The Middle East is a geographical region comprised of 17 nations that cover territory in both Asia and Africa. The region spans an area of roughly 2,782,860 square miles, and in 2010 it was home to more than 370 million people. The Middle East is one of the most linguistically diverse regions with more than 60 languages being spoken in the region including Arabic, Greek, and Kurdish. Most of the languages spoken in the Middle East are native to the region while others were introduced from other parts of the world.
Languages Spoken in the Middle East
One of the most commonly spoken languages in the Middle East is Arabic which is native to the region. Some of the nations where Arabic is most widely spoken include Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Some Arabic dialects are spoken throughout the region with Modern Standard Arabic being the official language in several countries. Historical evidence indicates that Arabic originated in the region and was primarily spoken by nomadic communities. Arabic spread throughout the Middle East as a result of intermarriage between the nomadic tribes and other tribes in the region. Another effect of the intermarriages was that it resulted in the creation of several dialects. Another factor that led to the spread of Arabic was the spread of Islam. Arabic has had a significant impact on other languages spoken in the Middle East.
Another dominant language spoken in the Middle East is Hebrew which is primarily spoken in Israel. Hebrew is one of the languages used by a significant number of people native to the Middle East and it has been used for a long time. One of the main ways through which Hebrew spread throughout the Middle East is by the intermarriage of the native speakers and other communities. For a time, Hebrew was considered a dead language; however, due to the action of several activists and scholars, it was revived as a spoken language. Data indicates that more than 9 million people speak Hebrew all over the world. In the Middle East, Israel is the only nation that uses Hebrew as its official language. The version of Hebrew that is used as the official Israeli language is Modern Hebrew. On the other hand, pre-modern Hebrew is chiefly used in religious activities. One of the most commonly spoken Hebrew dialects is Samaritan Hebrew which is primarily used by the Samaritans in their religious activities. Other dialects emerged as a result of the interaction between Hebrew and other languages such as Spanish, Russian and Arabic.
Turkish is also widely spoken in parts of the Middle East, primarily in Turkey. The Turks, the native speakers of Turkish, are among the people of the Middle East and they are the language's primary speakers. Linguistic data indicates that Turkish was the third most commonly used language in the Middle East. Unlike other languages that are common to the region, historical data indicates that Turkish originated in Mongolia. Ottoman Turkish is one of the most widely known variants of Turkish. Ottoman Turkish incorporated elements of other local languages such as Persian and Arabic. Ottoman Turkish was mainly limited to the upper-class Turks as the lower class Turks found it challenging to understand due to the influence of other languages. The lower class Turks spoke a variant of Turkish referred to raw Turkish. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Ottoman Turkish underwent several reforms which resulted in the removal of most Persian and Arabic words. The reformed form of Turkish is currently used as Turkey's official language. The modern version of Turkish has some dialects such as Güneydoğu, Rumelice, and Doğu.
Another language commonly spoken in the Middle East is Persian which is primarily spoken in Iran and in several countries that border the country. More than 100 million people speak the Persian language all over the world. In the Middle East, Iran is the only nation that uses Persian as its official language. Linguistic research has shown that Persian has dramatically influenced other local languages such as Turkish and Arabic. Persian is one of the languages that have its origins in the Middle East. Linguistic scholars refer to the form of Persian currently in use as Contemporary Persian, which is based on a dialect spoken in Tehran, and it led to the replacement of Classical Persian. Several European languages such as Russian and French have influenced the formation of Contemporary Persian. Contemporary Persian has some dialects such as Western Persian, which is primarily spoken by people who live in Iran, Dari Persian, which is chiefly spoken by people who reside in Afghanistan, and Tajik Persian, which is predominantly used by people who live in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Even though Russian is not native to the region, it is one of the main languages spoken in the region primarily in Israel. Russian entered the Middle East mainly as a result of immigration by Zionists from Russia to the region. Since a significant number of the Zionists lived in Russia, they had close ties to the language and the culture. In the modern era, roughly 20% of the Israel people spoke Russian. Apart from Israel, Russian is also spoken in Syria. Unlike Israel that has close historical ties to Russia, Russian was introduced to the Syrian people as a result of Russia's close military ties to Syria. The Russian government provided military assistance to the Syrian government and Russian was introduced to Syrian schools as a way of showing gratitude.
Another European language commonly spoken in the Middle East is the English language. In several Middle Eastern nations such as Egypt, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates, the language is taught in schools as a second language. English is chiefly used for business language between Middle Eastern people and other foreigners. A large number of foreign tourists in the Middle East have also contributed greatly to increasing the region's English speakers.
The Significance of Communal Languages
Languages are vital to Middle Eastern countries as they promote unity between the citizens. The languages also enable individuals to carry out business transactions which improve the economy of the countries.
What Languages Are Spoken In The Middle East?
Arabic is the most widely spoken language in the Middle East and is the official language of many of the region's countries.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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