question about the Koran and the Arabic language

OK, Ive been told that the true or proper Koran must be in it’s native Arabic. But it was supposedly written several hundred years ago.
Is the Arabic language the same now as then? (Seems highly unlikely). If not, is the Koran writen in the original or ancient Arabic rather than the modern? If so, how different is it to modern Arabic?

Arabic has evolved into various local dialects. I can’t get a straight answer about how mutually intelligible they are.

However, the classical arabic of the Koran is still in use, still taught in schools, still spoken. I understand that the spoken dialectal arabic used in some countries, particularily in the gulf, is still very similar to classical arabic.

There’s also a “standard modern arabic” which is a slightly modernized and simplified version of the Koranic arabic.
No doubt that more knowledgeable posters will soon come to give a more complete, and probably more accurate, answer.

Is the shifting dialect at all tangled with the different sects of Islam? In other words, have there been interpritational arguments caused by the evolving language that have lead to the formation of new sects in Islam, or biases between one sect and another that are based on language issues?

Really want to learn more about this kind of thing. Surprised by my own ignorance sometimes.


To my knowledge, no. There were sectarian issues as far back as Mohommed’s passing, an ascendancy/authority split which has had the ripple effect of interpretive differences through the centuries. Not unlike Christianity.

The Quran is best understood with a good knowledge of Arabic considering the multiple and related meanings of Arabic root words. It’s a bit like trying to understand puns if you don’t speak the language to my understanding. The interpretations of the Quran you can buy try to bridge this gap with Shakespeare-style liner notes, but I still have trouble understanding passages. There’s a cyclical Bedouin poetry tradition it draws from as well, which I think is easier to catch on to if that’s the root of your native language’s literary tradition.

Arabic has around 50 dialects. There’s a “standard modern arabic” as mentioned. Also Egyptian Arabic is widely understood as they have the largest population and oldest mass media; the old movies on the tube are usually Egyptian. Someone in North Africa and in the Gulf speaking their own dialects would apparently have a difficult time understanding each other, but everyone learns the classical Arabic of the Quran.

Like he said.

Further to the problems of interpretations, one is the use of the word ‘usury.’ It is prohibited by the Faith, but what exactly is the definition of ‘usury?’ Careers have been made and broken over this sort of thing.

My understanding is that Classical (i.e. Quranic) Arabic is still held as the standard of the language, and whatever a person’s spoken language or dialect may be, they’re expected to be literate in Classical Arabic, since it’s the model for modern writing. How true that is I don’t know, but it’s actually not terribly unusual among societies for the language of writing to be quite different from that of normal speech. The modern dialects of Arabic are to a great degree mutually incomprehensible, so one common standard would hold them to be separate languages.

So in that case, is what is read as “authentic” today exactly the same (grammatically, stylistically, etc) as what was originally written? No changes at all?
Crandolph mentions that there are numerous dialects, which dialect is the Quran in?

The original. A copy published last weeks should be identical to one published a thousand years ago. The trouble would be we might pronounce some words differently, and might have different interpretations as to what some words mean.

Thanks to everyone for the input. This is really quite facinating. It is interesting to know that the insistance on keeping the Koran in the original language has been so effective.

I think it’s worth pointing out that the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims do not speak Arabic. Arabs account for around 15% of Muslims.

so what particular dialect is it in? (I guess that would depend on what area Mohamed was from, but I don’t know that either. :D)

He was from the Arabian peninsula, and spoke a dialect we can assume is obsolete. It was centuries ago after all. I’m sure a linguist will come along soon and provide an answer, but it’s a bit like asking “What modern English accent did Chaucer (or maybe Shakespeare, you get the idea) have?”

I would expect modern Arabian penninsular dialects of the language to be closest to this obsolete dialect, but even that might be a faulty assumption if there was an interesting migration pattern for a particular group at some point. I know a Yemeni guy who claims that some rural Egyptians understand him better than some other Arabian pen. folks for just that reason.

In Egypt (and probably other Arab countries), the everyday spoken language is colloquial, as referenced by other posters. For more formal spoken use, such as news broadcasts, public speeches and ceremonies, classical Arabic is used. Classical Arabic is sufficiently different from modern colloquial Arabic as to be a different language. Ever try to read the original Chaucer?

My wife is Egyptian and fluent in colloquial Egyptian Arabic but did not grow up there so does not speak classical Arabic. She did not understand a word of our own wedding ceremony.

Which raises the question - how do they read their own scriptures, since the Quran is rarely translated? I always assumed people learned at least a modicum of Arabic in order to be literate in their own religion. Is it more along the lines of the way lay Catholics used to just parrot Latin phrases they didn’t understand during Mass?

These dialects didn’t exist at the time of Mohamed, since the various areas where they’re now spoken weren’t arab at this time. Arabic is spoken there only as a result of the arab expansion. Before that, people would speak Berber in what is now Morroco, Coptic or Greek in what is now Egyptia, and so on…Arabic was adopted as the mainstream language as a result of the conquest, and only then evolved in various local dialects. Think of Latin, that replaced the local languages in Gaul, Iberia, etc… and later evolved into french, spanish, etc…

Well…I assume there probably already were several existing arabic dialects at the time of Mohamed, but only in a small area, and not related to the modern dialects (though it could be possible that a particular tribe, speaking a somewhat different specific arabic dialect, could have established itself in a particular place and have locally influenced the spoken language, hence that some modern local variations in say, Lebanon or Algeria could be somehow related to a different dialect spoken at the time of Mohamed in a specific place in Arabia, but it’s a bit of a stretch)

I’m sure the Quran is on the short list of World’s Most Translated Books… probably #2 behind the Bible, in fact. What you can buy (or people will just give you in an Islamic society) is what’s called an “interpretation of the meanings of the Holy Quran” which is essentially a translation, with the roundabout title emphasizing that you could understand it better if you could read it in the original.

Serious converts and people growing up with the religion do study the language itself. Probably about just under half of the world’s Muslims are already using a modified Arabic script to read their own language, which is certainly a leg up. It’s really not much different than Catholic school’s Latin education (which they appear to have gone lax on in the US since Vatican II) so that a good student could understand mass & the classics.

This really amazes me. I had also heard that the Quran is rarely translated. I guess that’s more myth than truth.

The only Latin I learned from Catholic school and church was “Dona Nobis Pachem” and “Kirea Elasan,” both of which I am misspelling and neither of which I understand at all. That’s why I thought it was such a clever idea, from a mesage control point of view, to keep a religious text in one language.

Pullet can spell well, but occasionally she runs out of chicken feed to put on the keys and mis-types. Yeah, that’s it.

If you check your local library, you will doubtless find “interpretations” in English. It’s not hard to find in English at all, in fact.

Thanks, I think I might. However, and this is a bit off topic, how completely does the average Muslim take the Quran? I mean, I would say that most self-identified Christians I know not only don’t take the Bible literally, they also rarely take it in its entirety. They often stick to key phrases and ideas and are partially or completely unfamiliar with other parts. Sort of a Greatest Hits Album. Is there anything like this in the Muslim community, or are Islamic people by and large familiar with all of or nearly all of the Quran, whether in their native tongue or not?

Appolgies if this has been asked in the SDMB before or if I have offended anyone. Sometimes learning is rude and repetitive.