Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is its direct descendant used today throughout the Arab world in writing and in formal speaking, for example, prepared speeches, some radio broadcasts, and non-entertainment content; it is also used in modernized versions of the Quran and revised editions of poetries and novels from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries). While the lexis and stylistics of Modern Standard Arabic are different from Classical Arabic, the morphology and syntax have remained basically unchanged (though MSA uses a subset of the syntactic structures available in CA). In the Arab world, little distinction is made between CA and MSA, and both are normally called al-fuṣḥá (الفصحى) in Arabic, meaning 'the most eloquent (Arabic language)'.
In the late 6th century AD, a relatively uniform intertribal ‘poetic koiné’ distinct from the spoken vernaculars developed based on the Bedouin dialects of Najd, probably in connection with the Lakhmid court of al-Ḥīra. During the first Islamic century the majority of Arabic poets and Arabic-writing persons spoke a form of Arabic as their mother tongue. Their texts, although mainly preserved in far later manuscripts, contain traces of non-standardized Classical Arabic elements in morphology and syntax. The standardization of Classical Arabic reached completion around the end of the 8th century. Thus, Arabic almost became a dead language since "the Arabized people of Middle East and Africa could no longer understand texts that were read aloud or recited to them before," i.e. Arabic had ceased to be a first language and became a foreign language that had to be learned. The first comprehensive description of the ʿarabiyya "Arabic", Sībawayhi's al-Kitāb, is based first of all upon a corpus of poetic texts, in addition to the Qurʾān and Bedouin informants whom he considered to be reliable speakers of the ʿarabiyya. "Colloquial" Arabic refers to the many regional dialects derived from Arabic spoken daily across the region and learned as a first language, and as second language if people speak other languages native to their particular country. By the 8th century, knowledge of Classical Arabic had become an essential prerequisite for rising into the higher classes throughout the Islamic world, as it was the lingua franca across the Middle East, North Africa, Horn of Africa during those times; the analogy is like most literate Romance speakers were also literate in Classical Latin. Various Arabic dialects freely borrowed words from Classical Arabic, this situation is similar to Romance languages, wherein scores of words were borrowed directly from Classical Latin. People speak Classical Arabic as a second language if they speak colloquial Arabic dialects as their first language, but as a third language if others speak other languages native to a country as their first language and colloquial Arabic dialects as their second language. But Classical Arabic was spoken with different pronunciations influenced by informal dialects. The differentiation of the pronunciation of informal dialects is the influence from native languages previously spoken and some presently spoken in the regions, such as Coptic in Egypt, Berber, Punic or Phoenician in North Africa, Himyaritic, Modern South Arabian and Old South Arabian in Yemen, and Aramaic in the Levant.
Like Modern Standard Arabic, Classical Arabic had 28 consonant phonemes:
|Nasal||m م||n ن|
|Plosive||voiceless||t ت||k ك||ʔ ء↓|
|voiced||b ب||d د||tˠ~dˠ 1 ط||ɟ 3 ج||qˠ ق|
|Fricative||voiceless||f ف||θ ث||s 2 س||sˠ ص||ɕ ش||χˠ خ||ħ ح||h ه|
|voiced||ð ذ||z ز||ðˠ ظ||ʁˠ غ||ʕ ع|
|Lateral||l~ɫ 4 ل||ɮˠ ض|
|Tap||ɾˠ~ɾ~r 5 ر|
|Approximant||j ي↓||w و↓|
The A1 inscription dated to the 3rd or 4th c. AD in the Greek alphabet in a dialect showing affinities to that of the Safaitic inscriptions shows that short final high vowels had been lost in at least some dialects of Old Arabic at that time, obliterating the distinction between nominative and genitive case in the singular, leaving the accusative the only marked case:
أوس (بن) عود (بن) بناء (بن) كازم الإدامي أتو من شحاص؛ أتو بناء الدورة ويرعو بقلة بكانون.
ʾAws (ibin) ʿūḏ (?) (ibin) Bannāʾ (ibin) Kazim ʾal-ʾidāmiyy ʾatawa miś-śiḥāṣ; ʾatawa Bannāʾa ʾad-dawra wa yirʿaw baqla bi-kānūn
"ʾAws son of ʿūḏ (?) son of Bannāʾ son of Kazim the ʾidāmite came because of scarcity; he came to Bannāʾ in this region and they pastured on fresh herbage during Kānūn".
|Safaitic (ca. 3rd - 4th c. AD)|
|Triptote||Diptote||Dual||Masculine Plural||Feminine Plural|
Classical Arabic however, shows a far more archaic system, essentially identical with that of Proto-Arabic:
|Classical Arabic (ca. 7th c. AD)|
|Triptote||Diptote||Dual||Masculine Plural||Feminine Plural|
The definite article spread areally among the Central Semitic languages and it would seem that Proto-Arabic lacked any overt marking of definiteness. Besides dialects with no definite article, the Safaitic inscriptions exhibit about four different article forms, ordered by frequency: h-, ʾ-, ʾl-, and hn-. The Old Arabic of the Nabataean inscriptions exhibits almost exclusively the form ʾl-. Unlike the Classical Arabic article, the Old Arabic ʾl almost never exhibits the assimilation of the coda to the coronals; the same situation is attested in the Graeco-Arabica, but in A1 the coda assimilates to the following d, αδαυρα *ʾad-dawra الدورة 'the region'.
In Classical Arabic, the definite article takes the form ʾal-, with the coda of the article exhibiting assimilation to the following dental and denti-alveolar consonants. Note the inclusion of palatal /ɕ/, which alone among the palatal consonants exhibits assimilation, indicating that assimilation ceased to be productive before that consonant shifted from Old Arabic /ɬ/:
|n n – ن|
|t t – ت||tˤ ṭ – ط|
|d d – د|
|θ ṯ – ث||s s – س||sˤ ṣ – ص|
|ð ḏ – ذ||ðˤ ẓ – ظ||z z – ز|
|ɕ (< *ɬ) š – ش||ɮˤ ḍ – ض|
|l l – ل|
|r r – ر|
Proto-Central Semitic, Proto-Arabic, various forms of Old Arabic, and some modern Najdi dialects to this day have alternation in the performative vowel of the prefix conjugation, depending on the stem vowel of the verb. Early forms of Classical Arabic allowed this alternation, but later forms of Classical Arabic levelled the /a/ allomorph:
|3 m.sg.||ya-rkabu (< *yi-)||ya-qtulu||ya-...-u|
|Look up Classical Arabic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up Modern Standard Arabic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up Fus-ha in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|