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9 Surprising Facts about the Arabic Language

posted on: May 31, 2017

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BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

By now, most people are already aware of the uniqueness of the Arabic language, like the fact that it’s written and read from right to left, and many Latin words have origins in Arabic. It’s the fifth most spoken language in the world, and one of the most difficult to learn.

This complex language has been passed down from many generations of Americans with Arab ancestors. Here are some surprising facts you might not have known about the language.

1. There are over 100 words for ‘camel’ in Arabic

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Some say there are up to 1,000 words related to camels in the Arabic language. This could have been true at one point in history, but today it’s closer to 100. There are names for camels based on: color of hair; herd mentality; relativity to water; food habits; health conditions; the number of camels in one spot; and so much more.

For example…

al-‘aees: A white camel with blond hair

al-thowee: A camel that is too weak to stand up

al-soorma: between 10 and 30 camels

al-ghub: A camel that drinks once every two days

 

2. The shape of Arabic letters resemble the shape of your mouth makes when saying the letter

For example…

The letter ‘waw’ و

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The letter ‘noon’ ن

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3. There is no capitalization or abbreviation in Arabic

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No need to worry about writing proper nouns in Arabic because all letters are treated equally, whether at the start, middle, or end of a sentence. Arabic speakers do not use abbreviated or contracted words to shorten talking the way English speakers do with “don’t” or “legit”.

 

4. Arabic has throat sounds that don’t exist in other languages

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Haa ح is a guttural breath that’s only found in Arabic.

Ayn ع and Ghayn غ are two of the most difficult letters for non-native speakers to pronounce because it’s not a common sound in English or other widely spoken languages.

Kha خ is the sound you make when clearing your throat, which is hard to do while speaking. This is another letter that non-native speakers have the most difficulty learning.

 

5. It’s spoken in 29 countries

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There are only 22 Arab countries in the world, but 29 countries use Arabic regularly. Countries with significant Muslim populations that aren’t Arab, such as Pakistan, Iran, and Indonesia, have many Arabic speakers. Since Arabic is the holy language of Islam, non-Arab Muslims learn the language, too. And countries that were once colonized or inhabitated by Arabs, like Spain and Malta, speak languages comprised of Arabic. As a result, there are over 300 million Arabic speakers in the world.

 

6. Arabic uses the same punctuation as English, but the symbols are inverted

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Commas, question marks, quotations, parentheses, colons and periods can all be seen in Arabic text, but instead of facing the left, the punctuation faces the right.

English ,  ?  “”

Arabic  ،  ؟  ”“

 

7. Arabic is only written in cursive

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English speakers don’t learn cursive very much anymore, but Arabic speakers aren’t ready to let go. Both writing and typing in Arabic involves connecting every letter in a word, with the exception of a few. Just like in English cursive, letters change shape from their original form so that they can flow into the next letter easily. Arabic speakers must know multiple forms of each letter, which is what contributes to the language’s difficulty.

 

8. There is no shortage of curse words

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Arabs might take the crown for the amount of swear words and phrases they have. There are many different levels to swearing: insults to your mom or sister; insults to god; calling someone an animal; telling someone to do an animal act; and common phrases that can be heard in English. Two horrible words in Arabic can easily hit harder than English insults.

 

9. Arabic has more words than Latin languages

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Arabic speakers have 11 words for love, 50 for beautiful, and another 100 for God. Since the language is over 1,500 years old, it’s had a lot of time to develop. It is one of the largest languages in the world, and rich in descriptive terms for expressing adoration.