Social:Modern Standard Arabic

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Short description: Formal literary variety of Arabic
Modern Standard Arabic
العربية الفصحى
al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā[lower-alpha 1]
Arabic albayancalligraphy.svg
al-ʻArabīyah written in Arabic (Naskh script)
Pronunciation/al ʕaraˈbijja lˈfusˤħaː/, see variations[lower-alpha 2]
RegionArab world
Middle East and North Africa
UsersL1: 0 (2022)[1][lower-alpha 3]
L2: 270 million (2022)[1]
Early forms
Arabic alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-3arb
Arabic speaking world.svg
  Sole official language, Arabic-speaking majority
  Sole official language, Arabic-speaking minority
  Co-official language, Arabic-speaking majority
  Co-official language, Arabic-speaking minority
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Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or Modern Written Arabic (MWA)[4] is the variety of standardized, literary Arabic that developed in the Arab world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,[5][6] and in some usages also the variety of spoken Arabic that approximates this written standard.[7] MSA is the language used in literature, academia, print and mass media, law and legislation, though it is generally not spoken as a first language, similar to Contemporary Latin.[6] It is a pluricentric standard language taught throughout the Arab world in formal education, differing significantly from many vernacular varieties of Arabic that are commonly spoken as mother tongues in the area; these are only partially mutually intelligible with both MSA and with each other depending on their proximity in the Arabic dialect continuum.

Many linguists consider MSA to be distinct from Classical Arabic (CA; اللغة العربية الفصحى التراثية al-Lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā at-Turāthīyah) – the written language prior to the mid-19th century – although there is no agreed moment at which CA turned into MSA.[8] There are also no agreed set of linguistic criteria which distinguish CA from MSA,[8] however MSA differs most markedly in that it either synthesizes words from Arabic roots (such as سيارة car or باخرة steamship) or adapts words from foreign languages (such as ورشة workshop or إنترنت Internet) to describe industrial and post-industrial life.

Native speakers of Arabic generally do not distinguish between "Modern Standard Arabic" and "Classical Arabic" as separate languages; they refer to both as al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā (العربية الفصحى) meaning "the eloquent Arabic".[9] They consider the two forms to be two historical periods of one language. When the distinction is made, they are referred to as فصحى العصر Fuṣḥā al-ʻAṣr (MSA) and فصحى التراث Fuṣḥā at-Turāth (CA).[9]


Classical Arabic

Main page: Social:Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic, also known as Quranic Arabic (although the term is not entirely accurate), is the language used in the Quran as well as in numerous literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries). Many Muslims study Classical Arabic in order to read the Quran in its original language. Written Classical Arabic underwent fundamental changes during the early Islamic era, adding dots to distinguish similarly written letters, and adding the tashkīl (diacritical markings that guide pronunciation) by Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, and other scholars. It was the lingua franca across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa during classic times and in Andalusia before classic times.[10]

Emergence of Modern Standard Arabic

Napoleon's campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) is generally considered to be the starting point of the modern period of the Arabic language, when the intensity of contacts between the Western world and Arabic culture increased.[11] Napoleon introduced a printing press in Egypt in 1798; it briefly disappeared after the French departure in 1801, but Muhammad Ali Pasha, who also sent students to Italy, France and England to study military and applied sciences in 1809, reintroduced it a few years later in Boulaq, Cairo.[11] (Previously, Arabic-language presses had been introduced locally in Lebanon in 1610, and in Aleppo, Syria in 1702[11]). The first Arabic printed newspaper was established in 1828: the bilingual Turkish-Arabic Al-Waqa'i' al-Misriyya had great influence in the formation of Modern Standard Arabic.[11] It was followed by Al-Ahram (1875) and al-Muqattam (1889).[11] The Western–Arabic contacts and technological developments in especially the newspaper industry indirectly caused the revival of Arabic literature, or Nahda, in the late 19th and early 20th century.[11] Another important development was the establishment of Arabic-only schools in reaction against the Turkification of Arabic-majority areas under Ottoman rule.[11]

