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  • Writer's pictureA2Z Arabic

How Many Languages Do Arabs Speak?

There are many varieties of Arabic (also called dialects of Arabic or vernacular languages. Arabic is a Semitic language within the Afroasiatic family that originated on the Arabian Peninsula. It is classified as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form. The largest divisions occur between the spoken languages of different regions. Some varieties of Arabic in North Africa, for example, are not easily comprehensible to an Arabic speaker from the Levant or the Persian Gulf. Within these broad regions further and considerable geographic distinctions exist, within countries, across country borders, even between cities and villages.

Another major distinction exists between the widely diverging colloquial spoken varieties, used for nearly all everyday speaking situations, and the formal standardized language, found mostly in writing or in prepared speech. The regionally prevalent variety is learned as the speaker's first language while the formal language is subsequently learned in school. The formal language itself varies between its modern iteration, Modern Standard Arabic (often called MSA in English) and the Classical Arabic that serves as its basis, though Arabic speakers typically do not make this distinction.

Modern Standard Arabic, the Language of Translation

Modern Standard Arabic, Standard Arabic, or Literary Arabic is the standardized and literary variety of Arabic used in writing and in most formal speech throughout the Arab world to facilitate communication. It is considered a pluricentric language.

Almost all Arabic speakers across the Arab world can easily understand Modern Standard Arabic. For this reason, most formal writings, newspapers, news bulletins, etc. are delivered in this most common form of the language.

In the translation industry, Modern Standard Arabic is the most prominent form of Arabic used by Arabic translation service providers. Moreover, movie subtitles are mostly translated into Modern Standard Arabic. However, is certain cases, translation companies may adapt the formal language with a few tweaks in order to be more appealing to the local audience, whether it is in the UAE, KSA, Egypt or Morocco.

There is a very short list of formal Arabic words that may not be comprehensible in parts of the Arab world. Here comes the role of the translator to select the best term that suits his translation’s final destination.

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