What Is Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)?

What is MSA modern stander Arabic

Languages have always been the channels through which people around the world can communicate. However, tongues are in continuous evolution due to numerous factors; dealing with new people, performing new activities, or developing contemporary culture. Let’s take the MSA as an example. What is MSA (Modern Standard Arabic)? Do the natives feel the shift happening to their language or not? Does it happen in a good way or a bad way?  


What Is MSA (Modern Standard Arabic)?

MSA or Modern Standard Arabic, is the current Arabic used in schools, academic studies, press, media channels, etc. It keeps the same syntax and morphology as classical Arabic but has a different style. MSA became an origin point for learning Arabic; it has the common syntactic and phonological bases that qualify you to learn any Arabic dialect or slang.

MSA is not a spoken language in the streets or at daily life events, it is a professional language used in official platforms, professional businesses, governmental enterprises, and any other entity that seeks formality using spoken or written Arabic.

Even if MSA is not spoken in the Arab streets, it is understood by the people as it is just the original form of the language they speak, and they’ve already learned MSA in schools.   


The emergence of Modern Standard Arabic

It all started when Napoleon Bonaparte developed a military campaign for the Arab World, aiming for Egypt as his first destination in 1798. History tells us that the Ottoman Empire had a negative effect on these areas on cultural and scientific levels. Thus, as the French were discovering the monuments and great history of Egypt, some started to translate and determine the factors that put them a step ahead of the Muslim countries.

As the National voice started to rise in the second half of the 19th century, many scholars confirmed that there was a need to develop classical Arabic to have its own leap away from the Western effect. At this point, the reform of grammar and the changes in the structure and phraseology of the language began to develop.  


Current Situation of Modern Standard Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic is currently facing many challenges and enjoying many opportunities. This comes from social, economic, and political reasons that might affect all languages, not just MSA. The challenges and opportunities include:   


Opportunities of Modern Standard Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic has many opportunities that might make it more widely used. Arabic is spoken by more than 400 million Arab citizens, which makes it one of the most popular languages in the world. This made the General Assembly of the United Nations adopt Arabic as the sixth official language of the organization. 

MSA is also a flexible language that is capable of adding modern and contemporary words that meet the needs of the time. It also succeeds in adding foreign words to its vocabulary. The origin of these words comes from other languages like Old Greek, Persian, Latin, Aramaic, and more. 

MSA not only borrowed words from other languages but also lent some to others, including Turkish, Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, and Tagalog.  


Challenges of Modern Standard Arabic

Many reports monitor the MSA’s decline and state that the main reason for this civilization phenomenon is the low-quality education most school students have in the Arab world, including the MSA Curriculum and its teaching methodologies.

In the age of the internet and communication revolution, Arab countries suffer from high rates of illiteracy that require more developed campaigns with advanced tools and new methods that encourage people to learn.

Local dialects are beginning to spread on platforms that once used MSA. You can find many articles in newspapers that are written in colloquial Arabic. The book production rate is downgraded, and the number of books written in local Arabic dialects increases.

Using other languages in official publications might affect the application of MSA. Some enterprises believe that using a foreign language, like English,  facilitates their international business relationships. Yet, this triggers them to use this foreign language internally as well.  


Differences Between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic

There are six main aspects that illustrate the differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic (also referred to as Quranic Arabic) as it is the written language of the Quran. They include:  

1- Phonology

Although they speak the same language, MSA and Classical Arabic have different speech sounds and laws governing them. The points of comparison in phonology include:

Vowel Length

Arabic includes six vowels; three are letters, and the rest are considered diacritics. Classical Arabic classifies vowels into short and long ones. In MSA, vowels have a standard length. Vowels include:

  • Damma  ُ
  • Kasra ِ
  • Fatha َ
  • Alif ا
  • Wāw و  
  • Ya’ ي


Consonant Pronunciation

There are 29 consonant letters in the Arabic alphabet. We can find variations between consonant pronunciation in Classical Arabic and MSA. For example, Geem ج is pronounced as a voiced palatal fricative in Classical Arabic. It is an affricate in some types of MSA, where it starts by completely blocking the airway from exiting the vocal tract (like a stop sound), then releases it through a restricted opening.  


