===== Arab World =====

Arabic is the official language of 25 countries, the language spoken by the third most countries in the world after English and French. Arabic is spoken by many individuals in Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, France, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen. Modern Arabic is considered to be a macrolanguage, with 27 sub-languages. These varieties are spoken throughout the Arab world. Standard Arabic is widely studied and used throughout the Islamic world. It is estimated that there are over 225 million native speakers of Arabic and as many as 246 million non-native speakers.

Brief History

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), in regards to the number of speakers, is the largest member of the Semitic language family. Semitic languages are thousands of years old, originating in the Mediterranean Basin area. The Semitic language family is a descendant of proto-Semitic, an ancient language that has no written record. Arabic is part of the Semitic subgroup of Afro-Asiatic languages and is closely related to Hebrew and Aramaic.

There are three distinct forms of Arabic. Classical (Qur’anical) Arabic, Modern (Formal) Standard Arabic and Colloquial (Spoken) Arabic. Classical Arabic is the form of Arabic found in the Qur’an. It is not used in conversation or in non-religious writing. Classical Arabic is primarily learned for reading and reciting Islamic religious texts.



Diglossia is defined as "the use of two varieties of a language by members of a society for distinct functions or by distinct groups or classes of people." Many people who speak Arabic use two varieties of the Arabic language. The first is Modern Standard Arabic which is considered of high prestige, and the local colloquial dialects are considered of low prestige. Speakers use a certain variety depending on the social context. This daily use of two languages results in "code-switching" (the speaker uses words from both languages) within the same conversation or even sentence to better suit the topic or meaning of what they want to say.


===== Phonology =====


Modern Standard Arabic has three vowels, with long and short forms of /a/, /i/, and /u/. Short vowels in Arabic are typically not written, but must be used in sacred text like the Qurʼan. The difference in vowel length is phonemically contrastive in Modern Standard Arabic. There are also two diphthongs: /aj/ and /aw/ (formed by a combination of short /a/ with the semivowels /j/ and /w/).

Many dialects have reduced diphthongs found in MSA to monophthongs, Lebanese Arabic is one of the only dialects to have maintained the diphthongs. 




Arabic consists of short and long consonants. Long consonants are produced in the same way as the short consonants, but have a longer duration. While pronunciation of the 28 consonants depends on dialect, most are pronounced with a high degree of regularity. Unlike English, Arabic contains a number of uvular, pharyngeal, and pharyngealized ("emphatic") consonants. The presence of simultaneous velarization and pharyngealization during the  production of consonants is referred to as "Retracted Tongue Root". 

Emphatic consonants have no direct correlation in the English sound system. For people who speak but do not read or write in Arabic, transcription of these sounds may be confusing. Emphatic consonants have non-emphatic counterparts that are often used interchangeably when transcribed in English. Emphatic consonants also affect the vowels surrounding them, although this can vary widely between dialects.

Click here to see which Standard American English speech sounds occur in this language.

Syllable Structure

Arabic contains two types of syllables: open (CV and CVV) and closed (CVC). Syllables begin with a consonant, except when a phrase begins with the definite article, for example, "the car". If a word ends in a vowel and the next word is the definite article, then the initial vowel of the article is left out. In this case the consonant closes the final syllable of the previous word.

In Standard Arabic, word stress is not phonemically contrastive. However, as noted above, vowel length – often an indicator of stress in English – is phonemically contrastive.

Click HERE to visit a webpage that provides an example of the Arabic langauge being spoken.

Click HERE to visit the ASHA Website and download a PDF of a phonemic inventory of the Arabic language


Arabic has a complex and rich structure. Nouns and verbs are governed by systematic morphophonemic rules. Each noun and verb is made up of a certain set of base letters, or roots.  Verbs can have either 3 or 4 base letters. Nouns can have 2, 3, 4, or 5. Extra letters can be added to the base letters and they can be dropped or changed due to morphophonemic rules as well. Adding letters can add more meaning, insight, or significance to the basic meaning of the root letters.

For example, the word kataba contains the three consonant root letters of k, t, and b; it means “he wrote” (Arabic grammar textbooks use the third person singular past tense as a starting reference for root words). Some examples of words formed using the k, t, b root are: katiib (writer), koutoub (books), maktoub (letter, fate), maktab (office), istiktaab (dictation), maktaba (library), and so on.

Other examples of nouns and verbs with added, changed, and dropped letters are found in the figure below.

Grammatical particles* are completely unpredictable and have no patterns. They also do not go through any morphophonemic changes. Therefore, they must be memorized. There are fewer than one hundred particles in Arabic.

Pronouns exist outside of the root system but often experience morphophonemic and morphosyntactic changes depending on their placement.

* Particles are also called "function words". The infinitive marker "to" and the negater "not" are examples of English particles.

