Celebrating World Arabic Language Day

Pollion Team

World Arabic Language Day is an annual celebration of one of the most vast and unique languages in the world. It has been celebrated every year on 18th December since 2012, and according to UNESCO which founded the celebration:

On World Arabic Language Day, UNESCO encourages everyone to celebrate not only a language, but also a culture and, more broadly, emphasizing how much we need diverse perspectives – they are an invaluable treasure and the fundamental prerequisite for lasting peace.” (UNESCO, 2023)

The objective of celebrating World Arabic Day aims to form lasting bridges and understandings between Arab and non-Arab speakers while celebrating the language itself. By creating an appreciation for the language, cultures, and populations associated with it, the event provides an opportunity for unity and appreciation of differences. 

The event also highlights the beauty of the Arabic language and its complex history. Yet to truly understand the beauty and importance of celebrating World Arabic Day, we must first define what the Arabic language is, where it originates from, who uses it, and what some of its main characteristics are. We will cover all of this and more in the following article. So without further ado, let us get into history.

History and Importance of the Arabic Language

Where Does Arabic Originate From?

The Arabic language first appeared in the Arabian Peninsula and it is a member of the Semitic family of languages, including Aramaic and Hebrew. The earliest studied form of the Arabic language is referred to as the Old Arabic and was spoken in the 4th century CE. Old Arabic was not completely defined until the 7th century when the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, was revealed. As Islam spread outside the Peninsula, Arabic spread along with it and became a language of trade, scholarship, and administration.

Since the 7th century, it has been characterized in two ways; the first of two ways is the Modern Standard Arabic language (MSA) which is formally taught and often used for official documents, literature, and poetry among Arab speakers. The second characterization of Arabic is the Colloquial Arabic or the spoken version which can look vastly different from MSA. This is a version used in day-to-day life and varies depending on the place, culture, and dialect. 

It is also important to note that Classical Arabic, known as Quranic Arabic, is still the language of the Qur’an and has not changed for centuries. It is still studied and used in Islamic scholarship.

How Did the Arabic Language Progress and Adapt?

The spread of the Arabic language occurred, primarily due to conquests and the movement of nomadic tribes out of the Arabian Peninsula. What impacted this growth the most, was the Islamic Conquests in the 7th century CE. Through these conquests Arabic was adopted into Northern Africa, the Iberian Peninsula (Middle East) to modern-day China. 

Throughout this time, Arabic was also used along the Silk Road, by merchants and scholars and assimilated with the ancient local dialects which all contributed to the way Arabic is shaped today in different regions. In more recent times, Arabic has also seen influence from European languages such as French, English, Italian, and Spanish.

What Are the Characteristics of the Arabic Language?

How is Arabic Used Today?

Arabic language’s rich history and cultural significance continue to shape the world we live in today. With 26 countries, 26 regional dialects, and 1 standard version, Arabic makes the sixth most common language spoken in the world, with over 400 million speakers. Arabic also has an extensively large vocabulary with over 12 million distinct words. To put that into context, the Oxford English Dictionary includes just over 170,000 words.

With how unique and extensive Arabic is, there are certain characteristics worth noting:

  • The Arabic language is written right to left.
  • It is a phonetic language, meaning that it is read how it is written or, in other words, the sounds are made the way they are spelt. 
  • The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, or according to some 29 letters with hamza (ء‎) considered a separate letter.
  • The words in Arabic are written in cursive, have no capitalisations and the letters change form depending on where they are in the word (start, middle, or end). 
  • Most Arabic letters have four different forms. 
  • Arabic is also a gendered language, using gender to describe objects. This makes every noun either feminine or masculine, which can be a challenge for new speakers.

With that said, and the difficulties implied, Arabic is still one of the 12 most sought-after languages in the world. And in the US alone around 26,000 public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade and 31,500 university students are studying Arabic, according to the most recent national surveys. 

Colloquial Arabic and Dialects

The very essence of every language in the world is the people. Linguistic experts consider language to be a cultural, social, and psychological phenomenon. Analyzing language helps us understand what it means to be human. Language shapes our thoughts, how we express ourselves, and even how we understand and perceive ourselves, and each other. 

The Arabic language serves the same purpose. It provides a means of expression for millions of people. And much like every other language, it varies, shapeshifts, and adapts. Language is not rigid, much like human nature and expression, it is fluid. When documented, it can open a window into the history of who we are. Who we were. Where we came from and where we might be going. 

Colloquial Arabic is a perfect example of this fluidity. Of how language can be influenced and adaptive without changing its core. And this becomes most obvious through the many Arabic dialects present today. These dialects do not represent just the linguistic differences between one another, but also cultural differences and different historical contexts.

