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Interesting Facts About Arabic to English Translation

Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, boasting approximately 300 million speakers across the globe.  It is closely associated with the religion of Islam, as its holy book, the Quran, is written in Classical Arabic

Spoken Arabic, however, is thought to be much older than the Quran, which explains why there are so many different regional dialects.  There are so many different dialects, in fact, that Arabic speakers from different nations — or even towns — might not be able to understand one another in conversation. For this reason, government and academic officials have instituted Modern Standard Arabic, which is used in newspapers, online, and when teaching Arabic as a second language. Arabic is the official language of a number of countries stretching over a wide swath of geography — from the Atlantic Coast of North Africa, all the way through the Arabian peninsula and historical Mesopotamia.

There are some particular facts to remember when having a document translated from English into Arabic or from Arabic to English.

1. The Arabic Language Has Many Variations

Arabic is a diglossic language, meaning it has a formal version used mainly in writing and an informal version used primarily when spoken.  The two versions are very different from one another. The formal version, also known as Classical Arabic, is the language of the Quran, and is used in the religious practices of over half a billion Muslims worldwide.  Modern Standard Arabic, a more recent adaptation of the language, is used on television, online, and in modern literature. When it comes to English to Arabic translation, it is important to know the target audience, and whether to have the target text translated into Modern Standard Arabic or Classical Arabic.

2. The Arabic Alphabet is Quite Different From the Latin Alphabet

The Arabic alphabet has 28 characters, and eight of the characters do not have corresponding sounds in English.  These sounds are guttural — pronounced from the back of the throat — and mastering their pronunciation usually proves to be one of the more difficult aspects of learning the language.

3. Arabic is (Usually) Written From Right to Left Unlike English and the majority of Western languages.

Arabic is written from right to left.  The exceptions are numbers, which are written from left to right, and words written with alphabets other than Arabic, such as words written with the Latin or Chinese alphabets. Imagine if ‘Christmas Day in Nineteen Seventy-Five’ was written as “December 52, 5791”. As mentioned,  the numbers read in the opposite direction of the letters in Arabic. The bidirectional character of the language makes it more difficult to master than languages that are continuously written in the same direction, especially when dealing with dates, times, and recipes.  For native Arabic speakers, however, it is second nature. Not only is the Arabic language read from right to left, but from the perspective of a Westerner, books written in Arabic would appear to be read backwards.

4. A Multitude of Spanish Words Have Their Roots in Arabic

Most of Spain was governed by Muslims (also known as Moors) from 711 AD until 1492 AD.  During this time, Arabic culture permeated into the Iberian peninsula in the forms of language, art, architecture, religion, and customs. The Arabic influence is still evident throughout many regions of Spain to this day, as many Spanish words have their root in Arabic. Some examples include: almohada, which means “pillow” camisa, which means ”shirt” ojalá, which means “hopefully” or “I hope that” A shrewd linguist might see that the word “ojalá” comes from Arabic and assume that the word implies something holy or sacred. In fact, the formal definition of “ojalá” is “God willing.” However, it’s used in casual situations and does not imply the severity that “God willing” does in English.

5. Arabic Has Also Influenced the English Language Being one of the oldest languages

Arabic has influenced numerous languages across the globe.  Some English words that have their roots in Arabic are: sookar, meaning “sugar” qithara, meaning “guitar” alcohol, which shouldn’t be difficult to translate What You Need to Know for Arabic Translation Arabic has had a huge influence on the evolution of a variety of languages, and we use words that are rooted in Arabic in our everyday English conversations. With its alphabet, separate written and spoken forms, and numerous dialects, Arabic is unlike any other language on earth.

There are many other differences between English and Arabic that should be noted when performing an Arabic to English translation. Syntax, gender assignation, and the inclusion of pronouns in relative clauses can cause grammatical issues.

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