not contribute in daily life communication or writing today.

Learning classical Arabic involves learning about classical Arab literature and poetry, where the learner will find vocabulary that is no longer in use today. However, learning ‘classical Arabic’ is mostly associated with ‘Modern standard Arabic’. This means that whoever learns classical Arabic should learn MSA beforehand, as classical Arabic is considered an advanced variation of MSA.  

Therefore, learning classical Arabic (which go along with MSA) is a supreme importance to all Islam-related studies and students who are interested to learn in one of the most famous and oldest Islamic-based universities in the world: Al-Azhar.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)

Learning MSA is the most common trend for students who are interested to learn Arabic in general. Many courses worldwide offer this type, where the student can learn this form from the beginning.

Learning MSA is very important if you want to pursue Arabic/Islamic studies. As I told you, learning MSA is very connected to classical Arabic as well. In fact, almost all Arabs learn MSA in school to get a background using this language, despite the fact that the spoken dialect could be completely different.

Learning MSA qualifies the student for reading Arabic script, as the vast majority of Arabic scripts in books and periodicals are in MSA. Furthermore, MSA is the preferred type for intellectuals in communication.

Most of the religious-based, academic or official TV shows and occasions are in MSA. Many songs, especially for great singers like Om-Kalthoum, Abdul-Wahab and Kathem-Al-Saaher are in MSA. Most of Arabic movies are in dialects, exceptions are the religious-based movies.

Spoken Arabic dialects

Communication among Arabs is always via dialects. This is common worldwide, where the use of the standard language is almost not applicable nowadays. Each region, even within the same country, has its own dialect.

The Arabic dialects main categories are

  • Egyptian
  • Levantine (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine)
  • Gulf (Saudi-Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraqi)
  • North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco)
  • Other dialects (Sudan, Yemen, Oman)

As you see there are different dialects out there, even for each dialect there are tens of subdialects within the country, depending on the geographical region and historical background. Each student should know where he wants to communicate.

A final note is that some dialects are close to each other. For instance, Spoken Egyptian dialect of Cairo is very close to many Levantine dialects like ‘Lebanese and Syrian’. Likewise, The north African dialects, Tunisia to Morroco, are very close to each other and share a great deal of vocabulary among them.

Final thoughts

Every student has the choice with regard to the type of Arabic he or her wants to learn. Depending on your preference (arabicwithhamid.com/which-to-learn-msa-or-a-dialect), you can choose the variety that best matches your interest and goals.

In the spoken Arabic School ( Check our Homepage ) we offer all-in-one courses courses in spoken Lebanese and spoken Egyptian.

The Lebanese Arabic Accelerator gives you all what you need to excel in communication fluency using the Lebanese dialect and to explore the charming culture and traditions of Lebanon. Likewise, the Egyptian Arabic Accelerator prepares for fluency level in spoken dialect of Cairo. This is a wonderful opportunity not only to communicate across Egypt and Arab region, but to immerse in the wonderful culture of Egypt.

Hope you liked this article; tell me in the comments what form of Arabic you are interested in.

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