Post Tagged with "Arabic"

Infographic: Top languages on the Internet

As the number of web users grows around the world, languages on the internet have continued to expand resulting in an increasingly multilingual internet. The Internet used to be English centric and even today; English remains the dominant language, but the remarkable growth of languages such as Chinese has changed the online language landscape.

Continuing on from a previous post on the Top 10 languages on the internet, which listed the growth of various languages on the web, I thought of revisiting the topic and look at the changes that have occurred since then through an infographic.

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October 14, 2011 Comments disabled

Which language should I learn?

If you want to learn a new language but aren’t sure which to choose, there are two ways you could make up your mind. The first is to choose a language which is going to be easy to learn. That depends on what languages you already speak, but some languages are definitely harder than others.

The other way is to look at which language will be most useful to you in the future. Some languages aren’t much use outside their native country; others are spoken by millions worldwide.

Fluent Every Year recently posted about this from the point of view of a world traveller, concluding that with eight languages you can travel and be understood in most of the world.


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April 28, 2010 11 comments

What future for Arabic dialects?

We often refer to ‘The Middle East’ as one region, but it is actually made up of more than 20 countries and territories. Most of these are Arabic speaking.

Middle Eastern countries share some cultural similarities, but each country (or region) has its own distinct culture and these cultures reflect on the spoken language too – each Arabic speaking country has its own spoken version of Arabic, known as a dialect.


The Arabic speaking world. Credit

Linguists disagree on whether Arabic dialects are really dialects, or whether they are languages in their own right. Sometimes they are called variants as a compromise.

A common past

All Arabic currently used stems from the same original Arabic, also called FusHa. The modern evolution of FusHa (known as Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA) is quite different to the one spoken a couple of thousand years ago. To get the picture, just think of how much English has changed in the few hundred years since Shakespeare’s time.

So it’s natural that as spoken Arabic evolved over the years, regional differences cropped up, leaving each community with its own particular dialect.

The relationship between MSA and local dialects seems complex at first. MSA is taught in schools and used for official communications, so those with an education can comfortably switch between local and standard Arabic. Newspapers are written in MSA, but national tv stations usually speak either MSA or the local version of Arabic, depending on the show.

The Main Arabic Dialects

Arabic dialects can be divided into 4 main groups:

Arabian dialects – spoken in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Yemen and Saudi Arabia;

Mesopotamian dialects – spoken in Iraq;

Syro-Lebanese (Levent) dialects – spoken in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Southern Turkey;

Egyptian dialects – spoken in Egypt;

Maghreb dialects – spoken in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

The Maghreb dialects also divide into sub-groups, with the Tunisian and Libyan versions having more Berber influence.

It’s all about culture

So all the Arabic dialects share the same basic structure, but each is modified by local cultures, histories, traditions and habits.

Fatima is a university student from Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. She shared some of her opinions and experiences as a native Arabic speaker:

“If you look into north African Arabic (which to me is the most difficult to understand) you notice a lot of French influence stemming from the French occupation. In Egypt, Syria, Lebanon etc you can notice the French and the Turkish influence; in central Saudi Arabia and also I guess in Yemen, Arabic is more pure, while in Eastern Saudi Arabia (which is where I am from) and in the other gulf states you can notice the Persian and Indian influence. It all goes back to the history of each area.

These days English media also have a lot of influence all over the Arabic world, I mean we listen to English songs, we watch English movies and TV shows…etc so “OK”, “yes”, “yup”, “no”, “nope”, “cool”, “hi”, “bye”, “whatever”, “please”, “sorry”, “thank you”, “baby”, “music”, “movie”…etc are all words commonly mixed up with Arabic in everyday conversations.”


Pop culture. Credit

Dialects don’t stop communication

Fatima also says that any Arabic speaker who understands the differences in local customs and cultures has no problem communicating with other Arabic speakers:

“As a Gulf speaker, I’m familiar with other Gulf speakers. Yes, even within the Gulf there are differences! But they’re the same as English tomatoes and American tomatoes or taking a shower vs. having a shower,

I’m also familiar with all the other accents of Saudi Arabia (even though I have some difficulty in understanding the Southern areas because they speak very quickly and the area is quite isolated)

I’m very familiar with Egyptian Arabic because Egypt is the Middle East’s Hollywood.

Lebanese and Syrian are also very familiar to me on the basis of media, as for Palestinian and Jordanian, I do understand them but sometimes I have some difficulty with the local slang.

Arabic spoken in North Africa (Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria) to me is most difficult because the local Arabic they speak is mixed with a lot of French. But when they speak to other Arabs, they tend to use their Arabic words along with some FusHa to make their speech more understandable.”

A reunited future?

