Language of the Month – DECEMBER is Arabic!

Dec 20, 2018 | Language, Language of the Month, Musings, Translation

In our new series this year, Language of the Month, we are looking at twelve of the world’s nearly 6000 fascinating languages, one each month. Join us on this trip around the globe and discover facts, trivia and insider information about some awesome languages!

العَرَبِيَّة‎ (al-ʻarabiyyah)
Language family: Central Semitic (part of the Afro-Asiatic family)
Number of speakers: 310 million
Writing system: Arabic
Official language in: 26 states, including Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE…
The roots of Modern Standard Arabic reach back to thousands of years but it’s the direct descendant of Classical Arabic which emerged in the 7th century AD. Due to the vastness of the area where it’s spoken, Arabic has over 30 local dialects and it’s not uncommon that speakers use both their local dialect and Modern Standard Arabic depending on the social situation.
When we think about the language of science and philosophy in the Middle Ages in Europe, we tend to focus on Latin, however, the Arabic language was just as important. Many European languages were directly influenced by Arabic, such as Spanish or Portuguese. Many others borrowed words related to science, art, music and mathematics from Arabian scholars. Think algebra, algorithm or alchemy! But there are several other words of Arabic origins in the English language, such as admiral, candy, jar, traffic or spinach and many more!
Let’s just go back to the word algorithm for a second. Did you know that it comes from the Arabic mathematician Al-Khwarizmi’s name? In the 9th century he wrote a treatise on the use of Hindu numerals which was translated into Latin. (The translator rendered his name in Latin as Algoritmi.) This Latin translation helped spread the word about the decimal numeral system in the West which we still use today, aka the Hindu-Arabic numerals.
The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left (very important thing to consider when typesetting!), and has 28 letters. Traditionally it only contained consonants, however, vowels can now be indicated by so-called diacritical marks or accents.

Hello!                        السلام عليكم (as-salām ‘alaykum)
My name is…          … اسمي  (…ismee)
Yes                             نعم (laa)
No                              لا (na’am)
Thank you               شكرا (shukran)

Nada, one of our English to Arabic translators finds Arabic “one of the most elegant and rich languages.” She says “when I write or translate into Arabic, I feel like doing a painting that I am proud of when finished.” The beauty of the language is not only “linguistic”: Arabic letters are so arabesque-like and organic looking that over the centuries different lavish styles of Arabic calligraphy were developed which are an art form on their own. Arabic is like painting indeed!
As Arabic belongs to a different language family than English, they do sound quite different but according to Nada, the biggest difference between these two languages is that Arabic is full of grammar rules. (Bad news for language learners!) Also, as she explains, you can find some spelling options in Arabic that cannot be found in English: التحريك or vowelization, i.e. when vowels are indicated by diacritics.
One of Nada’s favourite Arabic quote is a line by a Lebanese poet, Gibran Khalil Gibran:
ويل لأمة تلبس مما لا تنسج،وتأكل مما لا تزرع
The translation of this short Arabic line goes:
“Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave
and eats a bread it does not harvest.”

We hope you liked this short introduction to the Arabic language. If you have any questions about Arabic or translations in general, or have a translation request, don’t hesitate to get in touch by email at or by telephone on 01223 356 733.