Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Western Sahara, Senegal, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Chad and Cyprus.
Approximate total number: between 255,000,000 and 260,000,000 (data mostly from the years 2004-2007).
Saudi Arabia: 24,000,000.
United Arab Emirates: 1,400,000.
Iraq: between 20,600,000 and 22,000,000.
Kuwait: between 1,300,000 and 1,800,000.
Western Sahara: 380,000.
Cyprus (under 1,000).
Official language in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Yemen, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Western Sahara, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia and Chad.
Non-specific protection in Niger.
Unrecognised in Iran, Mali, Senegal, Turkey and Cyprus.
Arabic is the most archaic of all surviving Semitic languages, or in other words, the nearest to the original Semitic. It began life as the language of the Arabs, the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula. Some known literary forms of Arabic date from the sixth century, and it is the language in which the Koran, the sacred book of the Muslims, was written. Its expansion from its place of origin from the seventh century onwards was closely linked to propagation of the Islamic religion and to the military power of the Arabs, who extended their empire throughout northern Africa.
Our concept of the Arabic language includes both literary Arabic (also known as Classical or Koranic Arabic), and the many dialectal varieties stemming from the classical form that are spoken today.
Classical or literary Arabic in its current version, Modern Standard Arabic, is common to all speakers of the language. As the language taught at school, this is therefore also the language of formal use and communication between Arab countries. Koranic Arabic as such is confined to religious usage.
Dialectal variations, also known as 'Colloquial Arabic', are the result of the seventh-century fragmentation of the language and its mixing with the languages of conquered lands (Berber and African languages, etc.). It is these languages that are currently used in everyday life, in informal, basically oral, usage. As well as being very numerous, they are sometimes so different that mutual understanding is impossible.
In geographical terms, Arabic dialects can be classified into two main groups: eastern (or from Mašriq, 'place where the sun rises'), spoken in the Near East (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, etc.), and western (or from Magrib, 'place where the sun sets'), spoken in Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, etc.
Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Arabic co-exist in a situation of diglossia, with clearly differentiated functions for each variant. In fact, in the Arabic language, literary Arabic is known as a-luga al-Fushà, which means 'the most eloquent language', a term that embraces Ancient Arabic, the Arabic of the Koran and classical literature, and Modern Standard Arabic.
The dialectal forms, on the other hand, are known as a-luga al-`ammiyya, which means 'the general language'. While hardly any Arabic speakers have the literary variant as their mother tongue, the importance of the historical and ideological links between the two forms is such that Arabised communities have always considered them to be one and the same language.
Right to left