Some see Arabic dialects as a threat to the Arabic language, arguing that they weaken the status of standard Arabic as a world language.

Others think that differences between local versions of Arabic are increased due to high illiteracy rates and restricted movement among people who live in Arabic speaking countries. These are factors which could change over time.


Old media. Credit

The rise over the last 10 years of pan-Arabic media such as the tv stations MBC and Al Jazeera mean that even Arabs who don’t travel are hearing more Arabic from different countries – although presenters may speak in standard Arabic, people phone in and participate from all over the Arabic world.

Increasing internet access across the Arab world could help further in removing some barriers. And as the Arabic blogosphere blooms, the future of Arabic in all its forms is looking bright.

Update (July 2010): Amar commented that Libyan Arabic does not have the same French influence as that spoken in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, since Libya was not colonised by France.

Are you an Arabic speaker? Please share your opinions with us!

Read more:
The world’s most difficult languages
Top 20 languages of the world
How difficult is Chinese?

December 14, 2009 7 comments

The world’s most difficult languages

Ever wondered which is the most difficult language in the world? Well that depends on what languages you already speak.

It makes sense that languages which are more similar to your own native language are easier to learn. If you’ve ever been in a Spanish class with an Italian, for example, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Add a different alphabet or writing system and things get even more complicated. When we asked recently if Chinese is difficult the main conclusion was that the characters make things a lot harder.

This diagram gives an idea of which are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. It shows the length of US Foreign Service intensive language courses. (source: The Atlantic)

most difficult languages for English speakers

That’s right – it takes more than twice as long to learn Chinese or Arabic as Swahili.

For native English speakers this is not good news – apart from Spanish, the fastest growing languages both spoken and on the internet are some of the most difficult to learn.

Do you agree with this list? And, if English is not your native language which languages are most difficult for you?

Read More:
How difficult is Chinese?
Top 20 Languages of the World
Arabic dialects and their future
‘The awful German language’: experiences of a German student

May 25, 2009 124 comments

Top 10 languages on the internet

Or why you should consider learning a new language / translating your blog.

We recently wrote about the most widely spoken languages in the world. Learning a new language takes a lot of effort so it helps to know which one will get you the most conversation opportunities.

Well, the internet is one of the hottest places to interact with people from different countries so it makes sense to have a look at the top languages used on the Internet as well.

This list is by Internet World Stats, which counts the number of internet users speaking each language. The numbers were last updated in June 2008.

The Top 10 Internet Languages

1. English (431m)
2. Chinese (276m)
3. Spanish (125m)
4. Japanese (94m)
5. French (68m)
6. German (61m)
7. Arabic (60m)
8. Portuguese (58m)
9. Korean (35m)
10. Italian (35m)

So Chinese and English get the top spots, no surprises there.

But number 3 is Spanish, replacing Hindi in the top 3 spoken languages (more on this in a future post).

Chinese is counted as one language here because the different dialects use a common writing system, although their spoken versions (eg Mandarin, Cantonese etc) are quite different.

Languages to watch

In 2020 this ranking could look very different. Chinese now outnumber Americans online, according to a report released this month. How long before Chinese replaces English in the number one spot?

Spanish is also increasing quickly, as is Arabic. With only a small percentage of its native speaker population online, Arabic is likely to rocket up this list in the next few years.

The future of English

As the USA has led the sprint online, English has been the dominant language on the Internet until now. But as online populations grow in the rest of the world, so does the challenge of other languages on the web.

The big question is, will English continue to be used for communication between different cultures, or will the internet split up into self-segregating communities based on preferred language?

In the long term the role of English as a ‘bridge’ language across cultures may give it the upper hand. But this might not help native English speakers – it seems they cannot understand International English as it is spoken by non-native speakers.

Update: Global Culture blog analyses some cultural implications of the increase of Chinese on the web in the post a billion web users.

Read More:
Top 20 Languages of the World
How difficult is Chinese?
Is there an easy way to blog in a different language?

January 26, 2009 5 comments

Arabic coffee for every occasion

Arabic coffee is strong, dark and sipped from tiny cups. It is drunk in most Arabic countries (although in North Africa tea is also very popular). Whereas in some countries it may be drunk plain and sweet, in Kuwait it is flavoured with cardamom and should never be drunk with sugar.

Each Arabic country has its own rituals concerning coffee and this descriptive article from The Kuwait Times writes about the Kuwaiti traditions of drinking Arabic coffee.

Maybe the most important tradition to know about as a visitor to Kuwait is that finishing your cup and handing it back to your host means that it will always be refilled. To show that you don’t want more you should shake the cup before giving it back. Useful to know if you want to be able to sleep!

November 25, 2008 Comments disabled