The Arabian Peninsula was home to numerous Arabic dialects that were sporadically recorded by later medieval Arabic grammarians, which permits a rough subdivision into a western (e.g., Hudhayl, Tayyi’), an eastern (e.g., Tamim), and a southern group of tribes (e.g., Kinda, Hamdan). Highly complex heroic poetry was composed from the sixth century CE in a supratribal idiom and was notably characterized by inﬂectional endings (I’rab; literally “making Arabic”), which were absent in many dialects. Scholars still debate whether inﬂectional endings in the early dialects disappeared long before the onset of Islam or whether they were lost only during the early conquests and the massive adoption of Arabic by foreigners, with the former option being the more likely one.
The most inﬂuential Arabic text was the Qur’an, which was revealed in 610–632 in a language that was close to the poetic idiom but that displayed certain Western traits.
The codiﬁcation of Islam’s holy book as well as communication within the rapidly expanding Arabic–Islamic state required a uniﬁed ofﬁcial tongue, which Arabic came to fulﬁll under the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik around 700. It then became the task of grammarians during the mid-eighth century to synthesize prestige literature (the Qur’an, prophetic tradition [hadith], and pre-Islamic poetry and prose) with data gleaned from qualiﬁed Bedouins, who were considered experts in the pure Arabic language (‘Arabiyya). Grammarians selected core languages (e.g., those of the tribes of Tamim and Hudhayl), and, when these diverged, they chose features according to their prestige (e.g., the hamza [glottal stop]), frequency, or analogical derivation (qiyas).
The result was a reduction and systematization of morphology, syntax, and lexicon, and this was completed with the works of al-Khalil (d. 793) and Sibawayhi (d. 791), the respective founders of Arabic lexicography and grammar. The grammarians, however, did not create Classical Arabic; however, through established principles and ﬁeldwork, they homogenized and systematized its disparate and redundant ingredients into a codiﬁed common tongue.
They then proceeded to link the varied phenomena of language (furu’) to a few underlying principles (usul) to demonstrate the perfection of the language that God had chosen for His revelation.
Classical Arabic sounds consist of twenty-eight consonants and three short or long vowels. The noun (ism) is modiﬁed by genus (male or female), number (singular, dual, or plural), state (indeterminate, determinate, or construct), and inﬂection (subject, possessive, or object cases). The verb (ﬁ’l) has both a preﬁx and a sufﬁx conjugation and expresses time or aspect (perfect or imperfect), mood (indicative, subjunctive, or jussive), voice (active or passive), person, gender, and number.
A third and indeclinable word type is the particle (harf); its syntax includes both nominal clause (topic or comment) and verbal clause (verb, subject, or object), which may be built into compound sentences, although the older language tends toward parataxis.
During the same period, Arabic script was made to more accurately reﬂect spoken Classical Arabic by the addition of (mainly) supralinear symbols for short vowels, hamza, long alif (madda), the doubling of letters (tashdid), and the elision of the initial vowel (wasla).
From contact with preceding civilizations on its territory and in particular the ‘Abbasid translation movement, Arabic incorporated vocabulary from Aramaic, Greek, and Middle Persian (Pahlavi), among others. The foreign words entered the language as simple borrowings, or they were likened to Arabic morphological patterns (jins; “species” from the Greek genos), recreated by derivation (ishtiqaq; e.g., kayﬁyya, which means “quality” or, literally, ‘‘how-ness’’), or again reproduced as Arabic calques.
A further method was to extend an existing Arabic root with a meaning it had in another Semitic language; for example, darasa, meaning “to be effaced,” was thus acquired in addition to the root’s Aramaic meaning of “to study” (e.g., madrasa, meaning “school; religious college”).
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human