Arabic on the Internet: Background


People who speak Arabic as a first language were about 181 million in 1997 (according to Times 1997 article), making it the Fifth language in the world.

Let us first look at the possible reasons of why the top five languages are popular:

  1. Mandarin Chinese is number one, but limited to largely a huge country, because of the sheer population size there (about one fifth of the total world population.
  2. English comes in second, mainly because of the colonial past of Britain and it being the business language of the world in the 20th century.
  3. Spanish is third because of Spain's imperial past in Mexico, Central and South America.
  4. Hindi is fourth, and largely limited to one populous country (second most populous in the world after China.
  5. Arabic spans an area stretching form Southern Anatolia in the North to Yemen in the South, and form the Persian Gulf in the East to Atlantic Morocco in the West.

Why is Arabic different?

Arabic as a language shares other Semitic features too, such as eachword having a so called root, composed of 3 or 4 consonant sounds.Also, some sounds in Semitic languages do not exist in other languagefamilies at all.

The Arabic script is different because as a Semitic language, it is written from the right to the left. This feature is shared with other Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and others.

The Arabic script, and other Semitic scripts to varying extents, change the shape of the letter depending on its position in the word and what other letters precede of follow it in the word.

These aspects combine to make displaying and printing of Arabic more complicated and often challenging than other Western based languages.