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|Modern Standard Arabic|
|العربية الفصحى |
|Pronunciation||/al ʕaraˈbijja lˈfusˤħaː/, see variations[b]|
Middle East and North Africa
Language of Islam
|Users||L1: 0 (2022)[c]|
L2: 270 million (2022)
Official language in
Sole official language, Arab majority
Sole official language, Arab minority
Co-official language, Arab majority
Co-official language, Arab minority
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or Modern Written Arabic (MWA), terms used mostly by linguists, is the variety of standardized, literary Arabic that developed in the Arab world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; occasionally, it also refers to spoken Arabic that approximates this written standard. MSA is the language used in literature, academia, print and mass media, law and legislation, though it is generally not spoken as a first language, similar to Contemporary Latin. It is a pluricentric standard language taught throughout the Arab world in formal education, differing significantly from many vernacular varieties of Arabic that are commonly spoken as mother tongues in the area; these are only partially mutually intelligible with both MSA and with each other depending on their proximity in the Arabic dialect continuum.
Many linguists consider MSA to be distinct from Classical Arabic (CA; اللغة العربية الفصحى التراثية al-Lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā at-Turāthīyah) – the written language prior to the mid-19th century – although there is no agreed moment at which CA turned into MSA. There are also no agreed set of linguistic criteria which distinguish CA from MSA, however MSA differs most markedly in that it either synthesizes words from Arabic roots (such as سيارة car or باخرة steamship) or adapts words from foreign languages (such as ورشة workshop or إنترنت Internet) to describe industrial and post-industrial life.
Native speakers of Arabic generally do not distinguish between "Modern Standard Arabic" and "Classical Arabic" as separate languages; they refer to both as al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā (العربية الفصحى) meaning "the eloquent Arabic". They consider the two forms to be two historical periods of one language. When the distinction is made, they are referred to as فصحى العصر Fuṣḥā al-ʻAṣr (MSA) and فصحى التراث Fuṣḥā at-Turāth (CA).
Classical Arabic, also known as Quranic Arabic (although the term is not entirely accurate), is the language used in the Quran as well as in numerous literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries). Many Muslims study Classical Arabic in order to read the Quran in its original language. It is important to note that written Classical Arabic underwent fundamental changes during the early Islamic era, adding dots to distinguish similarly written letters, and adding the tashkīl (diacritical markings that guide pronunciation) by Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, and other scholars. It was the lingua franca across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa during classic times and in Andalusia before classic times.
Emergence of Modern Standard Arabic
Napoleon's campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) is generally considered to be the starting point of the modern period of the Arabic language, when the intensity of contacts between the Western world and Arabic culture increased. Napoleon introduced a printing press in Egypt in 1798; it briefly disappeared after the French departure in 1801, but Muhammad Ali Pasha, who also sent students to Italy, France and England to study military and applied sciences in 1809, reintroduced it a few years later in Boulaq, Cairo. (Previously, Arabic-language presses had been introduced locally in Lebanon in 1610, and in Aleppo, Syria in 1702). The first Arabic printed newspaper was established in 1828: the bilingual Turkish-Arabic Al-Waqa'i' al-Misriyya had great influence in the formation of Modern Standard Arabic. It was followed by Al-Ahram (1875) and al-Muqattam (1889). The Western–Arabic contacts and technological developments in especially the newspaper industry indirectly caused the revival of Arabic literature, or Nahda, in the late 19th and early 20th century. Another important development was the establishment of Arabic-only schools in reaction against the Turkification of Arabic-majority areas under Ottoman rule.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the literary standard across the Middle East, North Africa and Horn of Africa, and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Most printed material by the Arab League—including most books, newspapers, magazines, official documents, and reading primers for small children—is written in MSA. "Colloquial" Arabic refers to the many regional dialects derived from Classical Arabic spoken daily across the region and learned as a first language, and as second language if people speak other languages native to their particular country. They are not normally written, although a certain amount of literature (particularly plays and poetry, including songs) exists in many of them.
