The Arabic script evolved from the Nabataean
Aramaic script. It has been used since the 4th century AD, but
the earliest document, an inscription in Arabic, Syriac
and Greek, dates from 512
AD. The Aramaic language has fewer consonants than Arabic, so during
the 7th century new Arabic letters were created by adding dots to existing
letters in order to avoid ambiguities. Further diacritics indicating
short vowels were introduced, but are only generally used to ensure
the Qur'an was read aloud without mistakes.
There are two main types of written Arabic:
Classical Arabic - the language of the Qur'an and classical
literature. It differs from Modern Standard Arabic mainly in style
and vocabulary, some of which is archaic. All Muslims are expected
to recite the Qur'an in the original language, however many rely on
translations in order to understand the text.
Modern Standard Arabic (اللغة العربية الفصحى / al-luġatu l-ʿarabiyyatu l-fuṣḥā) - the universal language of the Arabic-speaking
world which is understood by all Arabic speakers. It is the language
of the vast majority of written material and of formal TV shows, lectures,
Each Arabic speaking country or region also has its own variety of
colloquial spoken Arabic. These colloquial varieties of Arabic appear
in written form in some poetry, cartoons and comics, plays and personal
letters. There are also translations of the bible into most varieties
of colloquial Arabic.
Direction of writing: words are written in horizontal lines from
right to left, numerals are written from left to right
Number of letters: 28 (in Arabic) - some additional letters
are used in Arabic when writing placenames or foreign words containing
sounds which do not occur in Standard Arabic, such as /p/ or /g/.
Additional letters are used when writing other languages.
Most letters change form depending on whether they appear at the
beginning, middle or end of a word, or on their own. (see
Letters that can be joined are always joined in both hand-written
and printed Arabic. The only exceptions to this rule are crossword
puzzles and signs in which the script is written vertically.
The long vowels /a:/, /i:/ and /u:/ are represented by the letters
'alif, yā' and wāw respectively.
Vowel diacritics, which are used to mark short vowels, and other special
symbols appear only in the Qur'an. They are also used, though
with less consistency, in other religious texts, in classical poetry,
in books for children and foreign learners, and occasionally in complex texts to
avoid ambiguity. Sometimes the diacritics are used for decorative purposes
in book titles, letterheads, nameplates, etc.
The transliteration of consonants used above is the ISO version of 1984. There
are various other ways of transliterating Arabic.
This chart shows how the letters change in different positions
Arabic vowel diacritics and other symbols
Download an Arabic alphabet chart in Word
or PDF format
Arabic numerals and numbers
These numerals are those used when writing Arabic and are written from left
to right. In Arabic they are known as "Indian numbers" (أرقام
هندية arqa-m hindiyyah). The term 'Arabic numerals' is
also used to refer to 1, 2, 3, etc.
The Arabic language
Arabic is a Semitic language with about 221 million speakers in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain,
Chad, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Palestinian West Bank & Gaza, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
There are over 30 different varieties of colloquial Arabic which
Egyptian - spoken by about 50 million
people in Egypt and perhaps the most widely understood variety, thanks to the popularity
of Egyptian-made films and TV shows
Algerian - spoken by about 22 million people in Algeria
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)