More Symbology: Arabic

Arabic is a macrolanguage of the Semitic family, as are Aramaic, Hebrew, Acadian, and Maltese. It is the oldest of the Semitic languages, which is to say the closest to primitive Semitic. It is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with almost 180 million speakers, known internationally as the liturgical language of Islam.

Arabic uses a proper writing system from right to left, joining letters among themselves to the effect that each letter can have up to four different forms, depending on whether it is written at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. There are few mute or omitted letters or ones that in certain positions (or joined to others) have a different value than the principal value. There are no capital letters. There was an attempt tointroduce them in the 1920s, but it was not accepted. Since proper nouns have their own meaning, to avoid confusion they are generally placed between parentheses or quotations. Arabic has incorporated European punctuation signs, though in certain cases they have been adopted: ellipses tend to have two, not three periods.

As with the rest of the Semitic languages, the morphology of Arabic is based on the principle of roots and forms or weights. Generally, the root is formed of three consonants and has a general meaning. The form is a paradigm of inflection of the root that usually has its own meaning. For example, the union of the verbal form istaf’ala (to make happen) with the root KTB (write) produces the verb istaKTaBa (dictate).

There are two genders: feminine and masculine, and three numbers: singular, dual, and plural.

Classic Arabic has one declension with three cases: nominative, accusative, and genitive, as well as two forms for each case: determined and undetermined.

The Arabic language has incorporated numerous loans over time. The most ancient loans come from Aramaic. In the Medieval era Persian, Greek, and later Turkish words were incorporated. And in the modern era it has incorporated vocabulary from French, English, and Italian.

The Arabic has also been borrowed from by many languages that it has come into contact with, such as Spanish. In this case, the loans were taken from the varieties spoken on the Iberian Peninsula between the 7th and 16th centuries, words like: albañil, azúcar, albaricoque, aceite, alquiler, alfil, edil, macabro, ojalá, hasta, Albacete, Alcalá, Alcázar, Algeciras, Almedina, Almería, Badajoz, Guadalquivir, Guadalajara, Medinaceli, Zaragoza, Sevilla, Jaén…