How Old Is The Arabic Language (& Where Did It Come From)?

Asma Wahba

Author

Asma Wahba

The Arabic language existed in earlier forms long before the 7th century and the writing of the Quran, Islam's holy book.

Arabic has evolved over the centuries.

Although the earliest Arabic literature we have today are Islamic religious texts, the language itself can be traced all the way back to Old Arabic, a group of Central Semitic languages or dialects that are early ancestors to Classical Arabic. Hebrew and Phoenician are also part of this group (hence why these languages have so much in common with Arabic even today).

Pre-Islamic Arabic writing was done using the Nabataean abjad, of which some inscriptions have been found. This eventually evolved into the Arabic script we still use today.

Quranic Arabic essentially came out of the Old Hijazi dialect of West Arabia, which was the regional dialect between the 1st and 7th centuries. Arabic was later standardized in the 8th century following the creation of not only the Quran, but many other Islamic religious works at the time.

In the modern era, the Modern Standard Arabic dialect is used as a simplified derivative of Classical Arabic.

How old is Arabic exactly?

As you can see, it's difficult to give an exact age of the language as it has been through so many changes over time.

The 7th century Arabic known as Classical or Quranic Arabic, which has been preserved by Islam, was standardized in the 8th century, so it could be a fair estimation to say that Arabic is around 1,400 years old.

However, because Old Hijazi goes back even further to the 1st century, this means it may be more accurate to say that Arabic goes back closer to 2,000 years.

It depends on your criteria.

Arabic in the modern world

Modern Standard Arabic, a simplified derivative of Quranic Arabic, is the official language of all Arabic-speaking countries. It's used in education, politics and the media, and is universally understood.

However, each Arabic-speaking country has its own spoken dialect or dialects.

These are colloquial dialects that can be vastly different to each other and not always mutually intelligible. For example, Moroccan Arabic is practically a completely different language compared to Iraqi Arabic due to local influences.

Arabic continues to evolve, and geographical difference has a big part to play in this.

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