Is Arabic A Dead Language? Or Is It Dying?
- Mille Larsen •6 mins read
Some people today consider Arabic to be potentially dead. Certainly, people are guessing that a language that we know from multi-century old scripture would probably be dying out by now. This might not exactly be true.
The ancient Arabic language - known as the sacred language of Muhammad and Allah - has been around for well over 3,000 years. Arabic is used in the Quran (the holy book of Islam) and is spoken by an estimated 420 million people worldwide, keeping in mind all the different dialects and or varieties of the language. The Arabic language is neither dead, nor dying. In fact, it's used daily by several million people, but it has changed a great deal from what it was thousands of years ago.
Today, Arabic is spoken as the official and national language in several countries in and around the Middle East - including the Arabian Peninsula and several Northern African countries.
So, Is Arabic A “Dead” Language? And What Exactly Is Meant By A “Dead Language”?
Now, the question “is the Arabic language dying out” will not be so easy to answer. What exactly is the meaning of a “dead language”? Basically, a dead language is one that is not spoken or used in everyday talk anymore, but with Arabic, it's a little more complicated.
Latin would be a good example of an almost extinct language - it is no longer in widespread use and doesn’t have any native speakers still alive today. Arabic, however, is not a dead language - at least not Ammiya (colloquial, informal Arabic) and Fusha Arabic (Modern Standard Arabic).
What Are Some Of The Distinct Types And Varieties Of Spoken Arabic?
Arabic is not just Arabic, which is why you cannot simply look at it as one entity when looking into its use today.
Along with the several different dialects of Arabic, the language has three unique ways it is spoken. Classical and Quranic Arabic, Fusha and Ammiya are the three main branches of Arabic.
Classical and Quranic Arabic
Some consider this this first type of "real" Arabic and it's a development of a language we refer to as “Old Arabic”. Classical Arabic has survived in ancient Arabic scripts, novels, poetry and religious books - such as the Quran.
This form of Arabic is rarely used today in everyday language and is known to be extremely difficult to grasp - unlike the other forms of written and spoken Arabic.
Is Classical Or Quranic Arabic Dead?
Classical Arabic hasn't been used outside of religious contexts for several centuries. Most of the Arabic people today have an idea of this type of Arabic but do not have a full grasp on it.
There are no native Classical Arabic speakers alive today. This older, more formal type of the Arabic language is a little like the old English language that was used to write the bible.
Today, we wouldn’t necessarily use that type of arcane language in our daily lives. The Classical and Quranic Arabic will only be preserved in ancient texts and scriptures - like the Quran. While there are no native Classical Arabic speakers alive today, it will always remain the only accepted language of the Quran.
As a spoken language, Classical and Quranic Arabic died many centuries ago and remains dead as an everyday language - with respect to usage in prayer and other Islamic religious activities.
Though there aren’t any people who natively speak the old language, many can still read and understand it today. Classical and Quranic Arabic will always be studied, but no future potential for growth can be guaranteed. (Or likely!)
Fusha, Or Modern Standard Arabic
Fusha - also known as Modern Standard Arabic - is another formal type of Arabic. It was taken from, and based on the Classical and Quranic Arabic, but slightly modified and simplified to work in a modern context.
Arabic Fusha is taught at schools in all Arab-speaking countries as the first or second language. This is the type of Arabic that is used formally over television, radio, newspapers and magazines.
Is Fusha Arabic Dead? If Not, Will It Soon Die Out?
While Fusha Arabic is spoken in every Arabic-speaking country, it is not really used anywhere other than in religious prayers, books, social media, TV and among politicians. Fusha Arabic remains well and alive, but it stays more difficult to comprehend than other informal types of Arabic.
Arabic people typically learn Fusha in school but, for the most part, will never really use it again in their daily lives and are left to try and remember what they have learned, or practice with television and social media.
Although not used as an everyday- or a colloquial language, Fusha Arabic will remain in use because it is the unifying language of all the Arabic speaking countries - given the different dialects of Arabic - and the presence of this form of Arabic in all news stations and media outlets.
Ammiya, Or Colloquial Arabic
Ammiya is another type of spoken Arabic. Or rather, it's more than just one type, it's several! It comes in many forms and varies in every Arabic speaking country. This type of Arabic might not be understood when one Arabic speaker from one country uses it with another Arabic speaker from another country.
Because of this distinction, Arabic Fusha - unlike Ammiya - remains the uniting language and more formal communication for all the Arabic speaking people. Arabic Ammiya is a colloquial language and much more conversational than Fusha Arabic.
This form of the language is easier to grasp and the Arabic speaking people speak in Ammiya more naturally. In most of the Arabic countries, many towns have their own dialect. At times, it’s even tough to fully understand someone from a neighboring town or city!
Is Ammiya Arabic Dead? Will It Die Out Eventually In The Future?
Ammiya is not dead and it's unlikely that any of its different dialects are to die out anytime soon. Rather, these forms of the language will continue to grow throughout the years.
As the Arabic speaking population grows, and many Arabic speakers migrate to other countries - conversational Arabic (Ammiya) will remain more important and in use than formal, Fusha Arabic.
The Future Of The Arabic Language
The Arabic speaking population has been drastically rising in the last few decades, with Arabic remaining the first language for most of these people. The Arabic language is the 6th most spoken language in the world, with speakers currently on the rise.
So, Is The Arabic Language Actually Dead, Or Growing?
It’s safe for me to say that the Arabic language is well and alive. The future of this language is looking bright as the Arabic speaking population grows. The Quranic and Classical Arabic variants may not be in use anymore, but the newer versions of this language are flourishing.