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Arabic, a member of the Semitic language family and a sister language to Hebrew and Aramaic, is one of the world's major languages, and one of the five official languages of the United Nations. Spoken by close to 300 million people, it is the official language of nearly twenty countries, among them Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Due to its long literary history (over 1500 years) and wide geographical distribution, Arabic has many registers and varieties. Literary Arabic, or fusha--also called formal Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, and, in reference to pre-modern writings, Classical Arabic--is fairly uniform in structure and vocabulary and is read, written, and taught all over the world. Many world-renowned works of literature, art, and science have been written in literary Arabic, among them the works of the 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun and of the Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt). The spoken dialects of Arabic are collectively referred to as Colloquial Arabic or 'ammiyya, and may be grouped regionally, such as North African (Moroccan, Algerian, And Tunisian dialects), Levantine (Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, and Palestinian dialects), and Gulf (Kuwaiti, Saudi Arabian, Bahraini, Qatari, UAE, and Omani dialects). The recent increase in satellite television programming has fostered increased contact among Arabic speakers from different regions, leading to more interaction among speakers of different dialects, a phenomenon which may lead to the emergence of regional standard dialects.
The knowledge of Arabic opens up doors to the modern Arab world as well as to a rich and diverse world culture. In recent decades, Arabic has been defined as a "critical language" in the United States, reflecting the nation's need for expertise in Arabic language and culture and many employment opportunities for people with expertise in those areas. Arabic at UT is taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels. First, second, third, and fourth year Arabic courses are offered every year, in addition to courses on Arabic linguistics, literature, and culture in both Arabic and in English. UT has been awarded status as a National Flagship Language Program in Arabic, and the program is broadly regarded as the top Arabic program in the nation.