Whilst Arabic is one of the most spoken languages in the world, it is one of the most complex languages to master and is a challenge to translate into as Arabic is one of the Semitic languages.
Unlike English, Arabic is written and read from right to left (RTL language also known as bidirectional language). In addition to this, you may need to consider cultural differences for the variety of Arabic markets, as the Arabic language has many different styles as it is spoken in more than 22 countries with different dialects.
In this blog, we will point out the language differences between English and Arabic.
Language Origin and Culture
The Arabic language is a unique and poetic language that has unique expressions that are used in everyday conversations and writings that do not have equivalent translations in English.
- Arabic: ما شاء الله (Masha’a Allah)
English: Does not have English equivalent
Usage: To express amazement, thankfulness, gratitude (without grudge or jealousy)
- Arabic: سلام (Salam)
Usage: According to the context, it may be used in many ways, from “Peace”, or a greeting “Hello- Bye”, or an adjective “Safe”
Arabic Writing Style
Arabic is written using the Arabic Script, it is the same writing script for Persian, Urdu, Dari, Kashmiri, Kurdish, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Urdu, Rohingya, and Uyghur languages. There are no uppercase and lowercase letters in Arabic, though shapes of letters usually vary depending on whether they are in an initial, middle, or final position in a word. Arabic words are written in a cursive style, which means most of the letters are written in slightly different forms according to whether they stand alone or are joined to a following, or preceding letter.
Arabic Sentence Structure
In Arabic, there are 2 types of sentence structures: Nominal sentences and Verbal sentences.
1- Nominal Sentence:
Nominal sentences begin with a noun or a pronoun. Nominal sentences have 2 parts: subject (مبتدأ) and predicate (خبر). In some cases, when the nominal sentences are about being, i.e. if the verb of the sentence is “to be” in English, the sentence can be well understood without a verb, unlike English sentences.
English: The weather is hot.
Arabic: الجو حار (weather hot)
In most cases when the nominal sentence is not about being, it should include a verb to be well understood.
English: The boy is playing.
Arabic: الولد يلعب (The boy play)
Like English, Arabic sentences can be longer to contain an object to be Subject-Verb-Object (SVO).
English: The boy is playing football.
Arabic: الولد يلعب الكرة
Subject: الولد – Verb: يلعب – Object: الكرة
2- Verbal Sentence:
A verbal sentence is a sentence that starts with a verb and a subject follows, and then an object (VSO). The subject can be a noun, a pronoun, a demonstrative, or a relative clause.
The defining property of a verbal sentence is that the verb precedes the subject. There is more than one possibility for verbal sentences in the presence of an object, an adverb, a prepositional phrase, etc.
Arabic: يقرأ الولدُ الكتابَ (reads the boy the book)
English: The boy reads the book.
Verb: يقرأ – Subject: الولدُ – Object: الكتابَ
Verb-Subject Gender Agreement:
Unlike English, the verb gender must agree with the subject gender. If the subject is feminine, the verb must be in the feminine form by adding the feminine mark to the verb depending on the sentence tense. For sentences in the past tense, the feminine mark (ت) should be added to the end of the verb. For sentences in the present or future tenses, the feminine mark (تـ) should be added to the beginning of the verb. This applies to both types of sentences (nominal and verbal).
Nominal: البنت تقرأ الكتاب
Verbal: تقرأ البنت الكتاب
Nominal: البنت سوف تقرأ الكتاب
Verbal: سوف تقرأ البنت الكتاب
Nominal: البنت قرأت الكتاب
Verbal: قرأت البنت الكتاب
Numbers in Arabic
Although Arabic is written and read from right to left, Arabic numerals are written and read left to right, just like in English. Both Hindi and Arabic numerals are used in Arabic depending on the target audience and region. Some countries use Hindi numerals in the official writings and others use Arabic numerals.
As the Arabic language is officially used in more than 22 countries, it has been adapted and can be written in different dialects depending on the country or region. The most used Arabic dialect that is written and understood across all the Arabic speakers is the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Modern Standard Arabic is a universal form of Arabic one of the 6 official languages of the United Nations. So, when it comes to translation into Arabic, it is most likely to be into MSA, unless this is specifically requested.
Some of the major Arabic dialects are:
Egyptian Arabic: The most widely spoken Arabic dialect, not only in Egypt but across the Middle East and North Africa. It uses much of the same vocabulary found in MSA with some minor differences in pronunciation of certain words and letters.
Levantine Arabic: The second most spoken Arabic dialect after Egyptian Arabic. It is spoken in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.
Gulf Arabic: Spoken in the Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates. It is made up of several dialects which differ in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
Maghrebi Arabic: Spoken in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Western Sahara, Libya, and Mauritania. This dialect is distinct from MSA, that it has its name – Darija (الدارجة). The Maghrebi dialect is made up of several other dialects such as Moroccan Arabic, Algerian Arabic or Tunisian Arabic.
Although Modern Standard Arabic is a written and scholarly standard, it is not the version people speak in their everyday lives. Spoken Arabic dialects and MSA have a few differences, for example:
- Spoken Arabic has a simpler grammatical structure
- Some letters are differently pronounced in Spoken Arabic based on the dialect
- Some dialects have some expressions that cannot be understood in some regions. Such expressions can be written in MSA to be understood across all the Arabic regions
Translation into Arabic requires special preparation and treatment before starting the translation. Arabic translators should be aware of the target audience and the Arabic style before proceeding with the translation. Also, a Quality Assurance review is important and should be conducted after the translation is fully complete, to ensure the Arabic content style is consistent across the translated material and is suitable for the target audience/market.