Arabic is a Central Semitic language, thus related to and classified alongside other Semitic languages such as Hebrew and the Neo-Aramaic languages. Arabic has more speakers than any other language in the Semitic language family. It is spoken by more than 280 million people as a first language, most of who live in the Middle East and North Africa. It is the official language of 22 countries and it is the liturgical language of Islam since it is the language of the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book. Arabic has many different, geographically distributed spoken varieties, some of which are mutually unintelligible Modern Standard Arabic (sometimes called Literary Arabic) is widely taught in schools, universities, and used in workplaces, government and the media.
Modern Standard Arabic derives from Classical Arabic, the only surviving member of the Old North Arabian dialect group, attested in Pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions dating back to the 4th century. Classical Arabic has also been a literary language and the liturgical language of Islam since its inception in the 7th century.
Arabic has lent many words to other languages of the Islamic world, like Turkish, Urdu and Persian. During the Middle Ages, Arabic was a major vehicle of culture in Europe, especially in science, mathematics and philosophy. As a result, many European languages have also borrowed many words from it. Arabic influence is seen in Mediterranean languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and Sicilian, owing to both the proximity of European and Arab civilizations and 700 years of Arab rule in the Iberian peninsula.
The influence of Arabic has been most important in Islamic countries. Arabic is a major source of vocabulary for languages such as Baluchi, Bengali, Berber, Catalan, Cypriot Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindustani,Indonesian, Kurdish, Malay, Marathi, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Rohingya, Sindhi, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Turkish and Urdu as well as other languages in countries where these languages are spoken. For example, the Arabic word for book has been borrowed in all the languages listed, with the exception of Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese which use the Latin-derived words "libro", "llibre" and "livro", respectively, Tagalog which uses "aklat", Hebrew which uses "sefer" and Gujarati which uses "chopdi".
In addition, English has many Arabic loan words, some directly but most through the medium of other Mediterranean languages. Examples of such words include admiral, adobe, alchemy, alcohol, algebra, algorithm, alkaline, almanac, amber, arsenal, assassin, banana, candy, carat, cipher, coffee, cotton, hazard, jar, jasmine, lemon, loofah, magazine, mattress, sherbet, sofa, sugar, sumac, tariff and many other words. Other languages such as Maltese and Kinubi derive from Arabic, rather than merely borrowing vocabulary or grammar rules.
The earliest surviving texts in Proto-Arabic, or Ancient North Arabian, are the Hasaean inscriptions of eastern Saudi Arabia, from the 8th century BC, written not in the modern Arabic alphabet, nor in its Nabataeanancestor, but in variants of the epigraphic South Arabian musnad. These are followed by 6th-century BC Lihyanite texts from southeastern Saudi Arabia and the Thamudic texts found throughout Arabia and theSinai, and not actually connected with Thamud. Later come the Safaitic inscriptions beginning in the 1st century BC, and the many Arabic personal names attested in Nabataean inscriptions (which are, however, written in Aramaic).
From about the 2nd century BC, a few inscriptions from Qaryat al-Faw (near Sulayyil) reveal a dialect which is no longer considered "Proto-Arabic", but Pre-Classical Arabic. By the fourth century AD, the Arab kingdoms of the Lakhmids in southern Iraq, the Ghassanids in southern Syria the Kindite Kingdom emerged in Central Arabia. Their courts were responsible for some notable examples of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, and for some of the few surviving pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions in the Arabic alphabet.