To fully appreciate the Arab people and their culture, you need to also understand the Arabic language. These both are fundamentally connected to each other. Just as Arab culture is very rich and complex, so Arabic is also a very rich language. It has a history as complex as the history of the Arabic speaking countries that use the language. Today’s article will explore the history of the Arabic language to gain a better understanding of the countries and culture.
The dialects of Arabic language
Four main Arabic dialects make up the language spoken in the Middle East and North Africa today. Each have their own set of sub-dialects. These dialects are the Maghreb Arabic of North Africa, the Egyptian Arabic of Egypt and Sudan, the Levantine Arabic of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, and the Iraqi/Gulf Arabic of Iraq and the Arabian Gulf. But where did all of these dialects begin? Or more to the point, where did Arabic begin?
The beginning of Arabic language
Arabic has its roots in the Semitic family of languages. The first signs of Arabic seem to appear around 2,000 B.C. However, it wasn’t until the 5th century A.D. that the language seemed to come into common use. And it all started with the Quraish tribe of Mecca. They were an Arab community and a member was the Prophet Mohammed. Also, they were the first to speak اللغة العربية الفصحى التراثية / al-Lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā al-Turāthīyah, or Classical Arabic. Classical Arabic is the variety of standard Arabic in the Quran and early Islamic (7th to 9th centuries) literature. In fact, the Quran that Muslims read today is in the same dialect that the Prophet Mohammed himself used.
Classical Arabic is an elegant, pure form of Arabic that actually pre-dates Islam. As evidenced, Classical Arabic was found to be used in pre-Islamic poetry. Muslim scholars even suggest that Allah revealed the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed in seven types of qera’at (readings). Back then, these were Arabic’s most prominent dialects.
The origin of Arabic, and especially that of Arabic script, is a hotly contested topic even until today. Some believe Arabic script originated in the north between the 4th and 7th centuries in Al Hirah, Mesopotamia. Another camp say it originated anywhere in between 110 B.C. and 525 A.D. from the south of Arabia near Himyar. A recent discovery by a French-Saudi expedition would seem to support the latter.
Early sightings of Arabic writing
In 2014, researchers from a French-Saudi expedition studying rock inscriptions in southern Saudi Arabia declared that they had found what may possibly be the oldest texts of the Arabic alphabet. The carved engravings lie about 100 kilometers north of Najran, around the mountain passes of nearby Bir Hima. The amazing part of the discovery was that at least two of the early Arabic petroglyphs cited dates in an ancient calendar. This lead expert epigraphists to quickly surmise that the dates corresponded to the years 469 or 470 A.D. Researchers stated that the find corresponds to a period in which there was a missing link between the Nabataean language and Arabic writing. In fact, the find was significant because they found a mixed text – Nabataean Arabic – the first sign of Arabic script.
A few years after the Quran was made into a book under the first Caliph of Islam, Abu Bakr, a copy owned by Uthman ibn Affan, both a companion of Prophet Mohammed and the third Caliph of Islam, had the letters in Arabic dotted; thus, diacritics such as tashkeel (“formations”) and harakat (“vowel marks”) were born.
Other languages have gone on to use the Arabic script including Hausa, Kashmiri, Kazak, Kurdish, Kyrgyz, Malay, Morisco, Pashto, Persian/Farsi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Tatar, Turkish, Uyghur and Urdu – although many of these have also switched to using the Latin script.
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