We Speak About the Middle East, But What are the Languages Spoken There?

Caitlin Nicholson

languages of the middle east

The Middle East has been in the news in the West fairly consistently over the last decade or so, for a myriad of different reasons. We talk about it all the time — but it’s difficult to fully grasp any of the cultures represented therein without fist knowing a bit about the region and what languages are spoken there. So, what are the most prominent dialects in the Middle East?

First, let us explore what countries make up the region. The Middle East is comprised of the following countries, listing here in order of population from highest to lowest: Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Afghanistan.

The most common language spoken in the region is Arabic, a Semitic language that is very closely related to Hebrew. Arabic was developed beginning in the 8th century B.C., and it currently boasts approximately 280 million speakers in the Arab world.

The second most widely spoken language in the Arab world is Persian or Farsi, which is the national language of Iran. It is estimated that there are about 65 million people who speak Persian or Farsi, most of which are concentrated in Iran itself. But there are significant populations in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates who also speak Farsi. A somewhat newer language than Arabic, the language — comprised of 3 primary dialects — has been around since 400 B.C. and shares a lot of similarities with Urdu and Hindi languages.

Next is Hebrew, which is the primary language of nearly 3.8 million people in the Middle East, though that concentration is almost exclusively in Israel. It’s one of the oldest languages still used today, with Hebrew inscriptions found to be somewhere around 3,000 years old.

Another widely spoken language in the region is Turkish, the national language of Turkey, spoken by roughly 170,000 people in Turkey and the Fertile Crescent region. Kurdish is also spoken widely in that region, though it is not quite so prevalent as Turkish.

But this is not an exhaustive list of the many countless languages spoken in the Middle East. A not insignificant number of North Africans speak Berber; Azeri is a minority language spoken in Turkey; and Armenian is used as well, in urban centers like Damascus, Beirut, Tehran, and Cairo.

As you can see, there are a number of languages spoken in the region, all with wildly different grammatical structures and heritages. The languages there are as different as the individuals speaking them, and they are all well worth further examination.

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