Arabic is widely spoken across 22 countries and is the native tongue of more than 200 million people worldwide. It ranks sixth among the major languages of the world and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It’s easy to see why businesses are keen to localize and access this rich market. Arabic is a diverse language and is spoken in a variety of places around the world so it’s important to know a few key facts before starting the localization process.
The Middle East and North African (MENA) markets are in high demand and booming with businesses across different fields from software, engineering, electronics and more. In 2020, internet penetration in the Middle East outpaced the rest of the world’s average of 59% with a staggering 70.2% as internet accessibility continues to expand throughout the region. In 2020, Arabic ranked fourth among the most used languages on the internet, holding 5.2% of the content. Business translation services and eCommerce translation services have become an important part of many company platforms using the Arabic language.
Arabic is the official or co-official language of the following countries:
There are a further six sovereign states in which Arabic is either a national language or a recognized minority language:
The Arabic language has been around for over 1000 years and is believed to have been first spoken by the nomadic tribes within the Arabian Peninsula. The word Arabic means “nomadic”. As nomadic tribes spread through the peninsula, the Arabic language and its various dialects began to take shape. However, it wasn’t until the Islamic Conquests in 7 C.E. that the Arabic language began to grow. It was through these conquests that the Arabic reached Northern Africa, the Middle East, and China.
Before the arrival of the Qur’an, Arabic was very much a spoken language but since then the Qu’ran has served and continues to serve as a basis for the Arabic language.
Arabic is pluricentric which means that its various dialectical forms may not be mutually understood. It’s estimated that there are around 25 different dialects of Arabic globally. While the dialects themselves are not always mutually intelligible, most Arabic speakers will be familiar
enough with Modern Standard Arabic or Egyptian Arabic to get by if they had to. The Egyptian dialect which, is spoken by 68 million people around the world, is generally considered the most understood Arabic dialect.
Here are some of the other Arabic dialects: Maghrebi, Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian, Libyan, Hassaniya, Saharan, Sudanese, Chadian, Juba, Egyptian, Sa’idi, Bahrani, Bareqi, Gulf, Najdi, Omani, Hejazi, Hadhrami, Shihhi, Dhofari, Yemeni, Tihamiyya, Mesopotamian (a.k.a. Iraqi), North Mesopotamian (Moslawi/Qeltu), Levantine, Syrian, Cypriot Maronite, Lebanese, Jordanian, Palestinian, Bedawi, and Andalusian.
MSA is the basis of all Arabic dialects and is used in most formal contexts, from the media, government communication, diplomacy, academia, and legal document translation. It is not dissimilar to the type of Arabic found in the Qur’an though it will include updated modern words. This type of Arabic is closely related to the Peninsular or Gulf Arabic dialects that are commonly spoken in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen.
Qur’anic Arabic is used mostly in writing, especially formal writing, while MSA is more often spoken. Most Arabs learn both and can use them interchangeably.
Despite this, neither MSA nor Qur’anic Arabic is the lingua franca of the Arabic-speaking world. This is because they are both considered too formal and old-fashioned for most casual contexts and interactions. So while MSA is used officially, a more colloquial form of Arabic is used daily at home, between family and friends, as well as through informal means of communication like emails or messaging.
Egyptian Arabic is one of the main colloquial Arabic dialects that most Arabs will understand.
Arabic is a tough language to translate into English as the languages vary not only grammatically but in format and culture as well. Pay attention to these important factors when considering your localization strategy.
Avoid the use of direct machine translations – It is nearly impossible to machine translate
Pay attention to format and functionality – Arabic text is read from right to left as well as is bi-directional at times and this can present a problem for website layouts and various platforms since most languages, like English, are read from left to right. Ensure that all elements of your website or platform can support this transition.
Into23 provides on-demand translation solutions for global businesses. With specialists in Arabic and all major global languages, Into23 can provide translation project management that will produce quality translations for any market or business need. Get a free quote today to see where your business’s global aspirations can take you.