2- Morphology 

The differences between MSA and Classical Arabic in Morphology take many forms, including:  

  • Verb Conjugation

The verb conjugation system in classical Arabic is more complicated than in MSA. For instance, while the passive voice is expressed in MSA using the verb “to be,” Classical Arabic has a separate conjugation for it.   

  • Pronouns

There is a more extensive system of pronouns in Classical Arabic when compared to MSA. Thus, there are separate pronouns for different grammatical cases in Classical Arabic.   


3- Syntax

You may find a little difference between the syntax in Classical Arabic and that in MSA. The major conflicts come from:

  • Word Order

The order of words in a Classical Arabic sentence might be more flexible than in MSA sentences. MSA follows a strict formula, the Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) structure. In Classical Arabic, it is normal to find the verb coming before or after the subject, and the object preceding or following the verbs.  

  • Use of Inflection

Changing the words’ endings or inflection is more used in Classical Arabic to clarify grammatical relationships than MSA. While MSA uses prepositions to indicate the same relationship or depend on the comprehension of the receiver for the sentence.  


4- Vocabulary

Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Classical Arabic with the Qureshi dialect, which was the dominant dialect at that time. Many words used in the Quran can be easily understood by people of this time. However, MSA replaced these words with others, which made the language simpler and more suitable for today.  


5- Style

Classical Arabic uses much longer sentences that seem more complex compared to current MSA sentences, which are much shorter and simpler.  


6- Usage

While Classical Arabic is mostly used in religious contexts. While the MSA is used in contexts including broadcasts, literature, and official documents.  


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Modern Standard Arabic Phonology

28 consonant phonemes and 8 vowel phonemes are found in the Modern Standard Arabic according to Modern Standard Arabic, a linguistics researcher.

All phonemes vary between “emphatic” (pharyngealized) consonants and non-emphatic ones. In other words, units of unique speech sounds or gestures, which can distinguish one word from another, are articulated with the participation of the pharynx or epiglottis.  


Pros of Learning MSA

Modern Standard Arabic is a portal that opens new horizons to explore opportunities that enrich life, work, and spirit. Here are the reasons you might need to know before learning MSA:


1- Widely Comprehended in the MENA Region

MSA is not the spoken language in the MENA region, as every Arab country has its own dialect. However, it is understood by all citizens, it is considered a common language that facilitates communication.

Printed publications, broadcast media, law, legislation, academia, and modern literature use MSA throughout the Middle East and North Africa regions. Even if natives do not use MSA in their ordinary conversation, they hear it on news broadcasts, read it in books, and learned at school.  


2- A Start Point To Learn Other Dialects

The conditions and rules of MSA can be the basics you can use to learn other local dialects as Egyptian, Levantine, or other. Therefore, learning MSA can be a trigger to learn the dialect you aim for.  


3- A Practical Way to Follow the MENA Events

If you are interested in the events happening in the Middle East, learning MSA will help you know the updates regularly. Whatever your interests; political, artistic, or other, you will have the opportunity to know more and faster from Arabic sources.   


4- A Mean That Facilitates the Arab Culture Comprehension

Understanding any culture becomes easier when you learn its language. On learning MSA, you know that Arab like mentioning “love” in their conversations. There are more than 24 words that describe love, that includes ود، حب، غرام، وئام، هيام، … etc.  


5- Business and Professional Opportunities Development

More than 22 countries speak Arabic. This makes learning MSA a chance to establish a new office for your company in an Arab country. Also, if you’re looking for a tremendous career, learning MSA can make you a company representative or your country representative in a Middle Eastern country.  


Is Learning Modern Standard Arabic Worth It?

Yes, learning Modern Standard Arabic is worth it. It is comprehended by all Arabs as they speak dialects that have numerous common elements of MSA. It is taught in Arab schools, and applied in the press, radio broadcasts, TV news, religious objectives, and official statements.

If you are interested in the culture of the Arab world, looking for a localization and a career in the Arab Gulf, or even need to know more about Islam, learning MSA is the first step you should take. and it’s what we provide in our Arabic online course 

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