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Sarali Gintsburg, Marie Curie Researcher
Institute for Culture and Society , University of Navarra

A day to discover the richness of the language Arabic

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:35:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Today, December 18, is World Arab Day language . This event has been created recently by the United Nations, in 2010, although it is difficult to underestimate the role that Arab civilization in general and Arabic in particular have played not only in shaping and training shaping cultures and languages in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, but also in the Western world. At the same time, Arabic is one of the most powerful languages: it is a state language language in 22 countries, it has more than 400 million native speakers spread all over the world and the Arabic-speaking population is growing rapidly.

One of the reasons why this language and culture is often ignored is the diversity, both linguistically and culturally, of the Arab world: there are currently 22 Arab countries and more than a dozen nations in which Arabic enjoys co-official language status. Unlike the languages we are used to, for example, English, French, Spanish or Russian, where the difference between the standard and colloquial varieties is minimal, in the sense that they are mutually intelligible, there is a huge gap between the registers of standard Arabic and colloquial Arabic.

Standard Arabic (or al-fusha - الفصحة) with its roots derived from the language of the Quran, is considered the official language of the state, the language of the educated, the administration and the media. At the same time, each and every Arab country speaks its own variety of Arabic, colloquial or dialectal, which is lexically and morphologically quite different from the standard, official language . Moreover, the differences between dialects can become so great that native Arabic speakers from different countries do not understand each other. This linguistic diversity, along with the negative image of Arabic culture often portrayed by our media, are some of the reasons why the linguistic and cultural aspects of the Arab world end up on the margins of our view.

Behind this current state of affairs, however, there is a rich history worth learning. It is believed that language Arabic, one of the youngest Semitic languages, was born in the Arabian Peninsula among nomadic tribes long before the rise of Islam and initially existed predominantly in its oral form. It was in the 7th century A.D., when Arabic was immortalized as the language of the Qur'an and became inseparable from Islam. From that time on, Muslim armies began to conquer lands, advancing eastward from the Arabian Peninsula and spreading the Arabic language . Neither Greek nor Latin have enjoyed the status that Classical Arabic had in the average Age in terms of impact on other languages.

The enormous extension of conquered territory, gave Arabic a world status, not reached by any other language, except, perhaps, by English, in our time. By the 11th century, Arabic was widely spoken and written by all educated Muslims from the heart of China to the borders of France, rapidly displacing ancient literary languages such as Aramaic, Coptic, Greek and Latin. It became the language of art, culture, scholarship and technology that contributed not only to Islamic civilization but also to world civilization.

Soon after the early conquests, the Arabic alphabet began to be adopted by the languages spoken in the new Islamic lands. Within a few centuries, Kurdish, Persian, Pashto, Turkish, various languages in the Indian subcontinent; and even the languages spoken in medieval Spain began to use Arabic letters. The use of the Arabic alphabet was well established in all Muslim lands until it was disputed by the Spanish Reconquest and, later, by the Western colonizers of Asia and Africa, who worked hard to replace the Arabic alphabet with the Latin alphabet.

In the case of the Iberian Peninsula and Spain in particular, the Arabic alphabet has been widely used even after the Reconquest: the tradition of aljamiado (from Arabic al-abjadiya - الأبجدية or alphabet) - the use of Arabic letters to write in a Romance language existed at least until the end of the 16th century, that is, long after the royal decree of Philip II, which prohibited in Spain the use of spoken and written Arabic in any form.

At the lexical level, the Spanish language has been influenced by Arabic more than any other language spoken in Europe. According to agreement with several researches, the percentage of Arabic loanwords in Spanish represents up to 5% of the Spanish vocabulary. For native speakers, some of these words obviously have an Arabic/Islamic connotation: imam (imam - إمام), koran (al-qura'n - القرآن). However, most of these words are perceived as Spanish: oil (az-zeyt الزيت -), pillow (al-mukhadda المخدة -), cotton (al-qutn القطن -), hasta (hatta حتى -).

Will Arabic make a comeback on the cultural scene? Many Arab thinkers express concern that the diversity of the Arab world and the state of cultural and linguistic confusion will make it difficult to revive it but also to maintain its current form. Let's see!