Arabic: intro and facts

As ,,The MENA Experts" we would like to introduce in our blog the different MENA languages and as Arabic is in the heart of these languages, let's take a deeper look at one of the oldest and living language in the world.

It is difficult to identify the origin of the word Arab, but researchers have suggested several hypotheses:

- In Greek mythology, ‘Arab’ comes from the god Arabos, son of the god Hermes, and born in the country of Arabia.

-  In another story, ‘Arabic’ comes from the name of Yarrob ibn Kahtan. It’s said that Yarrob was the first person to speak Arabic.Arabic is considered one of the main Semitic languages.  In the 7th century AD, Arabic was first known as a dialect spoken mainly by the nomadic Bedouin in the North Arabian Desert.

Modern standard Arabic (MSA) vs. Dialects

MSA is the standardized and literary variety of Arabic used in writing and in most formal speech. Most of the printed material in the Arab League, including books, newspapers, magazines and official documents are written in MSA.
It’s the same in all Arabic languages, so when the question is raised, to which language should we translate? Arabic (Egypt) or Arabic (UAE)? The answer is none of them! Because it’s simply Arabic. All differences appear in the dialects.
Arabic Dialects differ from Modern Standard Arabic in grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and writing. Although most of its vocabulary and grammatical roots come from MSA, it also incorporates its own lexicon as a result of its historical past. Therefore, Arabic dialects give rise to many variants in the same country and even within the same region. 

Generally, the dialects could be classified into five main regional varieties:
  • Maghrebi
  • Sudanese
  • Egyptian
  • Arabian Peninsula
  • Levantine
To give you a clearer example, take a look how many different words can be used to describe common, everyday things:

  • Egypt, عربية
  • Morocco, توموبيلة
  • Tunisia, كرهبة
  • Algeria, كروسا
  • Mauritania, وته
  • Saudi Arabia, سيارة
  • Egypt, جمبري
  • Syria, قريدس
  • Iraq, براعصيات
  • Algeria, كروفات
  • Morocco, قمرون 
  • Saudi Arabia, روبيان
There is always the big question: Into which language variant do I have to translate?
First, no size fits all. While for some kinds of translation it would lead to enormous problems, if you were to write in dialect, for instance, medical and legal documents, for other translations using dialect can help greatly in getting your message across, for example when marketing materials.
To decide if you will go for MSA or dialect, and which dialect, you have to consider the following:

Translating a car user guide is different from a restaurant menu.
Cars manufacturers in the ME prefer to go for MSA in their user guides, while they go for dialects for marketing. 
For food brands it’s different, as the manufacturers have to go for dialects as far as possible, because when it comes to food people need to read the ingredients in their own tongue.

Before deciding to go for MSA or a dialect, you have to decide what your market is: Egypt, Gulf countries, Morocco, etc.
For instance, if you are a luxury car manufacturer, then you best market is the Gulf countries, so you will mainly use their dialects.

If you think that the whole of the Middle East has a homogeneous culture, then you need to think again. Yes the people have much in common, but every culture sounds different, so let’s take a deeper look,

Egypt and the Levant:
These regions are considered home to the most open people in the Middle East. Egyptians for instance like humor, songs and light content that may include memes from movies and TV shows. 
What is important for you? If you consider the Egyptian dialect, just make it sound fresh, employing your ‘average man in the street’ tone.
Gulf region:
With its more conservative culture, people there prefer more formal words that are nearer to MSA. However, the younger generation are more open, so if your target audience is young people, for example when selling computer games, you can make your tone more cool!Due to the high average income in this region, it is better to employ the Gulf dialects when selling luxury products.

Further west (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia):
·       People there have their own dialects that the inhabitants in the rest of the region find difficult to understand. The French language has had a very strong impact on their dialects. So, when translated into their dialects, your message will probably not be understood in the rest of the region (some companies, for example in subtitling, use subtitles written in MSA for Moroccan dialect). It’s OK to use some French! This is just the case in far west of the Arab world. 

Talking to the Middle East sometimes seems to be complicated. However, the region’s rich history, diversity and large audience open new horizons for delivering your message and your product and services.