Literary Arabic (MSA) is the official language of all Arab League countries and is the only form of Arabic taught in schools at all stages. Additionally, some members of religious minorities recite prayers in it, as it is considered the literary language. Translated versions of the Bible which are used in Arabic-speaking countries are mostly written in MSA, aside from Classical Arabic.[clarification needed] Muslims recite prayers in it; revised editions of numerous literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times are also written in MSA.
The sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in modern times provides a prime example of the linguistic phenomenon of diglossia – the use of two distinct varieties of the same language, usually in different social contexts. This diglossic situation facilitates code-switching in which a speaker switches back and forth between the two dialects of the language, sometimes even within the same sentence. People speak MSA as a third language if they speak other languages native to a country as their first language and colloquial Arabic dialects as their second language. Modern Standard Arabic is also spoken by people of Arab descent outside the Arab world when people of Arab descent speaking different dialects communicate to each other. As there is a prestige or standard dialect of vernacular Arabic, speakers of standard colloquial dialects code-switch between these particular dialects and MSA.
Classical Arabic is considered normative; a few contemporary authors attempt (with varying degrees of success) to follow the syntactic and grammatical norms laid down by classical grammarians (such as Sibawayh) and to use the vocabulary defined in classical dictionaries (such as the Lisan al-Arab, Arabic: لِسَان الْعَرَب).
However, the exigencies of modernity have led to the adoption of numerous terms which would have been mysterious to a classical author, whether taken from other languages (e. g. فيلم film) or coined from existing lexical resources (e. g. هاتف hātif "caller" > "telephone"). Structural influence from foreign languages or from the vernaculars has also affected Modern Standard Arabic: for example, MSA texts sometimes use the format "A, B, C and D" when listing things, whereas Classical Arabic prefers "A and B and C and D", and subject-initial sentences may be more common in MSA than in Classical Arabic. For these reasons, Modern Standard Arabic is generally treated separately in non-Arab sources. Speakers of Modern Standard Arabic do not always observe the intricate rules of Classical Arabic grammar. Modern Standard Arabic principally differs from Classical Arabic in three areas: lexicon, stylistics, and certain innovations on the periphery that are not strictly regulated by the classical authorities. On the whole, Modern Standard Arabic is not homogeneous; there are authors who write in a style very close to the classical models and others who try to create new stylistic patterns. Add to this regional differences in vocabulary depending upon the influence of the local Arabic varieties and the influences of foreign languages, such as French in Africa and Lebanon or English in Egypt, Jordan, and other countries.
As MSA is a revised and simplified form of Classical Arabic, MSA in terms of lexicon omitted the obsolete words used in Classical Arabic. As diglossia is involved, various Arabic dialects freely borrow words from MSA. This situation is similar to Romance languages, wherein scores of words were borrowed directly from formal Latin (most literate Romance speakers were also literate in Latin); educated speakers of standard colloquial dialects speak in this kind of communication.
Reading out loud in MSA for various reasons is becoming increasingly simpler, using less strict rules compared to CA, notably the inflection is omitted, making it closer to spoken varieties of Arabic. It depends on the speaker's knowledge and attitude to the grammar of Classical Arabic, as well as the region and the intended audience.
Pronunciation of native words, loanwords, and foreign names in MSA is loose. Names can be pronounced or even spelled differently in different regions and by different speakers. Pronunciation also depends on the person's education, linguistic knowledge, and abilities. There may be sounds used which are missing in Classical Arabic but exist in colloquial varieties. For example, the consonants /v/, /p/, /t͡ʃ/ (often realized as [t]+[ʃ]) (which may or may not be written with special letters) and the vowels [o], [e] (both short and long). There are no special letters in Arabic to distinguish between [e~i] and [o~u] pairs but the sounds o and e (short and long) exist in the colloquial varieties of Arabic and some foreign words in MSA.