Current situation

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the literary standard across the Middle East, North Africa and Horn of Africa, and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations . Most printed material by the Arab League—including most books, newspapers, magazines, official documents, and reading primers for small children—is written in MSA.[citation needed] "Colloquial" Arabic refers to the many regional dialects derived from Classical Arabic spoken daily across the region and learned as a first language, and as second language if people speak other languages native to their particular country. They are not normally written, although a certain amount of literature (particularly plays and poetry, including songs) exists in many of them.[12]

Literary Arabic (MSA) is the official language of all Arab League countries and is the only form of Arabic taught in schools at all stages.[citation needed] Additionally, some members of religious minorities recite prayers in it, as it is considered the literary language. Translated versions of the Bible which are used in Arabic-speaking countries are mostly written in MSA, aside from Classical Arabic.[clarification needed] Muslims recite prayers in it; revised editions of numerous literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times are also written in MSA.[citation needed]

The sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in modern times provides a prime example of the linguistic phenomenon of diglossia – the use of two distinct varieties of the same language, usually in different social contexts.[13] This diglossic situation facilitates code-switching in which a speaker switches back and forth between the two dialects of the language, sometimes even within the same sentence. People speak MSA as a third language if they speak other languages native to a country as their first language and colloquial Arabic dialects as their second language. Modern Standard Arabic is also spoken by people of Arab descent outside the Arab world when people of Arab descent speaking different dialects communicate to each other. As there is a prestige or standard dialect of vernacular Arabic, speakers of standard colloquial dialects code-switch between these particular dialects and MSA.[citation needed]

Classical Arabic is considered normative; a few contemporary authors attempt (with varying degrees of success) to follow the syntactic and grammatical norms laid down by classical grammarians (such as Sibawayh) and to use the vocabulary defined in classical dictionaries (such as the Lisan al-Arab, Arabic: لِسَان الْعَرَب).[citation needed]

However, the exigencies of modernity have led to the adoption of numerous terms which would have been mysterious to a classical author, whether taken from other languages (e. g. فيلم film) or coined from existing lexical resources (e. g. هاتف hātif  "caller" > "telephone").[citation needed] Structural influence from foreign languages or from the vernaculars has also affected Modern Standard Arabic: for example, MSA texts sometimes use the format "A, B, C and D" when listing things, whereas Classical Arabic prefers "A and B and C and D", and subject-initial sentences may be more common in MSA than in Classical Arabic.[14] For these reasons, Modern Standard Arabic is generally treated separately in non-Arab sources.[15] Speakers of Modern Standard Arabic do not always observe the intricate rules of Classical Arabic grammar. Modern Standard Arabic principally differs from Classical Arabic in three areas: lexicon, stylistics, and certain innovations on the periphery that are not strictly regulated by the classical authorities. On the whole, Modern Standard Arabic is not homogeneous; there are authors who write in a style very close to the classical models and others who try to create new stylistic patterns.[16] Add to this regional differences in vocabulary depending upon the influence of the local Arabic varieties and the influences of foreign languages, such as French in Africa and Lebanon or English in Egypt, Jordan, and other countries.[17]

As MSA is a revised and simplified form of Classical Arabic, MSA in terms of lexicon omitted the obsolete words used in Classical Arabic. As diglossia is involved, various Arabic dialects freely borrow words from MSA. This situation is similar to Romance languages, wherein scores of words were borrowed directly from formal Latin (most literate Romance speakers were also literate in Latin); educated speakers of standard colloquial dialects speak in this kind of communication.[citation needed]

Reading out loud in MSA for various reasons is becoming increasingly simpler, using less strict rules compared to CA, notably the inflection is omitted, making it closer to spoken varieties of Arabic. It depends on the speaker's knowledge and attitude to the grammar of Classical Arabic, as well as the region and the intended audience.[citation needed]

Pronunciation of native words, loanwords, and foreign names in MSA is loose. Names can be pronounced or even spelled differently in different regions and by different speakers. Pronunciation also depends on the person's education, linguistic knowledge, and abilities. There may be sounds used which are missing in Classical Arabic but exist in colloquial varieties. For example, the consonants /v/, /p/, /t͡ʃ/ (often realized as [t]+[ʃ]) (which may or may not be written with special letters) and the vowels [o], [e] (both short and long). There are no special letters in Arabic to distinguish between [e~i] and [o~u] pairs but the sounds o and e (short and long) exist in the colloquial varieties of Arabic and some foreign words in MSA.



