The Arabic alphabet evolved from the Nabataean script, which in turn comes from Aramaic. The earliest certain records of the Arabic script date back to 512 AD. Back then the script did not yet have the dots above and below the letters to distinguish one from another. This was a later addition as well as the diacritical short vowel marks that are seen in writings such as the Quran.
Today there are 28 Arabic letters, which are usually grouped together according to their shape. The alphabet is sometimes referred to as an “abjad”, because this was the original order of the letters (i.e. alif, baa’, jeem, daal).
Some of the problems that the Arabic script poses for those wishing to learn Arabic are:
1. the customary lack of short vowels
The Arabic script usually omits any reference to short vowels. This means that a word such as “dictionary” would be written as “dctnaar”.
2. the writing direction
Unlike Western languages, the Arabic script is written from right to left.
3. the cursive nature of the script
In Arabic writing all letters are connected to each other within a word. There are six letters that form an exception to this rule, as they cannot be connected to the left. Due to this, the letters change their shapes, depending on whether they are isolated, in the middle of a word, connected to the right, connected to the left or connected to both sides.
4. difficult sounds
The Arabic alphabet contains a number of sounds that are foreign to most languages in Europe and the US. These are sounds such as the letters khaa’, qaaf, ‘ayn, ghayn, Daad, and Zaa’.
Generally speaking, only Modern Standard and Classical Arabic are written down using the Arabic alphabet. The regional colloquial Arabic dialects are mostly not written at all, except when they are used online and often represented by an improvised English-Arabic writing system that relies on the English letters and a few numbers to represent Arabic sounds.
Many other languages apart from Arabic use some adapted from of the Arabic alphabet. Among them are Persian, Pashto, Urdu, Kurdish, Uyghur, Malay, Hausa and Wolof. Turkish too used to be written with the Arabic alphabet until reforms introduced in 1928.