Our alphabet journey to discover the origins of the Arabic alphabet takes us back to the 2nd century BC in northern Arabia.
There, lived a Semitic tribe known as the Nabataeans, who actively engaged in trade from their capital city of Petra. Although they spoke in their own language, the Nabataeans adopted a different language – Aramaic, for writing purposes as it was the trade language of the day. The Nabataeans used Aramaic to create a cursive writing style with 22 letters, which gradually became a rudimentary version of the Arabic script.
During the Islamic era, scribes realised that Arabic had too many similar alphabets, and so they developed a system using letters with dots. This classical Quranic Arabic had 28 letters – the same as today!
The Arabic alphabet was now ready to be shared with the world! It enjoyed widespread popularity for a time, although several regions stopped using written Arabic in later centuries. Perhaps, people preferred to adopt languages that provided for the “p” sound, which was never incorporated into the Arabic alphabet.
Despite this shortcoming, Arabic is among the most commonly used languages today with over 420 million speakers worldwide. Official Arabic is called Modern Standard Arabic, or in Arabic فصحى (fuṣḥā) and it is the preferred vernacular of most contemporary Arabic media.
Many consider the Arabic script a challenge to learn, but consider this: Arabic is phonetic, always cursive, and has no distinction between uppercase and lowercase alphabets. To get started, become comfortable with the idea of writing from right to left and you’ll soon be on your way to writing in Arabic!
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