The placement of verbs in sentences in written Arabic differs from English. The typical order of a written Arabic sentence is Verb-Subject-Object (VSO). For example, in English "The boy stole the bike", would be "Stole the boy the bike" in Arabic. This can be an important factor in understanding how readers of Arab backgrounds react to text. In contrast, however,  spoken Arabic syntax is very similar to English as Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) is typically used.

 It is important to note that placement does not always determine function. Rather, it is the inclination that determines the relationship. Therefore, it is possible to have a variety of word orders that could still be grammatically acceptable.

Sentence subjects determine verb conjugation. Because of this, subjective pronouns are not often used to avoid redundancy. When they are, it is generally for emphasis.

Inflection of Arabic nouns occurs to express gender, number, case, and state. Gender exists in masculine and feminine forms, although there are no markers for the masculine. Number markers indicate singular, dual (two people or things), or plural. The three cases are nominative, dative, and genitive/ablative.                                                         

The following subjective pronouns are possible in MSA: First person, Second person (one male, one female, two males, two females, plural males, or plural females), First person plural, Third person (male, female, two males, two females, plural males, plural females). Some dialects collapse certain categories of these subjective pronouns. MSA employs the use of the dual subject, but this use of the dual has disappeared in most Arabic dialects. 
Gender is also taken into account. A speaker conjugates verbs differently when addressing a male/males versus a female/females.

Object and possessive pronouns are possible in the same forms as listed above; however, object and possessive pronouns are not independent. These pronouns are attached to verbs or objects as necessary.

Repetition of definite and indefinite articles
Words preceded by a direct article repeat the article in following adjectives to mark the direct case. For example, “the big, old school” would be translated word by word from Arabic as “the school the big the old.” The indefinite article is marked by the suffix an (tanwin) on the noun and following adjectives.


Writing System

Modern Standard Arabic is written from right to left in a cursive style (calligraphy is used and highly regarded) and consists of 28 letters. While there are several styles of script, Ruq'ah is the most commonly used in handwriting. The Naskh style is what is typically used in print and on computers. Arabic script has been adopted for many different languages. The following map represents countries that use Arabic script as the official orthography (dark green) or alongside other orthographies (light green).


The Arabic alphabet comes from the Aramaic script.


Colloquial dialects are generally only spoken languages. People who speak Arabic use the colloquial language in their daily interactions, but Modern Standard Arabic is used in formal situations. Colloquial language is what Arabic speakers learn as their L1 (first language spoken at home) and then Modern Standard Arabic is learned based on Classical or Quranic Arabic. While there can be differences between the various colloquial dialects, Standard Arabic is the same throughout the Arab World. Some of the colloquial language differences are so great that dialects can be mutually unintelligible.

The major dialects are:

  • Andalusi Arabic
        • Andalusi Arabic is now extinct, but it played an important role in Arabic literary history. 
  • Egyptian Arabic (Considered a "second dialect")
        • The Egyptian colloquial Arabic is spoken by some 50 million people, mostly in Egypt. Egyptian Arabic is understood across most of the Arab world due to the predominance of Egyptian media, making it the most widely spoken and one of the most widely studied varieties of Arabic.  
  • Gulf Arabic 
        • Gulf Arabic is spoken by around 22 million people, predominantly in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, eastern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain.
  • Hassaniiya
        • Hassaniiya Arabic is spoken by some 7 million people, predominantly in western Saudi Arabia.
  • Hijazi Arabic
        • Hijazi Arabic is spoken by around 7 million people in western Saudi Arabia. 
  • Levantine Arabic 
        • Levantine Arabic is spoken by almost 35 million people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, palestine, Israel, Cyprus, and Turkey.
  • Maghreb Arabic
        • Maghrebi Arabic is spoken by some 75 million people in Moroccan, Algerian, Saharan, Tunisian, and Libyan. Maghrebi Arabic is difficult for speakers of Middle Eastern Arabic varieties to understand.
  • Mesopotamian Arabic (less accuratly known as Iraqi Arabic)
        • Mesopotamian Arabic is a mixture of many Arabic varieties native to the Mesopotamian basin of Iraq as well as central and northern Syria, western Iran, and southeastern Turkey. It is the official language of Iraq. 
  • Najdi Arabic
        • Najdi Arabic is spoken by around 10 million people, mainly spoken in Najd, central and northern Saudi Arabia.
  • Sudanese Arabic 
        • Sudanese Arabic is spoken by around 10 million people in Sudan and some parts of Egypt. Sudanese Arabic is quite distinct from other dialects and is most similar to the Hijazi dialect.
  • Yemeni Arabic
        • Yemeni Arabic is very similar to Gulf Arabic and is spoken by around 10 million people in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia.

