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The Classical Arabic and The Colloquial Dialects: Where the Line Is Drawn Report (Assessment)

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There are numerous languages that are used in different parts of the world for communication. Arabic is one of them. It is spoken by many people in the world and mostly by countries in Middle East and the northern parts in the continent of Africa. In total, around 24 countries use this language as their official language.

This language is also used by the Muslims as the language which is used to teach their religious teachings; consequently many Muslims use this language either as the first language or through learning it for religious purposes. Arabic is recognized by the United Nations as one of its official languages.

Languages are important avenues for communication unique to human beings alone. Animals use different means of communication other than the language. Within the communities, there exist two important things which distinguish one community from the other, which are: language and culture.

Any change in culture brings about a change in the corresponding language used in that culture. The kind of language used today is therefore a result of the years of evolution in the culture which have impacted on the language.

This paper shall address the topic of classicism from the Quran in Arabic colloquial conversion and also the impacts of culture on aspects of Arabic language and/or Arabic language use.

Different Forms of Arabic

Arabic exists in several forms. They include the Quranic or classical Arabic, formal also known as modern standard Arabic and spoken or colloquial Arabic.

The Quranic form is used mostly for religious purposes. It is the form of Arabic through which the Quran and other religious writing of the Muslims have been written. It is an old form of the language because its use dates back to the time when the first copies of Quran were written around 600’s.

It has primarily been used for religious purposes and is learnt only to enable one to read and be able to perform other religious functions and not for everyday conversations or for scholarly writings.

This form of Arabic is therefore only confined to the setting of religious writings in Islam and is rare in other areas of literature.

For official communication and teaching in schools, modern standard Arabic is used. This is also the form that is used to write literary works and taught to foreigners who may want to learn Arabic as a foreign language.

Colloquial Arabic is used in everyday conversations. It varies from one country to another with each Arabic speaking country having a different dialect from other countries.

However, the form of Arabic spoken in Egypt is considered more standard among others from the other countries because it is easily understood by many people.

Classicism from the Quran in Colloquial Arabic conversation

Colloquial Arabic, which is the form of Arabic that is used in day to day conversation, although distinct from classicism, has its root in classicism. Classicism forms the basis for the development of colloquial Arabic.

However, colloquial Arabic differs from classicism in that it has borrowed many words which it has incorporated in its vocabulary.

There are aspects of classicism that can be traced in colloquial Arabic. Some religious terms like “salat” which means prayer was only found in classic Arabic and restricted to be used for religious purposes.

This however has changed slightly because such and other terms are being used even in colloquial Arabic without one being viewed as if they are breaking the rules of the Arabic language.

There are some grammatical rules that are derived from classicism and used in other forms of Arabic, including the colloquial Arabic. Most of the modern forms of Arabic adhere to the grammatical rules stipulated by the founders of classicism (Freeman, 1994).

Although each Arabic speaking region has a different form of colloquial Arabic, there is one common feature among all these dialects.

Most of them retain some forms of words derived from the classicism or just modify them a bit such that it becomes easy for the people from all regions to understand these words even if they do not understand other words from a given dialect.

Classicism has also played a great role in affecting the pronunciation of words used in colloquial Arabic. The word orders in sentence structures are also as a result of classicism influence on the dialects of Arabic.

Colloquial Arabic relies mostly on classicism in order for it to be effective in usage for conveying intended meaning.

In the area of greetings, classicism can also be noted when one is using colloquial Arabic. There are many forms of formal greetings and ways of saluting people that are used in colloquial Arabic.

Let Us Be Theoretical: The Mystery of Underevolution

Among the most widespread questions concerning the classical Arabic language introduced by Quran and its multiple varieties the one that takes the first place is, perhaps, the classicism details adopted from Quran in a number of the Arabic language varieties.

Since the phenomenon is rather well-known and important for the modern Arabic languages, it requires considerable research.

Knowing the impact of the classical Quran language on the modern language dialects, one can draw a scheme of the future language development and even foresee the probable misconceptions that can arise as the representatives of the different dialects encounter.

