The Arabic language is a multi-faceted member of the Central Semitic languages. Though it is closely related to such languages as Aramaic, Hebrew, Phoenician, and Urgaritic, the standard form of the language is distinct, particularly in its conservative nature.
The variations of this language all derive from a language used in the 6th Century known now as “Classical Arabic”. Contemporary Arabic includes both spoken variations and literary application. Modern Standard Arabic, the literary language used today, is the only official version that exists in contemporary usage. It is used for the majority of written documents, particularly those that are official in nature, as well as formal conversation and spoken applications. Though there was a brief period in 1912 that saw the version of Arabic spoken in Morocco being referred to as “Moroccan Arabic” and declared to be the official form of the language in that area, this area soon joined the Arab League.
The spoken versions of the Arabic language exist in many forms through the territories of the Middle East and North Africa. Because the written and spoken versions of the language are at points so different, and the dialects are mutually unintelligible in many aspects, the two exist in diglossia in most appropriate situations, meaning that the standard written version will exist beside a written version of the spoken language to provide clarity.
The wide variety that exists among the variations of the language for some linguists constitute the existence of several smaller languages, but the variations have continued to be linked together under the umbrella of the single Arabic language due to ethnic and political reasons. As one language it boasts as many as 340 million people who speak the language as their first. For those that differentiate the variations into their own independent languages, the most prevalent is Egyptian Arabic which is the primary language of over 50 million people. Both figures set Arabic as the most commonly spoken of the Semitic languages.
Modern Standard Arabic, the standard accepted written form of the language, is developed from the language of the Koran, the religious text of Islam which accounts for a large portion of the Middle East and North Africa where this language is most prevalent. This written form continues to be the official liturgical language of the faith of Islam, and is the stated official language of 26 states. It has incredibly deep roots as the only member of the Old North Arabian group of dialects that is still being used.