The most commonly represented Arabic dialects in the United States are:
**Egyptian Arabic
The Egyptian population in the United States is highest in New Jersey, Georgia and Tennessee. Egyptian Arabic is the most widespread dialect across the Arab world, most notably because of the influence of Egyptian cinema on the region. Egyptian Arabic is well-understood by non-speakers, and it is considered the closest dialect to Modern Standard Arabic. 

**Gulf Arabic**
This is a dialect spoken around the shore of Persian Gulf, in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Oregon’s largest number of Arab immigrants come from this region. 

**Levantine Arabic**
Levantine Arabic refers to a general group of Arabic spoken in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Jordan. In Lebanese Arabic, in particular, there are strong English and French influences, due to the multilingualism in the country. Levantine Arabic permits word shapes that begin with CC, this strays significantly from MSA which only allows for CV, CVV, or CVC syllables. 

Slang and Phrases

Arabic slang has developed from Classical Arabic. It does not use all the rules and contains sounds that do not exist in the standard language.

  * Shlonkom?: how are you all?
  * zen/zena [M/F]:fine
  * Shako mako?: what’s new?
  * Kulshi mako: nothing new.

  * Shonak?/Shonik? [M/F]: how are you?
  * Kafe al haal?: how are you?
  * tamam, bikhair: Very well
  * ma ismiki (f): What is your name?
  * ismee: My name is ...
  * Alhamdo lillah: thanks God 
  * Safiya Dafiya: everything is fine (literally means: sunny and warm) 

Body Language & Gesture

The messages embedded in body language and gesture are far from universal. People who make the assumption that gestures are the same regardless of language spoken run the risk of unintentionally sending a nonverbal message that is misinterpreted by, or even offensive to, the recipient. For example:

  * The "OK" hand sign used in the US to indicate that something is good is the same as an Arab sign for the evil eye that is used in conjunction with curses.

  * A quick upward movement of the head accompanied by a click of the tongue is used to indicate "no" in Arab culture, which could be mistaken for nodding "yes" in the U.S.

  * In the U.S., sitting in a chair with one foot placed on the opposite knee is a relatively common and innocuous posture. In Arab culture, it is considered an insult to those around you to show the soles of the feet while sitting.


Demographics of Arab-Americans

According to the American Arab Institute there are over 3.5 million people of Arab ancestry living in America. The 2000 U.S. Census reported that over 6,000 Arab-Americans live in Oregon, over 8,000 in Washington, and over 140,000 in California. The census stated that these numbers were likely under-reported and since 2000 have significantly increased. For example, a recent survey suggests that there are over 700,000 Arab Americans currently living in California.

Oregon demographics
The number of Oregonians claiming Arab ancestry has more than doubled in the last 30 years; Oregon has one of the fastest-growing Arab populations in the country. Recent estimates put the population around 42,000, with the largest populations of new Arab immigrants arriving from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Lebanon. 

Portland Public Schools indicates that Arabic is one of the top ten languages represented within the school district. Over 100 children in PPS reported speaking Arabic in the home during the 2011-2012 school year. There is currently no information on dialectal differences amongst these students. 


Arab Americans

  • with high school education: 85%
  • with bachelor's degree: > 40% (compared to 24% of all Americans)
  • with post-graduate degree: 17% (compared to 9% of all Americans) 

Occupation and Income

Arab Americans

  * employed in managerial, professional, or technical fields: 73%
  * employed in service industry: 12% (compared to 27% of all Americans)
  * work in private sector: 88%
  * median household income: $47,000 (compared to $42,000 for all of U.S.)


Religious and Political Views

The Arab World is composed mostly of people of the Islamic faith. However, according to the Arab American Institute (AAI), most Arab Americans are Christian. They reported the following: 63% Christian, 24% Muslim, and 13% Jewish/Other/No affiliation.


According to the AAI, Arab Americans tend to vote more Democratic than Republican. A recent poll found that 62% of Arab Americans vote Democratic, while only 25% vote Republican. As a group they backed John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. While some Arab Americans believe their values are more in line with the conservative Republican party, the AAI estimated that 52% of Arab Americans are pro-life, 74% support the death penalty, 76% are in favor of stricter gun control, and 86% want to see an independent Palestinian state.




Ramadan is during the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and it is a month-long period of praying, reading the Qur'an, fasting, celibacy, charity-giving, and self-accountability. The islamic calendar consists of 12 months and lasts for about 354 days. The month of Ramadam represents the first time the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The night the Qur'an was revealed is known as Lailut ul-Qadr (The Night of Power) and occurs during the last third of Ramadan, making this month the holiest season in the Islamic year. The month of Ramadan traditionally begins with a new moon sighting.  Ramadan then ends when the first crescent of the new moon is sighted again. The end of Ramadan is marked with a celebration, known as 'Eid-ul-Fitr'. This celebration not only represents the end of fasting but aims to thank Allah for the help and strength that he gave them throughout the month in order for them to practice self-discipline. 'Eid-ul-Fitr' also represents forgiveness and making amends. 