|Nasal||m ⟨م⟩||n ⟨ن⟩|
|Stop||voiceless||p[d]||t ⟨ت⟩||tˤ ⟨ط⟩||k ⟨ك⟩||q ⟨ق⟩||ʔ ⟨ء⟩|
|voiced||b ⟨ب⟩||d ⟨د⟩||dˤ ⟨ض⟩||d͡ʒ[e] ⟨ج⟩|
|Fricative||voiceless||f ⟨ف⟩||θ ⟨ث⟩||s ⟨س⟩||sˤ ⟨ص⟩||ʃ ⟨ش⟩||x ~ χ ⟨خ⟩||ħ ⟨ح⟩||h ⟨ه⟩|
|voiced||v[d]||ð ⟨ذ⟩||z ⟨ز⟩||ðˤ ⟨ظ⟩||ɣ ~ ʁ ⟨غ⟩||ʕ ⟨ع⟩|
|Approximant||l ⟨ل⟩||ɫ[f]||j ⟨ي⟩||w ⟨و⟩|
Modern Standard Arabic, like Classical Arabic before it, has three pairs of long and short vowels: /a/, /i/, and /u/:
* Footnote: although not part of Standard Arabic phonology the vowels /eː/ and /oː/ are perceived as separate phonemes in most of modern Arabic dialects and they are used when speaking Modern Standard Arabic as part of foreign words or when speaking it with a colloquial tone.
- Across North Africa and West Asia, short /i/ may be realized as [ɪ ~ e ~ ɨ] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r], [ħ], [ʕ] depending on the accent.
- Short /u/ can also have different realizations, i.e. [ʊ ~ o ~ ʉ]. Sometimes with one value for each vowel in both short and long lengths or two different values for each short and long lengths.
- In Egypt, close vowels have different values; short initial or medial: [e], [o] ← instead of /i, u/.
- In some other particular dialects /i~ɪ/ and /u~ʊ/ completely become /e/ and /o/ respectively.
- Allophones of /a/ and /aː/ include [ɑ] and [ɑː] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r]; and [æ] and [æː] elsewhere.
- Allophones of /iː/ include [ɪː]~[ɨː] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r], [ħ], [ʕ].
- Allophones of /uː/ include [ʊː]~[ɤː]~[oː] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r], [ħ], [ʕ].
- Unstressed final long /aː, iː, uː/ are most often shortened or reduced: /aː/ → [æ ~ ɑ], /iː/ → /i/, /uː/ → [o~u].
Differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic
While there are differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic, Arabic speakers tend to find these differences unimportant, and generally refer to both by the same name: al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā ('the eloquent Arabic').
Differences in syntax
MSA tends to use simplified sentence structures and drop more complicated ones commonly used in Classical Arabic. Some examples include reliance on verb sentences[clarification needed] instead of noun phrases and semi-sentences, as well as avoiding phrasal adjectives and accommodating feminine forms of ranks and job titles.
Differences in terminology
Because MSA speech occurs in fields with novel concepts, including technical literature and scientific domains, the need for terms that did not exist in the time of CA has led to coining new terms. Arabic Language Academies had attempted to fulfill this role during the second half of the 20th century with neologisms with Arab roots, but MSA typically borrows terms from other languages to coin new terminology.
Differences in pronunciation
MSA includes two sounds not present in CA, particularly /p/ and /v/, which occur in loanwords. In addition, MSA normally does not use diacritics (tashkīl) unless there is a need for disambiguation or instruction, unlike the CA found in Quran and Hadith scriptures, which are texts that demand strict adherence to exact wording. MSA also has taken on some punctuation marking from other languages.
MSA is loosely uniform across the Middle East as it is based on the convention of Arabic speakers rather than being a regulated language which rules are followed (that is despite the number of academies regulating Arabic). It can be thought of as being in a continuum between CA (the regulated language described in grammar books) and the spoken vernaculars while leaning much more to CA in its written form than its spoken form.
Regional variations exist due to influence from the spoken vernaculars. TV hosts who read prepared MSA scripts, for example in Al Jazeera, are ordered to give up national or ethnic pronunciations by changing their pronunciation of certain phonemes (e.g. the realization of the Classical jīm ج as [ɡ] by Egyptians), though other traits may show the speaker's region, such as the stress and the exact value of vowels and the pronunciation of other consonants. People who speak MSA also mix vernacular and Classical in pronunciation, words, and grammatical forms. Classical/vernacular mixing in formal writing can also be found (e.g., in some Egyptian newspaper editorials); others are written in Modern Standard/vernacular mixing, including entertainment news.
