Arabic is the native language of majorities from Mauritania to Oman, and from Iraq to the Sudan. As the language of the Qur'an and as a lingua franca, it is studied widely in the non-Arabic-speaking Muslim world as well. Its spoken form is divided into a number of varieties, some not mutually comprehensible, united by a single written form. The principal exception to this almost universal use of Arabic script is the Maltese language, genetically a descendant of the extinct Sicilian Arabic dialect. The Maltese alphabet is based on the Latin script with the addition of some letters with diacritic marks and digraphs. Maltese is the only Semitic official language within the European Union.
Despite the ascendancy of Arabic in the Middle East, other Semitic languages still exist. Hebrew, long extinct as a colloquial language and in use only in Jewish literary, intellectual, and liturgical activity, was revived in spoken form at the end of the 19th century by the Jewish linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. It has become the main language of Israel, while remaining the language of liturgy and religious scholarship of Jews worldwide.
Several smaller ethnic groups, in particular the Christian Assyrians and Gnostic Mandeans, continue to speak and write Mesopotamian Aramaic dialects (especially Neo-Aramaic, descended from Syriac) in northern Iraq, south eastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, and northeast Syria and the Caucasus. These dialects still contain a number of Akkadian loan words. Syriac itself, a descendant of Mesopotamian Old Aramaic, is used liturgically by Lebanese (the Maronites), Syrian and Assyrian Christians throughout Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Turkey.
In Arabic-dominated Yemen and Oman, on the southern rim of the Arabian Peninsula, a few tribes continue to speak Modern South Arabian languages such as Mahri and Soqotri. These languages differ greatly from both the surrounding Arabic dialects and from the (unrelated but previously thought to be related) languages of the Old South Arabian inscriptions.
Historically linked to the peninsular homeland of the Old South Arabian languages, Ethiopia and Eritrea contain a substantial number of Semitic languages; the most widely spoken are Amharic in Ethiopia, Tigre in Eritrea, and Tigrinya in both. Respectively, Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia. Tigrinya is a working language in Eritrea. Tigre is spoken by over one million people in the northern and central Eritrean lowlands and parts of eastern Sudan. A number of Gurage languages are spoken by populations in the semi-mountainous region of southwest Ethiopia, while Harari is restricted to the city of Harar. Ge'ez remains the liturgical language for certain groups of Christians in Ethiopia and in Eritrea.
Read more about this topic: Semitic Languages
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