Therefore, one of the most crucial issues is suggesting a valid theory that explains the peculiarities of the language development and outlines the prospects of its further progress.

Despite the fact that the issue has already become a widespread topic, there is certain lack of theories that can explain the phenomenon of the Arabic dialects all over the world.

However, the existing theory explains the facts that are observed in the most sufficient way, which allows to suggest that the given theory can be used as the basis for the given research.

According to Hammond (2005), the key reason for the dialects to resemble the traditional, classical Quran Arabic is the fact that the language was strongly associated with religion and thus could not be used for “low” purposes; on the contrary, the colloquial Arabic was not supposed to be used when talking about the “elevated” things:

Arabic, on the other hand, was theorized as being God’s language and those who spoke it were considered to be among God’s chosen people.

Not only that, the elevation of the Quranic text to a concept of divine linguistic perfection created an imperative to maintain the use of that formal language. So, colloquial Arabic never evolved into separate written languages in the way of the Romanic languages (323)

However, it is worth keeping in mind that there is another theory concerning the traditional Quran version of the Arabic language and the multiple dialects appearing on its basis. According to Hassan (2004), there are two principal theoretical approaches to the variety of the Arabian dialects.

The first one, created by Mitchell, splits the entire Arabian language into three varieties:

  1. vernacular, which has prestige in born urban and rural regions
  2. Written Standard Arabic, which is also spoken on formal occasions
  3. Mixed Arabic, which is a mixture of written and vernacular Arabic and which functions in formal and informal situations (84).

Speaking of the second theory that Hassan (2004) mentions, one should say that it is based on the model suggested by Ferguson and presupposes the subdivision of the language into the “high” and “low” dialects (84).

With such abundance of theories and opinions, it can be considered that the most reasonable would be to follow the model offered by Hammond (2005).

Since in certain issues this theory has some points of contact with the other ideas concerning the split of the Arabic language, there are certain reasons to suppose that this is one of the most credible theories of all existing.

When the Language Splits in Two: Koran and the Colloquial Speech. Where the Line Is Drawn

Koran and the colloquial Arabic speech coexistence can be considered a unique phenomenon. Still, despite the obvious prevalence of the colloquial Arabic speech in the modern society, the influence and authority of the more standard version, worshipped for hundreds of years, is still one of the key issues in the Arabic language.

As Akhtar (2010) marks, “Arabic seems to operate through not one, but two different languages. One is a standard language used uniformly through Arab world, while the other can be any of the thousands of dialects that are spoken natively by Arabs” (140)

Examining the most widely used expressions from Quran, one can draw a scheme of the extent to which the Quran influences the modern Arabic language.

It is necessary to mark that the Quran expressions are and certain linguistic peculiarities of the way in which sentences and words are built in Quran texts not only make the greatest impact on the rest of the Arab languages, but also reprint the most essential features of the culture; perhaps, this is the key reason for the Quran language to have such immense impact on the rest of the Arabic dialects.

For instance, according to what Luxenberg (2007) claims, the Quran words are deprived of the typical feminine endings:

This rule of Syro-Aramaic grammar according to which the status absolutus feminine in the predicative adjective and participle, through the dropping of the t and the retention of the final ā, does not differ formally from the status emphaticus of the corresponding attributive masculine form, now opens our eyes to a phenomenon of classical Arabic grammar that has until now been considered a mystery (219)

Therefore, it must be marked especially that the classical Arabic suggests masculine adjectives endings instead of the feminine. Considering the culture and the traditions of the Arabic countries, this is quite logical. However, this is not the only peculiarity of the Quran language.

Considering the abovementioned theory, one would claim that Quran is supposed to have the strongest impact on the existing Arabic language varieties. Since the linguistic varieties are not likely to develop further on, they are bound to keep the traditions once established in the texts of Quran.

Another peculiar detail concerning the Quran classical Arabic is the fact that the use of participles in the Quran language is rather restricted, and the “location of the even in the past is not indicated by the language structure,” as Kinberg (2001) says (165).