The Egyptian writer and journalist, Cherif Choubachy wrote in a critical book, that more than half of the Arabic speaking world are not Arabs and that more than 50% of Arabs in the Arabic speaking world use Literary Arabic.
According to Ethnologue there are no native speakers of Modern Standard Arabic, but a total of 273,989,700 second language speakers in the world. They add that: "In most Arab countries only the well-educated have adequate proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic."  In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, French is the language of higher education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), while in the Gulf region it's English.
Several reports mentioned that the use of Modern Standard Arabic was on the decline in the Arab world, especially in Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates where foreign workers make up more than 80% of the population and where English has become the lingua franca of commerce, media, and education. Content in Modern Standard Arabic is also under-represented online and in literature.
According to the 2017 Arab Youth Survey done by polling firm PSB Insights, 54% of respondents (young urban Arabs aged 18 to 24) agreed with the statement: "On a daily basis, I use English more than Arabic." They were 68% in GCC countries. The New York Times reported that most Arab students of Northwestern University in Qatar and Georgetown University in Qatar did not have "professional proficiency" in Modern Standard Arabic.
|English||الإنجليزية/الإنكليزية||(varies) /alʔing(i)li(ː)ˈzij.ja/||(may vary) al-inglīzīyah|
|Peace [be] with you (lit. upon you)||السلام عليكم||/assaˈlaːmu ʕaˈlajkum/||as-salāmu ʻalaykum|
|What is your name?||ما اسمك؟||/masmuk, -ki/||masmuka / -ki?|
|How are you?||كيف حالك؟||/ˈkajfa ˈħaːluk, -luki/||kayfa ḥāluk, ḥāluki|
|Welcome||أهلاً وسهلاً||/ʔahlan wa sahlan/||ahlan wa-sahlan|
|See you||إلى اللقاء||/ʔila l.liqaːʔ/||ila al-liqāʼ|
|Goodbye||مع السلامة||/maʕa s.saˈlaːma/||maʻa as-salāmah|
|Please||من فضلك||/min ˈfadˤlik/||min faḍlik|
|I don't know||لا أعرف||/laː ˈʔaʕrif/||lā aʻrif|
|How much/How many?||كم؟||/kam/||kam?|
- Spelling for the final letter yāʼ differs in Egypt, Sudan and sometimes other regions as Yemen. It is always undotted ى, hence عربى فصيح.
- Pronunciation varies regionally. The following are examples:
- The Levant: [al ʕaraˈbɪjja lˈfʊsˤħa], colloquially: [(e)l-]
- Hejaz: [al ʕaraˈbijjalˈfusˤħa]
- East central Arabia: [æl ʢɑrɑˈbɪjjɐ lˈfʊsˤʜɐ], colloquially: [el-]
- Egypt: [æl ʕɑɾɑˈbejjɑ lˈfosˤħɑ], colloquially: [el-]
- Libya: [æl ʕɑrˤɑˈbijjæ lˈfusˤħæ], colloquially: [əl-]
- Tunisia: [æl ʕɑrˤɑˈbeːjæ lˈfʊsˤħæ], colloquially: [el-]
- Algeria, Morocco: [æl ʕɑrˤɑbijjæ lfusˤħæ], colloquially: [l-]
- Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is not used as a native language. Arabic speakers first learn to speak their respective local dialect. MSA is acquired through formal education.
- /p, v/ are foreign consonants used by a number of speakers in loanwords, their usage is not standard, and they can be written with the modified letters پ /p/ and ڤ /v/ (in some parts of North Africa it is written as ڥ).
- The standard consonant varies regionally, most prominently [d͡ʒ] in the Arabian Peninsula, parts of the Levant, Iraq, and northern Algeria and Sudan, [ʒ] in most of Northwest Africa and the Levant, [g] in Egypt, Oman, and coastal Yemen.
