A History of the Arabic Language

The Arabic language is not well known in the Western world. Having studied the language for almost three years now, I could be considered something of an expert on the language. Thatís not to say, however, that I always knew a lot about Arabic. I certainly wasnít an expert when I initially decided to fulfil the non-Indo-European language requirement for my Linguistics major by studying Arabic instead of Chinese, as I had previously planned. In fact, my knowledge of Arabic up to that point could probably have been summed up in one succinct phrase: I think Arabs speak Arabic!

The fact that Arabic is not well known in the Western world should perhaps be considered a point of regret considering that the Arabic language is spoken natively by over 150 million people (Kaye 664). Moreover, it functions as a liturgical language for the hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the Earth. It is truly one of the great modern languages of the world. At the same time, as I have learned through my study, Arabic is not a language without deep historical roots. In fact, the history of the Arabic language is one which spans the centuries from well before the advent of the Christian era to modern times. In this paper, I will trace the history of the Arabic language from its roots in Proto-Semitic to the modern linguistic situation in the Arabic-speaking world. In particular, I will focus on the various phonological, morphological, and syntactic changes which together have created Arabicís unique dialectal situation.

Brian Bishop
Linguistics 450
April 24, 1998

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