Modern Standard Arabic consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Denti-alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic
Nasal mم nن
Stop voiceless tت ط kك qق ʔء
voiced bب dد ض d͡ʒ[lower-alpha 4]ج
Fricative voiceless fف θث sس ص ʃش x ~ χخ ħح hه
voiced ðذ zز ðˤظ ɣ ~ ʁغ ʕع
Trill rر
Approximant lل ɫ[lower-alpha 5] jي wو


Modern Standard Arabic, like Classical Arabic before it, has three pairs of long and short vowels: /a/, /i/, and /u/:

Modern Standard Arabic vowel phonemes
Short Long
Front Back Front Back
Close i u
Mid ()* ()*
Open a

* Footnote: although not part of Standard Arabic phonology the vowels /eː/ and /oː/ are perceived as separate phonemes in most of modern Arabic dialects and they are used when speaking Modern Standard Arabic as part of foreign words or when speaking it with a colloquial tone.

  • Across North Africa and West Asia, short /i/ may be realized as [ɪ ~ e ~ ɨ] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r], [ħ], [ʕ] depending on the accent.
  • Short /u/ can also have different realizations, i.e. [ʊ ~ o ~ ʉ]. Sometimes with one value for each vowel in both short and long lengths or two different values for each short and long lengths.
  • In Egypt, close vowels have different values; short initial or medial: [e][o] ← instead of /i, u/.
  • In some other particular dialects /i~ɪ/ and /u~ʊ/ completely become /e/ and /o/ respectively.
  • Allophones of /a/ and /aː/ include [ɑ] and [ɑː] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r]; and [æ] and [æː] elsewhere.
  • Allophones of /iː/ include [ɪː]~[ɨː] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r], [ħ], [ʕ].
  • Allophones of /uː/ include [ʊː]~[ɤː]~[] before or adjacent to emphatic consonants and [q], [r], [ħ], [ʕ].
  • Unstressed final long /aː, iː, uː/ are most often shortened or reduced: /aː/ → [æ ~ ɑ], /iː/ → /i/, /uː/ → [o~u].

Differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic

While there are differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic, Arabic speakers tend to find these differences unimportant, and generally refer to both by the same name: al-ʻArabīyah al-Fuṣḥā ('the most eloquent Arabic').[citation needed]

Differences in syntax

MSA tends to use simplified sentence structures and drop more complicated ones commonly used in Classical Arabic. Some examples include reliance on verb sentences (sentences that begin with a verb) instead of noun phrases and semi-sentences, as well as avoiding phrasal adjectives and accommodating feminine forms of ranks and job titles.[citation needed]

Differences in terminology

Because MSA speech occurs in fields with novel concepts, including technical literature and scientific domains, the need for terms that did not exist in the time of CA has led to coining new terms. Arabic Language Academies had attempted to fulfill this role during the second half of the 20th century with neologisms with Arab roots, but MSA typically borrows terms from other languages to coin new terminology.[19]

Differences in pronunciation

MSA includes two sounds not present in CA, particularly /p/ and /v/, which occur in loanwords.

Regional variants

MSA is loosely uniform across the Middle East as it is based on the convention of Arabic speakers rather than being a regulated language which rules are followed (that is despite the number of academies regulating Arabic). It can be thought of as being in a continuum between CA (the regulated language described in grammar books) and the spoken vernaculars while leaning much more to CA in its written form than its spoken form.[citation needed]