Concerning the Colloquial Arabic language, one can possibly say that this is a “milder” version of the Quran language, with the variations that the official language does not allow on the ground of religious ideas.

Hence, it contains a number of details that make it quite different from the original language, yet prevents fro becoming the multiple variations of the Arabic from becoming sovereign languages.

Glued together with the religion and the sacred text, these dialects have much in common, rooting from the same language. Speaking of the dialects peculiarities, one must mention that these concern mainly the use of adjectives, as Wightwhick (2003) says (68).

The Classicism in Koran and the Colloquial Speech: Part One. Looking for the Differences

It must be mentioned that the differences between the stem language – the Koran one – and the dialects are considerable, which predetermines the social stratification in the society.

In addition, the difference between the formal language and its less official variants allow to differentiate between the religious and the secular issues. Following Versteegh’s (2007) train of thoughts,

The importance of the lexical aspect in the distinction between literary and colloquial Arabic is partly due to the sheer number of the lexical items, which naturally far exceed the number of grammatical structures and phonological categories (655).

Therefore, the key aspect that separates the main language and its dialects is the loan words and the words used in the colloquia; speech used to demote the objects that were not mentioned in Quran. Therefore, the existing theory of the impact that Quran has on the language variations proves completely right.

There is no doubt that the sacred book influences the dialects formation and contributes to their stability. This guarantees that the local variations of the Quran language will be used only as a means of oral communication among the lower layers of the society, but not intrude into the sphere of religion and the state affairs.

To demonstrate the key difference between the Quran Arabic and the colloquial one, which makes the former influence the latter, one could quote McAuliffe (2006), who says that “Quran has enriched Arabic poetry more than any other Arabic literary genre” (131).

This is the most refined language, in contrast to the colloquial Arabic dialects.

With help of this little yet essential detail the different kinds of languages are quite unlikely to become another standard of official Arabic someday. It is obvious that the lexical charge of the words used in Quran is far too complicated to integrate into the linguistic varieties of the Arabic language.

However, that does not mean that the impact of the Quran is going to become weaker – on the contrary, guided by the key language, the speakers of the dialects will be reluctant to charge their language with the words from the other languages; creating the colloquial equivalent of the Quran term will be preferable.

It must be kept in mind though that Quran possesses the lexemes that do not have their corresponding colloquial equivalent, which means that the impact of the Quran language on the rest of the Arabic languages is going to become even stronger.

Like the language of the “higher” level, it is dominant over the rest of the Arabic dialects; as Naseem explains,

We can’t take the literal meaning of words in all cases. For example the “Quran” “Salat,” “Zakat” and “Haji” are such words whose literal meanings are different from their technical usages, which are assigned by the Sharah Science (302)

This means that the difference between the initial language, the one that is spoken I Quran, and the number of dialects used by the usual people is quite considerable. Yet it must be admitted that the Quran Arabic has great impact on the Arabic languages despite the peculiarities of the colloquial Arabic.

The Classicism in Koran and the Colloquial Speech: Part Two. The Evident Similarities

One of the most peculiar features of the Quran Arabic and its variations is that the linguistic similarities manifest themselves on the very phonetic level, which means that the Quran Arabic is supposed to have huge impact on the dialects. As Versteegh (2007) claims,

Usually, speakers of a colloquial Arabic dialect use the same consonants for literary Arabic as for colloquial Arabic. the emphatics /s, d, t, d/” and the somewhat language-specific pharyngeals l’, h/, as well as plosives, fricatives, lateral and semivowels are pronounced in the same manner in both (spoken) literary and in the colloquial Arabic (657)

This means that, with such sufficient similarities on the most basic level of the language building, there can be no doubt that the Quran Arabic has the greatest impact on the existing dialects. It is obvious that the key aspects of the classical Quran Arabic language serve as the basis for the colloquial Arabian.

However, the similarities between the two language variations can be traced not only on the level of phoneme, but also in the sphere of lexis.

According to the number of derivations from the Quran Arabic into the colloquial language, the sense shifting and the polysemy of certain words, one can possibly say that the spirit of the Quran Arabic is rather distinct in the modern colloquial dialects, despite the time gap between the two.

