It’s important to understand how Modern Standard Arabic has evolved when thinking about Arabic localization – and the history is fascinating. 

Arabic is the fifth largest language in the world with over 400 million speakers. They’re primarily based in northern Africa and the Middle East. 

The written form plays a big role in culture because it’s the language of the Koran and is read by nearly two billion practising Muslims.

The people who speak different Arabic dialects won’t necessarily understand each other but Modern Standard Arabic provides an opportunity for Arabic localization.

The importance of Modern Standard Arabic

The Koran is written in Classical Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic has an expanded vocabulary and is used in books, the media etc. 

Modern Standard Arabic is the most popular of the two writing forms and is nearly universal in Arabic-speaking nations.

People don’t speak Modern Standard Arabic in everyday life, although it is used for formal speech. This is particularly helpful to allow the speakers of different dialects to do business.

The use of Modern Standard Arabic online has helped develop and homogenize the language. It’s the twelfth most popular language on the internet, accounting for around 1% of websites.

Media outlets like Al-Jazeera play an important role too.

The development of Modern Standard Arabic’s vocabulary

Modern Standard Arabic is important to translations because its expanded vocabulary means you can translate words that are important to apps and software. 

New words are based on components of Arabic words or adopted from European languages. For example, the Arabic word for “internet” is إنترنت, which is “internet” spelt phonetically.

However, Modern Standard Arabic may not have widely accepted terms for specialized concepts, creating issues for translators.

This has led to technical translations like صف المُطلق for “absolute zero” (the lowest temperature possible).

 صف المُطلق literally translates as “absolute row”, but has been defined by technical dictionary ARABTERM.

Developing a termbase for Arabic translations

Termbases record key phrases with their meaning and translation, helping create accurate and consistent translations.

We recommend creating a termbase when you start the translation and localization process.

New words are being added to Modern Standard Arabic to meet the demands of modern software and specialist applications. The answers won’t always be readily available but creating termbase entries provides an opportunity to discuss and define your approach.

The barriers to translation and localization

There are 30 Arabic dialects. The differences mean speakers of different dialects are often unlikely to understand each other. 

  • Egyptian Arabic has over 64 million native speakers, primarily in Egypt.
  • Levantine Arabic has over 36 million native speakers. North Levantine stems from northern Turkey and South Levantine is spoken in Palestine, Jordan, the UAE, and elsewhere.
  • Gulf Arabic only has 6 million native speakers, but they’re predominantly based in the UAE and surrounding area making it an important language for business.

If your software includes sound clips, localization may require translation to particular dialects. It’s a question of balancing your resources with the benefits of a more refined product.

The good news is that if you focus on business users then Modern Standard Arabic is acceptable.

Getting started with localization

Modern Standard Arabic provides a helpful base for Arabic translation. It’s widely used for writing and an important business language.

Modern Standard Arabic’s vocabulary means localization can be more difficult than other languages but it’s manageable. 

Locale can advise on your Arabic localization strategy as well as carrying out the work. Click here to find out how to get in touch.