Regional variations exist due to influence from the spoken vernaculars. TV hosts who read prepared MSA scripts, for example in Al Jazeera, are ordered to give up national or ethnic pronunciations by changing their pronunciation of certain phonemes (e.g. the realization of the Classical jīm ج as [ɡ] by Egyptians), though other traits may show the speaker's region, such as the stress and the exact value of vowels and the pronunciation of other consonants. People who speak MSA also mix vernacular and Classical in pronunciation, words, and grammatical forms. Classical/vernacular mixing in formal writing can also be found (e.g., in some Egyptian newspaper editorials); others are written in Modern Standard/vernacular mixing, including entertainment news.[citation needed]


According to Ethnologue there are no native speakers of Modern Standard Arabic, but a total of 273,989,700 second language speakers in the world. They add that: "In most Arab countries only the well-educated have adequate proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic."[20] People who are literate in Modern Standard Arabic are primarily found in countries of the Arab League. It is compulsory in schools of most of the Arab League to learn Modern Standard Arabic. People who are literate in the language are usually more so passively, as they mostly use the language in reading and writing, not in speaking.[citation needed] In Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, French is the language of higher education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),[21] while in the Gulf region it is English.[22]

Several reports mentioned that the use of Modern Standard Arabic was on the decline in the Arab world,[23] especially in Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates where foreign workers make up more than 80% of the population and where English has become the lingua franca of commerce, media, and education.[22] Content in Modern Standard Arabic is also under-represented online and in literature.[24][23][25]

According to the 2017 Arab Youth Survey done by polling firm PSB Insights, 54% of respondents (young urban Arabs aged 18 to 24) agreed with the statement: "On a daily basis, I use English more than Arabic." They were 68% in GCC countries.[26][27] The New York Times reported that most Arab students of Northwestern University in Qatar and Georgetown University in Qatar did not have "professional proficiency" in Modern Standard Arabic.[28]


Common phrases

Translation Phrase IPA Romanization (ALA-LC)
Arabic العربية /alʕaraˈbij.ja/ al-ʻArabiyyah
English الإنجليزية/الإنكليزية (varies) /alʔing(i)li(ː)ˈzij.ja/ (may vary) al-ing(i)līziyyah
Hello مرحباً /marħaban/ marḥaban
Peace [be] with you (lit. upon you) السلام عليكم /assaˈlaːmu ʕaˈlajkum/ as-salāmu ʻalaykum
What is your name? ما اسمك؟ /masmuk, -ki/ masmuka / -ki?
How are you? كيف حالك؟ /ˈkajfa ˈħaːluk, -luki/ kayfa ḥāluk, ḥāluki
Thanks شكراً /ˈʃukran/ shukran
Welcome أهلاً وسهلاً /ʔahlan wa sahlan/ ahlan wa-sahlan
See you إلى اللقاء /ʔila l.liqaːʔ/ ila al-liqāʼ
Goodbye مع السلامة /maʕa s.saˈlaːma/ maʻa as-salāmah
Please من فضلك /min ˈfadˤlik/ min faḍlik
I don't know لا أعرف /laː ˈʔaʕrif/ lā aʻrif
That (one) ذلك /ˈðaːlik/ dhālik
How much/How many? كم؟ /kam/ kam?
What? ماذا؟ /maː.ðaː/ māḏā?
Yes نعم /na.ʕam/ naʿam
No لأ /laː/

See also

  • Arabic
  • Varieties of Arabic
  • Arabic literature
  • Arab League
  • List of countries and territories where Arabic is an official language
  • A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic
  • Arabic–English Lexicon
  • Diglossia
  • Arabic phonology
  • Help:IPA/Arabic
  • Pluricentric language


