December 18th is the second annual World Arabic Language Day. Established in 2010 by UNESCO, it marks the annual anniversary of the date in 1973 that Arabic was given the status of official UN language.
This year, Arabic Language Day was celebrated not only by UNESCO, but by companies and organizations around the world. For example, in Dubai, the Dubai Centre for Arabic Language was launched to “foster a stronger understanding and appreciation for the Arabic language,” according to Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed, who chairs the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is hosting a book fair in Riyadh, and Egypt’s Supreme Council for Culture hosted a conference featuring Arabic scholars and local poets.
In a speech commemorating the holiday, Director-General of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Irina Bokova called the occasion
“an opportunity for us to acknowledge the immense contribution of the Arabic language to universal culture and to renew our commitment to multilingualism. Linguistic diversity is a key component of cultural diversity. It reflects the wealth of human existence and gives us access to infinite resources so that we may engage in dialogue, learn, develop and live in peace.”
To celebrate World Arabic Language Day, here are 7 facts about the Arabic language:
- Arabic has between 380 and 422 million native speakers, making it the fifth most spoken language in the world.
- It is the 11th most-spoken language in the US.
- The Arabic alphabet is read from right to left, rather than left to right.
- Different Arabic dialects vary from each other about as much as the different Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, etc) do.
- Arabic letters are drawn differently depending on where they appear in a word.
- The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State ranks Arabic as one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.
- Some surprising Arabic loanwords in English include but are certainly not limited to: cotton, algebra, hazard, mattress and orange.