Estimated native speakers: 250 million
Estimated total speakers: 280 million
Official/de facto official language in: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, Yemen
Language family: Afro-Asiatic - Semitic
A brief history:
To say there is a single Arabic language would be misleading; there are a number of languages across the Middle East and Africa that stem from the Classical Arabic used to transcribe the Qur’an in the 7th century. They are often mutually unintelligible, which is where Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) comes in. MSA is the form of Arabic used for writing all over the Arabic world, including most books, newspapers, magazines and official documents. When two educated people from different Arabic countries meet, MSA will be the language in which they converse.
The roots of Arabic date back over a thousand years before the Qur’an. A proto-Arabic language (sometimes called Ancient North Arabian) can be seen in the Hasaean inscriptions of eastern Saudi Arabia, from the 8th century BC. More inscriptions from Qaryat al-Fāw (in what is now Saudi Arabia) dating from the 2nd century BC show the evolution of "Proto-Arabic" into Pre-Classical Arabic. By the 4th century AD, the Arab kingdoms of the Ghassanids in southern Syria, the Lakhmids in southern Iraq and the Kindite Kingdom emerged in Central Arabia and now provide some of the few surviving pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions in the Arabic script.
When the Qur’an was transcribed, the language used was based on what north Arabian tribes were speaking at the time. This rapidly spread across the Umayyad Caliphate as far as the Pyrenees. Written Arabic has changed little since (many Muslims consider the language sacred and recite their prayers in it) although the spoken language has diversified massively into the varying languages of the Middle East and North Africa.
As a result of proximity (and Al-Andalus) Arabic influence can be found in the European Romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and Sicilian.