Arabic Dialects has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel. 

Original video was published on July 5, 2018

Today I’m going to talk about Arabic. I’m going to talk about the dialects or versions of Arabic and my strategy in learning Arabic.

Now, first of all, my interest in Arabic. I have for a long time wanted to learn Arabic because it’s one of the major languages or language groups in the world. I guess it was in October of last year I visited Jordan. I visited Petra and that kind of spurred me on. I was in Israel and briefly started Hebrew, but there aren’t that many Hebrew speakers in the world. There are an awful lot of Arabic speakers, so I decided to focus on Arabic.

Which Arabic Dialect Should I Learn

Now, I had a comment here from one of my followers, subscribers or these viewers who had sort of the following comment to make. He or she said if you’re focusing on Modern Standard Arabic you’re going to mess up your Arabic because there are so many different versions or dialects. They all have different pronunciations, syntax, grammar and you’re going to make a mess of your Arabic. His point number one. Point number two he said, I don’t know what funny flag you’re using at LingQ for Arabic, but you shouldn’t use that you should use some other flag.

Okay. With regard to the flag I think he’s right. I didn’t know what flag was chosen by our design people. I checked with them and they had found this flag on the internet, which was the flag of something called The Arab Federation which was some kind of a political movement that didn’t go very far. One of my viewers suggested using another flag, which I think is the flag The League of Arab States. At any rate, we have decided that we will change the flag. So that’s going to happen.

Now, with regard to my strategy in learning Arabic. Let’s look at Arabic. Arabic is spoken by over 400 million people in the world. That’s a major, major language group., just as say Romance languages are spoken by let’s say 700 million people in the world, Germanic languages, Turkic languages, Slavic languages. There are these large language families. In my own case, I have learned five Romance languages, five Slavic languages, three or four Germanic languages and I could learn more, like Dutch. I could probably go after Danish.

If you learn one form of the language it doesn’t prevent you from learning other forms. In fact, it makes it easier. If I look at my possible interaction with Arabic, most of it is going to be reading because I don’t have that many Arabic-speaking friends and I’m not about to spend a lot of time in Saudi Arabia or in Lebanon or in Morocco, but I can always read Al Jazeera or some other source to get a sense of what’s happening and what Arab speakers think. I can watch television or radio and things of that nature. So it’s more of a passive involvement. Point number one.

Point number two, I have to be able to read. My way of learning is very much dependent on reading. I like reading. In any case, I have to get a good grip on the Arabic script, so I might just as well learn Modern Standard Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is a bit like Latin. It’s the language of the Koran, just as Latin was the language certainly of the Catholic Church. It’s sort of a base from which these other languages have sprung or maybe it’s just a form of the language separate from the way that people speak, but it has the advantage of being a common denominator. I’m speaking from ignorance, just as we chose the flag from ignorance, but wherever you go in the Arabic world whatever you’re going to read is going to be in standard Arabic. Chances are that radio and television is going to be in standard Arabic, at least some of it will be. So, to some extent, it’s a Lingua Franca, just like Latin was a Lingua Franca.

I do want to learn some of the versions of Arabic, at least to be able to understand them. So, for example, at LingQ where we are increasing our Arabic content and I’ll talk a bit about that, we are also adding content in Levantine Arabic. I hope to add some content in Egyptian Arabic so that people can also hear these other forms. If they need to work more on those forms of the Arabic language they can do so and I may very well do so in the future.

If we look at a map of where Arabic is spoken, as I understand it from reading, it’s a language that came from Saudi Arabia, Yemen or somewhere down there and gradually moved up with the advance of Islam. So much like Christianity and European languages were spread by armies, explorers and missionaries, some of the same happened with the spread of the Arabic language and Islam spreading as far along the North African coast right to southern Spain and going east quite a ways.

So languages that were spoken in these areas, before Berber in North Africa or Coptic in Egypt or Aramaic or Syriac in what is now sort of the Levant, Lebanon, Syria and so forth, were gradually replaced by Arabic and this process of Arabization has continued up until recent times when Berber, Syrian or Aramaic have been suppressed in favor of Arabic. The influences of these local languages and the influence of other colonizers, such as French colonizers or British colonizers, have influenced the different regional versions of Arabic.

What I’ll be Focusing On

So, yes, I’m going to focus on Modern Standard Arabic through my reading and listening, but I do eventually want to learn some of the other varieties of Arabic. For example, I had intended to go to Lebanon because I’m going to visit my son and his family in London over Christmas. We were going to go early and I was going to fly to Lebanon, Beirut, spend five-six days. I was going to try to get some sense of Levantine Arabic, until I discovered that the fact that I had been to Israel meant that I couldn’t go to Lebanon.

By the way, I picked up this t-shirt when I was in Israel and it says Shalom — Peace and Salaam — Peace. Hebrew up here is also a related language, related to this Semitic group of languages, as is Aramaic and so forth. By the way, Petra was built by the Nabataeans who spoke Aramaic, if I’m not mistaken, or maybe they spoke Nabataean. They were Christians when they created the wonderful carvings that you see in Petra and they subsequently became Muslim. So this whole world of Arabic speaking and even related languages is quite large.

It’s also worth noting that Arabic has influenced other languages. We’ve started now with Farsi at LingQ, I’ve started looking at Farsi and I see words that obviously come from Arabic in Farsi. So Arabic has influenced a number of languages, including, of course, European languages. Algebra, arithmetic and stuff I think are words that come from Arabic.

Getting back to my strategy, learning languages is about exploring. So now we are adding content to LingQ and I have discovered a blogger in Egypt who puts out wonderful articles on a variety of subjects and he has agreed to record, to narrate these blog posts and we are uploading these as content at LingQ. He talks about interesting subjects, for example, biographies. I’ve only read two of them. These were outstanding Muslim scholars in the sort of golden age of Muslim culture, which is the eighth to fourteenth century. It’s easy enough to go to Wikipedia and see what these wonderful scientists did.

It’s interesting to note that one of them was from Morocco, but I think an Arab. He was the outstanding geographer of the world up until fairly recently; very accurate maps and so forth. The other is actually a Persian. He wrote in Arabic, but he spoke Farsi. He spoke something which is related to Sogdian and Sogdian was the Lingua Franca of the Silk Road. Interesting connections here everywhere.

The point is that through my study of Modern Standard Arabic I come into contact with interesting people, such as bloggers. I’m going to leave a link to it in the description box. So I’m exploring, I’m learning. Oh, since my wife and I can’t go to Lebanon, because if you’ve been to Israel they won’t let you into Lebanon, we’re going to have a side trip into Morocco. We’re going to go to Fez and tour around for a week or so, so before going I’m going to have a bit of a look at Moroccan Arabic.

Just as learning Russian helped me to learn Czech and Ukrainian and Polish or knowing French, that helped me to learn Spanish and ultimately even Romanian, I’m quite sure the work that I put into learning Modern Standard Arabic is only going to make it easier for me to learn or at least to understand forms of Arabic that I need for particular situations.

Learning Latin might be a parallel to learning Modern Standard Arabic, but if you travel in parts of the world where the Romance languages are spoken you don’t see signs in Latin, whereas I understand that the script of Modern Standard Arabic is standard in newspapers and so forth and so on. So I’m going to stick with my strategy, but I do look forward to hearing from my viewers and if they have any comments that might be helpful to me or to other people who are learning Arabic.

Thank you for listening, bye for now.