South (2006) drives a good example of such change of meaning occurring as time passes: “The Arabic name for mosque and university is from the same root: jaamea” (71).

However, such dominance over the dialects often results in rather deplorable consequences. Once translated from one Arabic dialect into another, the message written in Quran Arabic loses all its sense.

As Kinberg (2001) mentioned, “even when author himself takes upon himself to translate his literary production from literary Arabic to colloquial Arabic, the two texts are not completely identical” (68).

It must be kept in mind that the two kinds of the Arabic language, the standard one, and the vernacular Arabic, are unlikely to merge further on. According to the existing evidence, the more time is going to pass, the bigger the gap between the stem language and its varieties is going to be.

As About (1973) explains, the grammar of the modern official Arabic does not differ much from the traditional Quran style. However, “as for colloquial, its ancient dialects and forms have changed, and they have come to differ greatly from one country to another” (572).

Still it must be admitted that, with the grammar rules unchanged in the traditional language and in its variations, it can be considered that the classical Quran language does have its impact on the modern Arabic dialects.

However, it must be also remembered that there is a considerable difference between the colloquial and the standard Arabic.


Considering the abovementioned, one can conclude that the classical Quran Arabic language still has its impact on the modern language variations. Despite the seeming difference that usually manifests itself in the vocabulary of the language, there is the specific grammatical structure that keeps the languages together.

Considering the differences and the similarities of the classical Arabic language and the colloquial variations, one can conclude that, despite the obvious split between the languages, there is certain stem that keeps them together and makes them fuse into a single language.

Still it is obvious that the classical form dominates over the other dialects and offers the basis that the rest of the language variations ate based on. With such state of affairs, it is absolutely clear that the classical elements of the modern Arabic language have certain effect on the colloquial dialects to a considerable degree.

As Versteegh (2001) clarified,

Anyone wishing to write in Arabic does so with the Classical norm in mind. The amount of deviation or the distance from the colloquial varies with the degree of education of the author of the text. Thus, some Middle Arabic texts exhibit only an occasional mistake, whereas in other texts the entire structure of the language is almost colloquial (115)

Thus, with the abundance of language variations, they are all influenced by the single stem language. With help of the classical standards of Arabic, the dialects stay within their boundaries and do not form other languages.

It is clear that, once the impact of the classical Arabic fades away, the rest of the dialects will develop in their own specific way.

Reference List

Abbound, P. F. & McCarus, E. N. (1983) Elementary Modern Standard Arabic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Akhatar, J. (2010) In Search of Our Origins. India: An Oriole International Book.

Freeman, A. (1994). Modern Arabic. Michigan: University of Michigan. Web.

Hammond, A. (2005) Pop-Culture Arab World! Media, Art, and Lifestyle. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Hassan, M. K. (2004) Classical and Colloquial Arabic. Are They Used Appropriately by Non-Native Speakers?

In N. Kassabgy, Z. Inrahim, & S. T. Aydellot. Contrastive Rhetoric: Issues, Insights, and Pedagogy. Egypt: American University in Cairo Press.

Kinberg, N., Kinberg, L., & Versteeg, C. H. M. (2001) Studies in the Linguistic Structure of Classical Arabic. Berlin: BRILL.

Luxemberg, C. (2007) The Syro-Arabic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiller.

McAuliffe, J. D. (2006) The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Naseem, H. (2001) Muslim Philosophy: Science and Mysticism. India: Sarup & Sons.

South, C., & Jermyn, L. (2006) Syria. Singapore: Marshal Cavendish.

Versteegh, C. H. M., Ditters, E., & Motzki, H. (2007) Approaches to Arabic Linguistics: Presented to Kees Versteeg on the Occasion of His Sixteenth Birthday. Berlin, BRILL.

Versteegh, K. (2001) The Arabic Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Wightwhick, J., and Gafaar, M. (2003) Colloquial Arabic of Egypt: The Complete Course for Beginners, Vol. 1. New York City, NY: Routledge.

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