Modern Standard Arabic: When Do you Need it?

modern standard arabic when do you need it

Arabic is one of the hardest languages in the world. Specifically, when it comes to translation from and to the language. From being written from right to left to complex grammar rules to dozens of dialects. This brings us to Modern Standard Arabic.

What is Modern Standard Arabic and how does it affect translation? And as a business with a project that requires Arabic translation, should you request Modern Standard Arabic? Localization? Both?

Today, Arab countries use Modern Standard Arabic in their official documents with other Arab-speaking nations. But it’s a lot different from spoken Arabic.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on what Modern Standard Arabic is and when to use it. We’ll also explore the differences between Modern Standard Arabic and Arabic localization services.

What is Modern Standard Arabic?

To explain what Modern Standard Arabic is – and isn’t, you should know that there are three levels of Arabic:

– Classical or Qur’anic Arabic: That’s the language used in the Holy Qur’an and that was used hundreds of years ago. It’s very formal.

– Modern Standard Arabic: This is the Arabic used in writing and documents. It’s often referred to as formal or written Arabic. Few Arab people use Modern Standard Arabic in speech. Although non-Arab Muslim may do so.

– Colloquial Arabic: This is the Arabic spoken in each Arab country. It’s where the dialects come in.

It’s worth noting that while there are many similarities between Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic, the latter has witnessed the addition of new terms, phrases, ideas, and vocabulary that were not present in Classical Arabic or when the Qur’an was written.

Where is Modern Standard Arabic spoken?

Native Arabic language speakers don’t use Modern Standard Arabic in speech unless it’s for interpretation purposes.

So, there is no exact answer to this question. Non-Arab Muslims speak Modern Standard Arabic. You may find people in Indonesia, Turkey, and other countries with non-Arab populations who use formal Arabic in speech.

Modern Standard Arabic vs Dialects

As you can see and expect, written Arabic is quite different from spoken Arabic.

Unlike English where it’s pretty much the same in both, spoken Arabic would sound like an entirely different language to someone who was only familiar with Modern Standard Arabic rules.

The Egyptian dialect is by far the most popular because Egypt is the most populated Arab country with over 100 million people. Egyptian Arabic is also considered the easiest.

In translation, you need to know whether you need Modern Standard Arabic or a local dialect. The type of project you need to translate and your intended audience will determine the type of Arabic translation you need.

Here are a few more points you need to be aware of when it comes to writing in or translating into Arabic:

– There are 22 Arab countries around the world.

– There are over 25 Arabic dialects (not to mention some sub-dialects for specific regions within each country, though these are rarely used in translation).

– Muslim non-Arab countries such as Indonesia and Turkey use a combination of Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic.

What you need to know about Modern Standard Arabic

So, when do people – Arabs and non-Arabs – use Modern Standard Arabic?

Here are several areas where Modern Standard Arabic is the go-to for Arabic language translation.

– Standard for writing

Whether it’s a news piece, a book, a report, a case study, or something else, Modern Standard Arabic is your go-to for Arabic translation needs.

Translating website content may require Modern Standard Arabic or a combination of localization and formal Arabic. It depends on the business, the target audience, and other factors. E-commerce website translation – including Shopify store translation – usually requires this combination.

Websites that do not focus on a specific region usually require translation using Modern Standard Arabic.

Literary translation usually uses Modern Standard Arabic. The exception here is some Egyptian novels and non-fiction books where authors use colloquial Egyptian Arabic in their writing.

Having translated a novel from colloquial Egyptian Arabic to English, I can tell you it’s a ton of work. Novel translation falls under creative and literary translation, which is very flexible in the rules.

– Legal translation

Translating contracts, agreements, and various types of official documents requires Modern Standard Arabic. Legal translation and writing need to be formal, making Modern Standard Arabic the best option for this type of content.

– Educational content

Another area where Modern Standard Arabic is employed most is educational content. All school books and textbooks are written in formal Arabic.

Non-fiction books also require a degree of formal Arabic because they are directed to all Arabic-language readers, regardless of location.

It’s for this reason that non-Arab Muslims learn Modern Standard Arabic. It’s how they learn Arabic.

Anyone who decides to learn Arabic for educational or research purposes will begin with Modern Standard Arabic. However, those looking to travel or move to another country are more likely to learn the local language or dialect. Otherwise, they would sound very out-of-place.

– Medical translation and technical translation

Technical documents such as how-to guides, online or in print, for machines and devices use Modern Standard Arabic. This applies to both writing and translation.

Translating medical terminology, reports, and documents requires formal Arabic.

Modern Standard Arabic vs Localization: When to use which?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of Modern Standard Arabic, it’s time to show you when to use or request formal Arabic translation and when to seek localization.

First, we need to explain what localization is:

Localization is a sub-category of translation that adapts the content to a specific region or country. It involves translating dialects. For an Arabic-speaking audience, localization would involve translating Arabic dialects.

And since most translation work is formal, localization picks up this trait.

What services combine Modern Standard Arabic with localization?

The top areas that require a combination of Modern Standard Arabic and localization are:

  • Subtitling services
  • Online courses: If the instructor is an Egyptian, they’re likely to teach the course in colloquial Egyptian Arabic and use Modern Standard Arabic for the written content. If the instructor is not an Egyptian then they’re likely to combine Modern Standard Arabic and localization.
  • Video games
  • Educational videos in general can make use of this combination. However, those created for YouTube and Instagram often use the speaker’s local dialect.
  • Websites and other online content

Modern Standard Arabic in speech

While Modern Standard Arabic is not easy on the ear, especially in countries like Egypt, it can still be used in Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

That said, people will know that Arabic isn’t your mother tongue because Modern Standard Arabic isn’t used in speech.

The exceptions where Modern Standard Arabic is used in speech are in:

  • Speeches by presidents
  • Statements by government officials such as ministers
  • Public or official announcements (government, companies (sometimes)…etc)
  • Cartoons teaching formal Arabic to children (the cartoon characters use formal Arabic)

In other words, localization is for content directed to a certain country but doesn’t include legal language or formal documents.

That’s why localization services are often required with: – Translating marketing materials – Creative translation or transcreation services – Video game localization – Translating e-learning materials including online course translation

– E-commerce websites

– Media content

Wrapping it up

Modern Standard Arabic is used in all Arab countries. Unlike the colloquial and local tongue, Modern Standard Arabic doesn’t come with variations. The grammar and writing rules are clear.

It’s the basis for all Arabic translation services. Still, as the world progresses, language has to keep up.

And so while Modern Standard Arabic sees the addition of new terminology, ideas, verbs, and words, sometimes a higher level of specialization or localization might be needed

As an Arabic translation agency, we’ve dealt with and translated various types of content from and to Arabic – regardless of dialect.

Got a project, document, or video you want to translate into Arabic but you’re not sure whether to use Modern Standard Arabic or localization? Get in touch with TranslationPartner and our team will help you sort through your needs.