Arabic 101

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The influence of Arabic has been most important in Islamic countries. Arabic is a major source of vocabulary for languages as diverse as Berber, Kurdish, Pashto, Persian, Swahili, Urdu, Hindustani (especially the spoken variety), Turkish, Malay and Indonesian, as well as other languages in countries where these languages are spoken. For example, the Arabic word for book (/kitāb/) has been borrowed in all the languages listed. In addition, Spanish and Portuguese both have large numbers of Arabic loan words, and English has quite a few, some directly but most through the medium of other Mediterranean languages. Other languages such as Maltese and Kinubi derive from Arabic, rather than merely borrowing vocabulary or grammar rules.

The terms borrowed range from religious terminology (like Berber taẓallit "prayer" < salat), academic terms (like Uyghur mentiq "logic"), economic items (like English "sugar") to placeholders (like Spanish fulano "so-and-so") and everyday conjunctions (like Hindustani lekin "but".) Most Berber varieties (such as Kabyle), along with Swahili, borrow some numbers from Arabic. Most Islamic religious terms are direct borrowings from Arabic, such as salat 'prayer' and imam 'prayer leader.' In languages not directly in contact with the Arab world, Arabic loanwords are often transferred indirectly via other languages rather than being transferred directly from Arabic. For example, most Arabic loanwords in Hindustani entered through Persian, and many older Arabic loanwords in Hausa were borrowed from Kanuri. Some words in English and other European languages are derived from Arabic, often through other European languages, especially Spanish and Italian. Among them are commonly-used words like "sugar" ( sukkar ), "cotton" ( quṭn ) and "magazine" ( maḫāzin ). English words more recognizably of Arabic origin include "algebra", "alcohol", "alchemy", "alkali" and "zenith." Some words in common use, such as "intention" and "information", were originally calques of Arabic philosophical terms.

Arabic was also influenced by other languages including Persian, Berber language and Egyptian. The influences from Berber and Egyptian on Arabic happened mainly before Islam, making these influences not directly noticeable by non-linguists. Also many Arab writers make the mistake of identifying most of loan words in Arabic as being of Persian origin.

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