Modern Standard Arabic

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Modern Standard Arabic
العربية الفصحى‎/عربي فصيح[note 1] al-ʻArabīyah al-fuṣḥá/ʻArabī faṣīḥ
Arabic albayancalligraphy.svg
al-ʻArabīyah in written Arabic (Naskh script)
Pronunciation /al ʕaraˈbijja lˈfusˤħaː/, see variations[note 2]
Region Primarily in the Arab League, in the Middle East and North Africa; and in the Horn of Africa;
liturgical language of Islam
Native speakers
(second language only)
Arabic alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Official language of 27 states, the third most after English and French[2]
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-3 arb
Linguist list
Glottolog stan1318[3]
Arabic speaking world.svg
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 الفصحى‎‎ al-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. It is considered a pluricentric language.

Most western scholars distinguish two standard (al-)fuṣḥá (الفصحى) varieties of Arabic: 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).[4]

Classical Arabic

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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). Many Muslims study Classical Arabic in order to read the Quran in its original language.

Modern Standard Arabic

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Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the literary standard across the Middle East, North Africa, Horn of Africa and one of the six official 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.[5] 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).

However, 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").[citation needed] 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.[6] For these reasons, Modern Standard Arabic is generally treated separately in non-Arab sources.[7] 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.[8]

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.[citation needed]

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 may exist in colloquial varieties - consonants - /v/, /p/, /t͡ʃ/ (often realized as [t]+[ʃ]), these consonants may or may not be written with special letters; and vowels - [o], [e] (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 [ɡ] 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).


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People who are literate in Modern Standard Arabic are primarily found in most countries of the Arab League. It may be assumed that the number of speakers of the language to be the number of literate people in this region, because it is compulsory in schools of most of the Arab League to learn Modern Standard Arabic. People who are literate in the language are usually more so passively, as they mostly use the language in reading and writing, not in speaking.

The countries with the largest populations that mandate MSA be taught in all schools are, with rounded-up numbers:


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Common phrases

Translation Phrase IPA Romanization (ALA-LC)
Arabic العربية /alʕaraˈbijja/ al-ʻArabīyah
hello/welcome مرحبا/أهلا وسهلا /marħaban/; /ˈahlan wa ˈsahlaː/ marḥaban; ahlan wa-sahlā
peace [be] with you (lit. upon you) السلام عليكم /assaˈlaːmu ʕaˈlaykum/ as-salāmu ʻalaykum
how are you? كيف حالك؟ /ˈkajfa ˈħaːluk/ kayfa ḥāluk
see you إلى اللقاء /ʔila lliqaːʔ/ ilá al-liqāʼ
goodbye مع السلامة /maʕa sːaˈlaːma/ maʻa as-salāmah
please من فضلك /min ˈfadˤlik/ min faḍlik
thanks شكرا /ˈʃukraː/ shukrā
that (one) ذلك /ˈðaːlik/ dhālik
How much/How many? كم؟ /kam/ kam?
English الإنجليزية (varies) /alʔinɡ(i)li(ː)ˈzijja/ (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 ˈʔaʕrif/ lā aʻrif

See also

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  1. Spelling for the final letter yāʼ differs in Egypt, Sudan and sometimes other regions as Yemen. It is always undotted ى, hence عربى فصيح.
  2. Pronunciation varies regionally. The following are examples:
  1. Modern Standard Arabic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Wright, 2001, p. 492.
  3. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  4. Alaa Elgibali and El-Said M. Badawi. Understanding Arabic: Essays in Contemporary Arabic Linguistics in Honor of El-Said M. Badawi, 1996. Page 105.
  5. Farghaly, A., Shaalan, K. Arabic Natural Language Processing: Challenges and Solutions, ACM Transactions on Asian Language Information Processing (TALIP), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 8(4)1-22, December 2009.
  6. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  7. London Arabic Tuition
  8. Wolfdietrich Fischer. 1997. "Classical Arabic," The Semitic Languages. London: Routledge. Pg 189.
  9. Official Egyptian Population clock
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 The World Factbook. Retrieved on 2014-04-28.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  12. 2008 Sudanese census


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

External links

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