are the Arabic languages mutually intelligible?

blank   Saturday, September 25, 2004, 19:32 GMT
I was just wondering if the Arabic languages spoken in different countries in the Middle East are mutually intelligible among speakers. I know that the writing is but I wasn't sure about the speaking.
Xatufan   Sunday, September 26, 2004, 02:03 GMT
I've heard that a man from Morocco can't understand a man from Iraq at all.

I think there's only ONE Arabic language, with a lot of varieties. I'm not sure, though.
Dulcinea del Toboso   Sunday, September 26, 2004, 03:21 GMT
The common everyday language of the street and of the home is not intelligible across the entire Arab world.

What is called "Modern Standard Arabic", which is the language of newspapers, books, and television broadcasts, that is intelligible and standardized and that form is typically what you'll find taught in western schools.

However, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is not the native language of any of the Arabic peoples - they must learn that language in school. Their native language differs from MSA in that the grammar is usually simpler and, more significantly, the vocabulary is also different. What you have is a situation called diglossia, where two registers (forms) of a language exist side-by-side and which form is used depends on the situation (e.g. whether you are with friends at a restaurant or whether you are listening to the evening news).

The local dialects are basically these: Syria-Lebanon-Jordan form the Levantine branch, Iraqi Arabic is noticeably different, Saudi Arabic, is different, and so is Egyptian Arabic. I am sure the Arabic of Libya and Morroco are different from all of these.

There is some mutual intelligibility in the dialectical forms, but someone from Morroco and someone from Syria would most likely choose to speak MSA to each other.

An interesting sidenote: Classical Arabic (that of the Quraan and other greating writings) and MSA have VSO (verb-subject-object) order. I have learned recently that there is a trend for some of the dialectical versions to shift to SVO. To me, this is nearly blasphemy! I cannot imagine Arabic being spoken that way.
Xatufan   Sunday, September 26, 2004, 16:52 GMT
Dulcinea del Toboso: Where are you from?

Arabic is beautiful, but I hate those weird, horrible Arabic letters! They give me nightmares!
Dulcinea del Toboso   Sunday, September 26, 2004, 22:05 GMT
I was born in Los Angeles, California.

Arabic script is extremely elegant; it truly is an art form. Before dismissing it, you might enjoy learning something about it. There are plenty of websites and books that will teach the basic letters and the initial, medial, and final forms of a letter, but the elegance and complexity extends far beyond that. Aside from different styles of script, which can vary from square-looking, to cursive, to flowing, there is an art to how letters are joined into ligatures and how both the letters and their connections change their shape depending on a preceding or following letter.

When you see Arabic script in the Qur'aan, taken from the Qur'aan, or on some banners (political or Islamic), you are looking at a fully vowelled script. Normal Arabic script does not write the short vowels of words; they must be inferred by context. In practice, it is not difficult to determine what a word is, partly because of context and partly because the Arabic language(s) form words based on a "triconsonantal root" system - that is, the word for a concept is represented by three consonants and, by adding vowels or prefixes, other words relating to that concept are created. A good example of how that works is written here:
Jim   Monday, September 27, 2004, 01:46 GMT
Remember what they say about where to find beauty. I like the look of the Arabic script. I can neither make head nor tail of it but it looks nice.

By the way: why the apostrophe in "Qur'aan"?
Bayou Rover   Monday, September 27, 2004, 06:44 GMT
I believe it represents a glottal stop in pronunciation. In Arabic language it's represented by a sign call hamza or hamzah.
Bayou Rover   Monday, September 27, 2004, 06:45 GMT
Dulcinea del Toboso   Monday, September 27, 2004, 08:56 GMT
Yes, "Qur'aan" in Arabic consists of the letters qaaf, raa', hamza, alif, and nun (i.e. [q] [r] ['] [aa] [n]) and the hamza is a glottal stop. One rule of Arabic writing is where and how the hamza can appear. In this case, hamza before an alif is written as a special letter called madda and is usually transcribed as 'aa.
Xatufan   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 02:44 GMT
Arabic writing is messy, complex and difficult! But it's still an art.

Hebrew writing is even worse.

"Salaam" is "shalom". I think that's because Hebrew and Arabic(s) are cousins and they use the same three letters: s - l - m
Bayou Rover   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 08:30 GMT
Yes, you may find many similarities between them because they both belong to Semitic languages.

Well, I won’t say Arabic script is messy but I guess it’s rather complex. When I’ve started learning Arabic, I might’ve felt the same way, but after many orthography classes I’ve managed to be somewhat intuitive when it comes to using specific form of letters according to its position in the word. I guess it was hard, but I thought that learning Japanese or Chinese script is going to be as difficult as Arabic since Arabic’s scrip is nothing like Roman alphabet.

Mainly I learned Arabic for business purposes; but it was useful in college as well. Since I traveled to many Arabic speaking regions, I was amazed of their everyday vocabulary. In many places like Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, people spoke French most of the time and sometimes they made some kind of pidgin made up of Arabic and French. Recently I’ve been to Sudan, a country located in Africa south of Egypt. Well, I couldn’t speak Arabic for most of the time because I didn’t understand a single word but after deep examining I figured out they speak Arabic in a different way (Can I say dialect?); and they use a huge amount of English vocabulary pronounced in a strange way.
blank   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 12:56 GMT
Bayou Rover

So were you able to understand the Sudanese after you figured out they were speeking a dialect? I've heard that difference between Arabic in different countries is roughly comparable to the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. Do you find this to be true?

And also, do you mind me asking how long it has taken you to learn Arabic and is it possible to emerse oneself in the language or do too many people speak English or French over there?
Juan   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 13:08 GMT
<<Spanish and Portuguese. Do you find this to be true?

I'm only able to catch and comprehend roughly 10% of what a Brazilian is saying.
Tremmert   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 13:58 GMT
One difficulty with Hebrew might be that the written alphabet looks quite different to the printed alphabet. Is Arabic similar?
Bayou Rover   Tuesday, September 28, 2004, 19:43 GMT

<<I've heard that difference between Arabic in different countries is roughly comparable to the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. Do you find this to be true? >>

Well, I can't say for sure because my knowledge in both languages is limited. What I can tell you is that you might find a huge difference in Arabic depending on the geographical region. For example, Arabic in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon seemed to some degree seemed similar but still I can't say it is a general rule.
Well, it took me about four years but I wasn't in a rush...If you really want to learn any language you can immerse yourself in it. The keyword is motive, consistence, and effort, I suppose.


Arabic alphabet is quite different from Hebrew's but it might cause a difficulty for anyone who is not familiar with Semitic languages. Here is a link you may view Arabic script.