During Ramadan people of the Islamic faith are encouraged to read the entire Qur'an at least once. Many Muslims will also attended special services in which the Qur'an is recited through special prayers known as 'Tarawih'. These services are held every night of Ramadan.  

Fasting during Ramadan occurs during daylight hours. It is common to have one meal just before sunrise, known as 'suhoor', and another meal just after sunset, known as 'iftar'. Fasting during Ramadan is not done by children, the sick, pregnant women, or the elderly.  Once an individual reaches puberty they are expected to participate in the fasting process. Fasting during Ramadan is intended to help teach individuals self-discipline, self-restraint, and generosity. It is also practiced to remind them of the suffering that many poor individuals experienced. 


Family Structure

Loyalty to family and the extended clan is a strong value in Arab culture. The family structure is patriarchal and hierarchical. Boys are favored over girls and are expected to care for their parents in their old age. Women are subordinate to their husbands and male relatives. Some Arab American families expect their members to strictly adhere to these traditional gender roles, while others allow for more equality between the sexes. The month of Ramadan it is a period of praying, reading the Qur'an, fasting, charity-giving, and self-accountability.

Social Etiquette

The Arab concept of personal space is very different from that of mainstream US culture. People of the same sex stand close together, and it is considered rude to step or lean away. Men who are friends or colleagues may hold hands as they walk together. Much greater distance is expected between the sexes, however, and a man should not stand too close, stare at, or touch a woman.

It takes time to establish mutual respect and trust. Social niceties should not be rushed, particularly when meeting for the first time.

Food and drink are offered to guests, and it is customary to accept at least a small amount of the offered refreshment. When serving or passing food and beverages, use the right hand only. It is customary to leave a little something on the plate.

Considerations for Speech-Language Pathologists

  • The Arab-speaking world encompasses people with a wide range of religious beliefs, ethnicities, and lifestyles. Don't make assumptions about people based solely on their native language.
  • When assessing an Arabic speaker it is important to keep in mind that there are many dialects in Arabic and many phonological variations exist between them.
  • Male clinicians should be particularly sensitive to an Arab woman's expectation of privacy and personal space - for example, it may be considered highly inappropriate for a man to initiate shaking hands with a woman.
  • While syntactical rules for spoken Arabic are similar to those of English, rules are different for written Arabic.
  • Arabic script is written from right to left. This could result in some confusion when asking a child to point to the "first" item on a page. Because of this difference in script direction, the front and back covers are switched on books written in Arabic when compared to those written in English.
  • Arabic contains some different consonants than English as well as fewer vowels. This will affect pronunciation of English words. For example, Arabic speakers typically will substitute b for p; s for voiceless th; z or d for voiced th; and sh for ch.
  • Phonemes in English that are not found in Arabic include: /p/, /v/, /ɹ/, /ʒ/, /g/, and /ŋ/. Because of the influence of loanwords, /p/ and /v/ exist in some dialects.
  • In Standard Arabic, word stress is not phonemically contrastive. English language learners whose L1 is Arabic may need explicit instruction in correct usage of word stress in English.
  • In Arab culture, words have power and talking about unpleasant things is thus avoided. Clients and families may be uncomfortable talking about a diagnosis of a disorder.
  • Admitting ignorance is frowned on in Arab culture. Clients and family members may be reluctant to say "I don't know" in response to a question.(Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, US Army Training and Doctrine Command. 
  • An Arabic version of the Bilingual Aphasia Test is available from the|McGill University Website
  • Arabic Healthcare: Important things to remember
    • "Each individual needs to be assessed along a scale of acculturation and change. We also must avoid jumping to assumptions. Just because a person wears traditional ethnic dress may not mean that they lack English language skills or if a women wears traditional clothing that she does not work outside the home. And the converse may be true of someone wearing typical western clothing. We have to evaluate each person using a number of cultural clues and when in doubt learn to ask questions in a culturally sensitive fashion. We also have to be ready to reevaluate them as they undergo change."
    • "An outside health professional should seek to establish a relationship of trust with the entire family, not just the patient. A common attitude within hospitals is that the family is an obstructive burden to the patients’ care. For Arab patients, it should be understood that the family’s presence is highly emotionally supportive and important. Therefore, the health professional should make efforts to address both the patient and the family in interactions and should seek to develop their trust. Such a trust is not readily developed, but generally withheld from Arabs until they view the outsider’s character. Once this trust is developed, however, the family can play an important supportive role in health therapy and place much weight on the physician’s opinion. " 

Original Contributors: Claire Barnes, Katy Brandt, & Devin Dolan; Winter 2010

Additional Informartion was added by Sarah Crowder, Stephanie Gaslin, & Kristín Ragnarsson; Spring 2013



For references and resources used in creating this page please click HERE