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Arabic is a Central Semitic language, thus related to and classified alongside other Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Syriac. In terms of speakers, Arabic is the largest member of the Semitic language family. It is spoken by more than 280 million people as a first language and by 250 million more as a second language. Most native speakers live in the Middle East and North Africa. Arabic has many different, geographically-distributed spoken varieties, some of which are mutually unintelligible. In principle, this would define Arabic as in fact a family of closely related languages, although in popular perception it continues to be considered a single language, thanks to the existence of a reference variety, Standard Arabic, widely taught in schools, universities, and used in the office 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. 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 numerous words from it. Arabic influence is seen in Mediterranean languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, Maltese, and Sicilian, due to both the proximity of European and Arab civilization and 700 years of Arab rule in the Iberian peninsula (see Al-Andalus). Arabic has also borrowed words from many languages, including Hebrew, Persian and Syriac in early centuries, and contemporary European languages in modern times.