To mark World Arabic Language Day on 18 December, Teaching Fellow Khalil Estaytieh offers some insight into Arabic and why it's such a useful language to learn.
1. Arabic is the 5th most commonly spoken native language in the world
Arabic is the official language of over 20 countries and there are well over 375 million native speakers of the language. These speakers are largely concentrated in the Middle East, but there are minority groups of native speakers throughout the world.
It's also an official language of the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and the African Union.
2. Arabic-speaking peoples have made significant contributions to world civilization
While Europe was experiencing the relative intellectual stagnation of the Middle Ages, the Arab-Islamic civilization was at its zenith.
Arabs contributed a great deal to the advancement of science, medicine, and philosophy. Much learning from the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine cultures was preserved for the world through the Arab libraries.
Arabs have also made significant contributions in areas such as literature, mathematics, navigation, astrology, and architecture. A knowledge of Arabic allows you to explore this vast body of knowledge in its original language.
3. The Arab-speaking world has a rich cultural heritage
The Arab world has its own unique art, music, literature, cuisine, and way of life.
Westerners know about belly dancing, perhaps have read ‘1001 Nights’, and may have tried some popular Middle Eastern dishes such as humous or falafel, but Western exposure to the Arab way of life is generally limited.
In exploring the Arabic world, you’ll learn to appreciate its distinct culture and practices and come to understand some of the values important to the Arabic people, such as honour, dignity, and hospitality.
4. Arabic is the liturgical language of Islam
In addition to the millions of native speakers, many more millions know Arabic as a foreign language, since, as the language of the Qur’an, it is understood by Muslims throughout the world.
Learning Arabic will therefore help you to understand Islamic culture.
5. Arabic influence is evident in many other languages
The export of ideas, products, and cultural practices from Arabic-speaking peoples can be seen in the vocabulary that Arabic has lent other languages.
Algebra was invented by Arab mathematicians in medieval times. Staple products like coffee and cotton came from the Arab world, as well as jasmine, lemon, and lime. Other Arabic loanwords appearing in English include such diverse things as henna, macrame, lute, mattress, gerbil, sorbet, safari and muslin.
The influence of Arabic culture is not only apparent in the English language. Numerous Arabic contributions can also be found in Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Spanish, Swahili, Urdu, and other languages. So you may already be more familiar with Arabic than you think!
Interested in learning Arabic? Khalil's Semester 2 classes start in week 20. More information on World Arabic Language Day events is available on the UNESCO website. If you have any questions about learning Arabic, please post them below.