Literary Arabic

Literary Arabic

"Standard Arabic" and "Literary Arabic" redirect here. For the classical language, see Classical Arabic. For the general article, see Arabic language.
Modern Standard Arabic
العربية الفصحى‎/عربي فصيح[note 1] al-ʻArabīyah al-fuṣḥá/ʻArabī faṣīḥ
Naskh script)
Pronunciation /al ʕaraˈbijja lˈfusˤħaː/, see variations[note 2]
Region Primarily in the Arab League, in the Middle East, the north and the horn of Africa;
liturgical language of Islam
Native speakers None
(second language only)
Language family
Writing system Arabic alphabet
Official status
Official language in Official language of 27 states, the third most after English and French[1]
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-3 arb
Linguist List
Distribution of Modern Standard Arabic as an official language in the Arab World.
The only official language (green); one of the official languages (blue).
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA; Arabic: اللغة العربية الفصحىal-lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-fuṣḥá 'the most eloquent Arabic language'), Standard Arabic, or Literary Arabic is the standardized and literary variety of Arabic used in writing and in most formal speech.

Most western scholars distinguish two standard (al-)fuṣḥá (الفصحى) varieties of the Arabic language: the Classical Arabic (CA) (اللغة العربية التراثية al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-turāthīyah) of the Quran and early Islamic (7th to 9th centuries) literature, and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) (اللغة العربية المعيارية الحديثة al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah al-miʻyārīyah al-ḥadīthah), the standard language in use today. The modern standard language is based on the Classical language. Most Arabic speakers consider the two varieties to be two registers of one language, although the two registers can be referred to in Arabic as فصحى العصر fuṣḥá al-ʻaṣr (MSA) and فصحى التراث fuṣḥá al-turāth (CA).[2]

Classical Arabic

Main article: Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic, also known as Quranic Arabic, is the language used in the Quran as well as in numerous literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries).

Classical Arabic is often considered to be the parent language of all the spoken dialects of Arabic, but recent scholarship, such as Clive Holes' (2004), shades this view, showing that other Ancient North Arabian dialects were extant in the 7th century and may be the origin of current spoken varieties.

Modern Standard Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the literary standard across the Middle East, North Africa, Horn of Africa and one of the official six languages of the United Nations. Most printed matter in the Arab League—including most books, newspapers, magazines, official documents, and reading primers for small children—is written in MSA. "Colloquial" Arabic refers to the many regional varieties derived from Arabic spoken daily across the region and learned as a first language. They are not typically written, although a certain amount of literature (particularly plays and poetry) exists in many of them. Literary Arabic is the official language of all Arab League countries and is the only form of Arabic taught in schools at all stages. Additionally, some Christian Arabic speakers recite prayers in it, as it is considered the literary language.

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.[3] This diglossic situation facilitates code-switching in which a speaker switches back and forth between the two varieties of the language, sometimes even within the same sentence.

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.)

Switch from Classical Arabic to MSA

In spite of the romantic and variously successful attempts of a few contemporary Arabic authors to follow the syntactic and grammatical norms of Classical Arabic, 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  "telephone" < "caller").

Structural influence from foreign languages or from the vernaculars has also affected Modern Standard Arabic: for example, MSA texts sometimes use the format "X, X, X, and X" when listing things, whereas Classical Arabic prefers "X and X and X and X", and subject-initial sentences may be more common in MSA than in Classical Arabic.[4]

For all these reasons, Modern Standard Arabic is generally treated as a separate language in non-Arabic sources. Arabic sources generally tend to regard MSA and Classical Arabic as different registers of one and the same language.[weasel words] 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. 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.[5]

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 the Classical Arabic, as well as the region and the intended audience.

Pronunciation of 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 the Classical Arabic but they may exist in colloquial varieties - consonants - //, //, ], these consonants may or may not be written with special letters; and vowels - ], ] (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.

Regional variants

MSA is loosely uniform across the Middle East. 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 their national or ethnic origins by changing their pronunciation of certain phonemes (e.g. the realization of the Classical jīm ج as ] 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).


Main article: Arabic grammar

Common phrases

Translation Phrase IPA Romanization (ALA-LC)
Arabic العربية /alʕarabijja/ al-ʻArabīyah
hello/welcome مرحبا/أهلا وسهلا /marħaban/; /ahlan wa sahlan/ marḥaban; ahlan wa-sahlan
peace سلام /saˈlaːm/ salām
how are you? كيف حالك؟ /kajfa ħaːluka/ (to male); /kajfa ħaːluki/ (to female) kayfa ḥāluka / -ki
see you إلى اللقاء /ʔilalliqaːʔ/ ilá al-liqāʼ
goodbye مع السلامة /maʕassalaːma/ maʻa as-salāmah
please من فضلك /min fadˤlika/ (to male); /min fadˤliki/ (to female) min faḍlika / -ki
thanks شكرا /ˈʃukran/ shukran
that one ذلك /ðaːlika/ dhālika
How much/How many? كم؟ /kam/ kam?
English الإنجليزية (varies) /alʔinɡ(i)li(ː)zijja/ (may vary) al-inglīzīyah
What is your name? ما اسمك؟ /masmuka/ (to male); /masmuki/ (to female) masmuka / -ki?
I don't know لا أعرف /laː ʔaʕrif/ lā aʻrif

See also


  1. Hijaz: [æl ʕɑrɑˈbejjæ lˈfosˤħæ], colloquially: [el-]
  2. East central Arabia: [æl ʢɑrɑˈbɪjjɐ lˈfʊsˤʜɐ], colloquially: [el-]
  3. Egypt: [æl ʕɑɾɑˈbejjɑ lˈfosˤħɑ], colloquially: [el-]
  4. Libya: [æl ʕɑrˤɑˈbijjæ lˈfusˤħæ], colloquially: [əl-]
  5. Tunisia: [æl ʕɑrˤɑˈbeːjæ lˈfʊsˤħæ], colloquially: [el-]
  6. Algeria, Morocco: [æl ʕɑrˤɑbijjæ lfusˤħæ], colloquially: [l-]


  • Holes, Clive (2004) Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties Georgetown University Press. ISBN 1-58901-022-1

External links

  • Classical Arabic Blog
  • Arabic Gems Learn about Arabic linguistics and morphology.
  • Online Classical Arabic Reader
  • Learn Arabic WikiBook
  • Yamli Editor - The Smart Arabic Keyboard (with automatic conversions and dictionary for better selections)
  • Rule-based analysis and generation of Modern Standard Arabic
  • Institute of the Language of the Quran