The Arabic language consists to two distinct languages: North Arabic and South Arabian. These languages belong to the West Semitic group of the Semitic subdivision of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Other Semitic languages are Aramaic, Hebrew, Maltese, Mehri, Phoenician and Tigrinya.
The predecessor of Semitic languages was proto-Semitic. It was only spoken, not written. The language spoken prior to Arabic was “musnad”. This language can be traced back to the 8th century BC.
The history of the Arabic language is well preserved from a myriad of extant Arabic texts from throughout the centuries.
In the 4th century AD, the Arabic language evolved on the Arabian Peninsula. With the tremendous number of converts to the Islamic religion in the 7th century, Arabic began its spread into other areas, initially the Fertile Crescent and North Africa. Also helping the spread of Arabic were nomadic tribes, who wrote and shared stories written in Arabic. Arabic would eventually be spoken in numerous countries, including the Middle East, Africa and Asia. One century later, Arabic was the official language throughout an empire stretching around the world.
Arabic is a sacred language to Muslims. Muslims believe the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, was revealed to the prophet, Muhammad, by the angel, Gabriel, from 610 to 632. The Qur'an is written in classical or literary Arabic, which is regulated and consistent. Classic Arabic is not used in conversation and is written in religious texts only.
Literature written after the Qur'an is also written in classical Arabic, albeit in a different form. Modern Arabic is written in formal manner based on the spoken Modern Standard Arabic.
Spoken Arabic differs from written literary Arabic. There are three dialect groups: Eastern, Western and Southern. There are subgroups of dialects within these groups. Colloquial dialects are primarily spoken by people in their personal and work environments. These colloquial dialects are not universally understood by all Arabic-speaking peoples.
A situation where a written language is different from the spoken language is known as "disglossia". Disglossia means "two tongues" and this term is frequently applied to Arabic.
Modern Standard Arabic is based on classical Arabic and is uniform throughout Arabic-speaking regions. It is used by the mass media, in culture and is the official language utilized by the United Nations.
Modern Standard Arabic is undergoing modernization by creating new words in response to concepts that were previously unknown or non-existent. Arabics are resistant to borrowing words from other languages, because they consider Arabic the language of God.
Language academies have been founded through the Arab world to ensure regulation of Arabic.
As with North Arabic, inscriptions in South Arabian from the 8th century BC survive. South Arabian had its own alphabet, but its origin is unknown.
Southern Arabian consisted of several dialects, which may be similar to Ethiopic.
As the dispersion of the Qur'an increased, South Arabian fell into disuse and was replaced by North Arabic.
Modern Southern Arabian is spoken in the South Arabian Peninsula by approximately 50,000 people. Modern Southern Arabian continues to consist of several dialects.