- The marginal phoneme /ɫ/ only occurs in the word الله /aɫ.ɫaːh/ ('The God') and words derived from it.
- Modern Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022)
- "Basic Law: Israel - The Nation State of the Jewish People" (PDF). Knesset. 19 July 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 April 2021. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
- Gully, Adrian; Carter, Mike; Badawi, Elsaid (29 July 2015). Modern Written Arabic: A Comprehensive Grammar (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-0415667494.
- Kamusella, Tomasz (2017). "The Arabic Language: A Latin of Modernity?" (PDF). Journal of Nationalism, Memory & Language Politics. 11 (2): 117–145. doi:10.1515/jnmlp-2017-0006. S2CID 158624482.
- Holes, C.; Allen, R. (2004). Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties. Georgetown classics in Arabic language and linguistics. Georgetown University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-58901-022-2.
…there is no chronological point at which CLA turned into MSA, still less any agreed set of linguistic criteria that could differentiate the two. MSA is merely a handy label used in western scholarship to denote the written language from about the middle of the nineteenth century, when concerted efforts began to modernize it lexically and phraseologically. Most western scholars refer to the formal written language before that date, and par excellence before the eclipse of Arab political power in the fifteenth century, as "Classical Arabic".
- Alaa Elgibali and El-Said M. Badawi. Understanding Arabic: Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said M. Badawi, 1996. Page 105.
- van Mol, Mark (2003). Variation in Modern Standard Arabic in Radio News Broadcasts: A Synchronic Descriptive Investigation Into the Use of Complementary Particles. Leuven: Peeters Publishers. pp. 25–27. ISBN 9789042911581. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
- Farghaly, A., Shaalan, K. Arabic Natural Language Processing: Challenges and Solutions, ACM Transactions on Asian Language Information Processing (TALIP), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 8(4)1-22, December 2009.
- Alan S. Kaye (1991). "The Hamzat al-Waṣl in Contemporary Modern Standard Arabic". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 111 (3): 572–574. doi:10.2307/604273. JSTOR 604273.
- http://www.londonarabictuition.com/lessons.php?type=2 London Arabic Tuition
- https://asianabsolute.co.uk/arabic-language-dialects/ Arabic Language Dialects
- Wolfdietrich Fischer. 1997. "Classical Arabic," The Semitic Languages. London: Routledge. Pg 189.
- Watson (2002:16)
- Arabic, AL. "White Paper". msarabic.com. Archived from the original on 23 February 2018. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
- Choubachy, Cherif (2004). "4". لتحيا اللغة العربية: يسقط سيبويه (in Arabic). الهيئة المصرية العامة للكتب. pp. 125–126. ISBN 977-01-9069-1.
- Arabic, Standard, 24th Edition, Ethnologue
- Remplacer le français par l’anglais à l’université ? Polémique linguistique en Algérie, Madjid Zerrouky, Le Monde, 30 July 2019
- Is Arabic a dying language?, Tom Hundley, Feb. 24, 2010, MinnPost
- Standard Arabic is on the decline: Here’s what’s worrying about that, May 21, 2018, Hossam Abouzahr, Atlantic Council
- A language in decline: The uncertain future of Modern Standard Arabic, Sawsan Khalaf, 2018, Qantara.de
- Sabbah, Sabah. (2015). Is Standard Arabic Dying?. Arab World English Journal. 6. 54-65. 10.24093/awej/vol6no2.4.
- "Arab Youth Survey 2017" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 July 2021. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
- Education in the Arab world needs more Arab culture, RYM TINA GHAZAL, October 05, 2019, Arab News
- Battling to Preserve Arabic From English's Onslaught, D. D. Guttenplan, June 11, 2012, New York Times
- van Mol, Mark (2003). Variation in Modern Standard Arabic in Radio News Broadcasts: A Synchronic Descriptive Investigation Into the Use of Complementary Particles. Leuven: Peeters Publishers. ISBN 9789042911581.
- Holes, Clive (2004). Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties. Georgetown University Press. ISBN 1-58901-022-1
- Watson, Janet C. E. (2002), The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic, New York: Oxford University Press