  1. Spelling for the final letter yāʼ differs in Egypt, Sudan and sometimes other regions as Yemen. It is always undotted ى, hence عربى فصيح.
  2. Pronunciation varies regionally. The following are examples:
  3. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is not used as a native language. Arabic speakers first learn to speak their respective local dialect. MSA is acquired through formal education.[1]
  4. The standard consonant varies regionally, most prominently [d͡ʒ] in the Arabian Peninsula, parts of the Levant, Iraq, and northern Algeria and Sudan, [ʒ] in most of Northwest Africa and the Levant, [g] in Egypt, Oman, and coastal Yemen.
  5. The marginal phoneme /ɫ/ only occurs in the word الله /aɫ.ɫaːh/ ('The God') and words derived from it.[18]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Modern Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  2. "Basic Law: Israel - The Nation State of the Jewish People". Knesset. 2018-07-19. 
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds (2017). "Standard Arabic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. Gully, Adrian; Carter, Mike; Badawi, Elsaid (July 29, 2015). Modern Written Arabic: A Comprehensive Grammar (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-0415667494. 
  5. Giolfo and, Manuela E.B.; Sinatora, Francesco L. (2018-04-27), Keskin, Tugrul, ed., "Orientalism and Neo-Orientalism: Arabic Representations and the Study of Arabic", Middle East Studies after September 11 (BRILL): pp. 81–99, doi:10.1163/9789004359901_005, ISBN 978-90-04-28153-0,, retrieved 2023-06-14 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kamusella, Tomasz (2017). "The Arabic Language: A Latin of Modernity?". Journal of Nationalism, Memory & Language Politics 11 (2): 117–145. doi:10.1515/jnmlp-2017-0006. 
  7. Alhawary, Mohammad. Modern Standard Arabic. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, p. 24.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Holes, C.; Allen, R. (2004). Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties. Georgetown classics in Arabic language and linguistics. Georgetown University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-58901-022-2. "…there is no chronological point at which CLA turned into MSA, still less any agreed set of linguistic criteria that could differentiate the two. MSA is merely a handy label used in western scholarship to denote the written language from about the middle of the nineteenth century, when concerted efforts began to modernize it lexically and phraseologically. Most western scholars refer to the formal written language before that date, and par excellence before the eclipse of Arab political power in the fifteenth century, as "Classical Arabic"." 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Alaa Elgibali and El-Said M. Badawi. Understanding Arabic: Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said M. Badawi, 1996. Page 105.
  10. "2023 Best Academy To Learn Quran And Arabic Online - Surah Institute" (in en-US). 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 van Mol, Mark (2003). Variation in Modern Standard Arabic in Radio News Broadcasts: A Synchronic Descriptive Investigation Into the Use of Complementary Particles. Leuven: Peeters Publishers. pp. 25–27. ISBN 9789042911581. Retrieved 9 July 2020. 
  12. "2023 Best Academy To Learn Quran And Arabic Online - Surah Institute" (in en-US). 
  13. Farghaly, A., Shaalan, K. Arabic Natural Language Processing: Challenges and Solutions, ACM Transactions on Asian Language Information Processing (TALIP), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 8(4)1-22, December 2009.
  14. Alan S. Kaye (1991). "The Hamzat al-Waṣl in Contemporary Modern Standard Arabic". Journal of the American Oriental Society 111 (3): 572–574. doi:10.2307/604273. 
  15. "Modern Standard Arabic". 
  16. Arabic Language Dialects
  17. Wolfdietrich Fischer. 1997. "Classical Arabic," The Semitic Languages. London: Routledge. Pg 189.
  18. Watson (2002:16)
  19. Arabic, AL. "White Paper". 
  20. "Arabic, Standard", 24th Edition, Ethnologue.
  21. "Remplacer le français par l’anglais à l’université ? Polémique linguistique en Algérie", Madjid Zerrouky, Le Monde, 30 July 2019.
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Is Arabic a dying language?", Tom Hundley, 24 Feb 2010, MinnPost.
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Standard Arabic is on the decline: Here's what's worrying about that", 21 May 2018, Hossam Abouzahr, Atlantic Council.
  24. "The uncertain future of Modern Standard Arabic: A language in decline", Sawsan Khalaf, 22 May 2018,
  25. Sabbah, Sabah. (2015). Is Standard Arabic Dying?. Arab World English Journal. 6. 54-65. 10.24093/awej/vol6no2.4.
  26. "Arab Youth Survey 2017". 
  27. Education in the Arab world needs more Arab culture, RYM TINA GHAZAL, October 05, 2019, Arab News
  28. Battling to Preserve Arabic From English's Onslaught, D. D. Guttenplan, June 11, 2012, New York Times

Further reading

External links