The most prominent Arabic dialects today include:
  • Gulf Arabic – Is a dialect mostly found in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen.
  • Egyptian Arabic – As the name would suggest, this dialect is spoken in Egypt and it is the most common Arabic dialect spoken.
  • Levantine Arabic – Spoken in the Levantine region comprising Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and sometimes Jordan. 
  • Darija Arabic – This dialect can encompass the multiple dialects of Arabic across Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
  • Chadian Arabic – This Arabic dialect is mainly spoken in Chad and Sudan but is also found in South Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, and the Central African Republic. 
  • Juba Arabic – Used in South Sudan.

Within all of the above dialects, there are many variations of each. Different accents, different slang, cultures, and influences. This makes Arabic one of the more difficult languages to translate and may create difficulties with localization. 

Arabic Translation, Challenges, and Rewards

Translating the Arabic language often proves challenging. Despite the aforementioned extensive number of words in Arabic, sometimes there simply isn’t a straightforward Arabic translation to English. Or vice-versa. Arabic is a poetic language, often figurative, filled with metaphors and allegories. This makes it difficult to translate Arabic without losing some nuance or deeper meaning within the context. While the general point would still be understood, it is the essence of the sentence and the depth of it that might get lost in translation. 

There are also cultural challenges which, for example, may play out like this: one finds a perfect Arabic translation for an advertisement but uses pictures that a more conservative society would not find acceptable for their market and might even deem offensive. For this reason, having an expert in the target language with a high understanding of the source language is the key to an adequate translation. It is also important to have a translator with a strong cultural understanding to localize the translation appropriately for the target audience. 

At Pollion, both the translation and the localization of the Arabic language are provided, so that many complexities and nuances of Arabic can be used as an advantage. It is highly rewarding to have the ability to reach out to a market encompassing some 400 million people worldwide.

Why Do We Celebrate World Arabic Day?

Now that we have covered the basics of Arabic, its history, and its variants, we are brought back full circle to our original question. What is World Arabic Language Day, and why is it celebrated?

When Has Arabic Become a Part of World Language Day?

Arabic first became a part of World Language Day on 18th December 2012. The decision to keep the 18th of December as the World Language Day for Arabic coincides with the same day in 1973 when the General UN Assembly adopted Arabic as the sixth official language of the UN.

This year, 2023, will represent the 50th anniversary of said event back in ‘73 making this day even more special. But the world celebration of a language is not just in words, but also actions. Each year there is a theme made to promote and celebrate a language and this year is no different.

What is the 2023 Theme of the Day?

“Arabic – the Language of Poetry and Arts”

This year, the theme of the day is highlighting the extensive contribution Arabic has had on the history of poetry and Arts. It will dive into the sheer brilliance of the Arabic language and bring over researchers, academics, heads of international institutions, and youth from all over the world to follow along with the conversation and celebration on social media. This can be followed through the hashtag #ArabicLanguageDay.

One can also directly participate by attending the event at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France on the 18th of December starting at 9:30 am local time. 

The event will also follow an outline: 

  • Philosophy and Poetry: The Contribution of Arabic Poetry to Knowledge Shaping and Social Transformations
  • Arabic Language and Arts: Broadening Scopes of Cultural Diversity
  • ‘Arab Latinos!’: The Arabic Imprint in Latin America and the Caribbean

There is also a planned side event as well as the exhibition meant to further immerse participants and encourage dialogue. 

The side event aims to, according to UNESCO:

(…) Reflect on the initial outcomes and highlights of the forthcoming publication focused on the role of Arabic in social inclusion and its preservation within the Arabic-speaking communities of Europe while promoting their integration into host societies.

The exhibition, on another hand, will follow the ‘Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Programme for the Arabic Language at UNESCO’ which has been in charge of highlighting Arabic language contributions and rich history at UNESCO since 2016 and will continue to do so this year as well.


The importance of Arabic Language Day cannot be undermined. It is not only Arabic is one of the six languages of the UN, but it is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world with one of the richest histories known to our civilization. It is for that reason, that it is important to immerse and learn more about it. Not just for personal benefit, but the overall benefit of a multicultural society we all belong to. Arabic was a language used when one of the first universities in the world was created in Morocco. It is used for art and calligraphy. It is a bedrock of the world’s fastest-growing religion, studied even by those who do not speak Arabic.

Arabic is more than just verbal, more than a language, it is spoken through gestures as well, reflected in cultures, behaviours, and perceptions of those who use it. It is enriching with its beauty and complexities, adding sounds to poetry that cannot be found in other languages and must be expressed in its original form. It has over 14 words just for ‘love’ and various strengths of it. So what is there not to love about Arabic? What is there not to celebrate? And what better way to do so, than to dedicate a whole day where we can collectively gather and learn more about it? A day we can take a step back to, at the very least, appreciate the abundance of history, beauty, and culture that Arabic has, and continues to bring over into our world.

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