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Massachusetts XXXWindows Arabic

Three Strikes against "Windows Arabic"

23 March 2001


(( This document requires the "Dushizat" font for the transliterated Arabic in it, plus of course Microsoft Internet Exploder 5 with its Arabic Text Support module. ))



Strikes (1) and (2) both occur in one short Qurnic verse, II:2


dhlika 'l-kitbu l rayba fhi hudal lilmuttaqn(a)


("That is the The Book, the one there is no disputing about, a guidance to the devotees.")


There are three problems in the first two words, assuming we want to vocalize them. Without vowels there is no difficulty



ذلك الكتب لا ريب فيه هدى للمتقين


There is no disputing about that much. But we simply cannot vocalize these words correctly, because we don't have the "dagger alif" to mark a long a vowel that doesn't go with a full-dress consonantal alif in the text. In transliteration, it is trivial to write for this sort of long a as opposed to for the common sort., or vice-versa. Plus, for that matter, for the alif maqra. With this graphic item, we can at least show you what it looks like, since the software vendor in question does use it in its special glyph for the name of God, namely,



( The "dagger" is the part that looks like a grave accent. The part like a wis something completely different. That is called shadda and means that the letter it goes with is doubled. This is a rather complicated word. There are two lms actualy written as consonants, but the theory of the orthography is very plain: the first one isn't really there at all and the second one is doubled. Everything about wala in the next paragraph applies to the beginning of this word also.)


Second strike: we don't have a wala to mark that the initial alif of the second word of our Qurnic verse does not represent a hamza. In fact that alif doesn't represent anything pronounced at all, but it is written there because it would mean a hamza if the word occurred in isolation or at the beginning of a speech group. In pronunciation, the issue involved is that Classical Arabic had an equivalent of French liaison, a mandatory running-together of words. Except that, also like French, in some places it is mandatory not to run words together. And that is why we need this second mark which Microsoft doesn't let us have.


Since one may obtain from


<< >>


a Codepage 1256 Arabic text with attempted vocalization, we can just look at how they handled it:


ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لاَ رَيْبَ فِيهِ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِين


What you'd expect from the standard spelling, I suppose. Nowadays (for the past thirteen centuries or so) the long vowel in dhlika is still omitted in the consonantal skeleton, but the one in kitb is always written. So that is what the preparers of this text have done. The price of it is (1) that this is not the consonantal text of the Qurn anymore, and (2) that they have vocalized the first syllable of dhlika just plain wrong, making it dhalika. The word is admittedly so very common that hardly anybody will be deceived, but nevertheless.


Nevertheless, they were trying to indicate all the picky details of the specialized Qurnic pronunciation, since they indicated the assimilation of the final letter of hudan to the first letter of lilmuttaqn, which pronunciation is, I believe, found only in Qurnic recitation and would not be applied even to the pre-Islamic poetry. But of course in this case Microsoft has accidentally enabled the correct spelling.


(You might print the Arabic here, perhaps after making it even larger than my 24-point versions. I am tempted to leap the track altogether and go off to see if any of the Redmondites' other fonts do a better job of keeping the diacritics from colliding with the consonants, but that really would be irrelevant to our announced topic.)


The third strike against "Windows Arabic" is adumbrated in the above verse also. It relates to the lam+alif ligature, as seen in l, the third word of the cited verse. The appropriate short vowel marker is there, though at 24-points on the screen with 100% zoom (1152x864 video resolution), it is only a slight irregularity on the right side of the top of the alif. In print, it is clear enough but still runs into the alif. The real problem is not its vertical position, though, but its horizontal one. This vowel belongs to the lm, not to the alif. But the people who entered this text did not type lm, fata, alif to get the verse to look like that. What they typed was lm, alif, fata. It must have been. If they had typed the correct sequence, they would have produced



instead of


-- and, good grief!, even at a monstrous 48 points the poor thing practically vanishes!


In short, you cannot vocalize both parts of the ligature separately. You can only throw one vowel in its general direction after writing both consonants. If you try to vocalize both parts, you deligate (?) it and produce an extreme ugliness.


Anyway, try typing lianna and lain and lam and lama and so on and so forth for yourself and see what happens. Lisn al-Arab contains at least fifteen roots with hamza after lm: l jl l khl sl kl ll lhl ml tlb blz l lf lk lm ly -- plus of course almost everything that begins with hamza can be prefixed with li- or la- or the definite article, so there are really quite a number of words you can't write correctly with full vocalization because of this featuure.



ADDENDUM of 5 May 2001


When it comes to "Windows Persian," there is a fourth strike to be called. You cannot write a hamza over a h, which is a standard notation for one case of the ezfe/ifa. Since by the Redmond system, hamza is not a diacritic but a vital component of various true letters, even more points should be subtracted for this one.


This page was 98% brontosaur-generated. It is a pleasure to see that the WinWord creature can do some things right. Especially that it can do whatever handwaving is necessary to put both "real" Arabic and transliterated Arabic on the same webpage without lapsing into Eurogibberish or giving Arabic consonants where there should be European vowels with diacritics. Unfortunately, bronto HTML is such a trackless waste of unheard-of mark-ups that it will be a research project to figure out just how the trick is done. But when we do figure it out, we will of course reveal it to our esteemed readership.