in the NEW YORK TIMES today, report of a USA patent for a method to make the Arabic language easier to read/write/typeset

From: Michael Everson (
Date: Mon Mar 15 2004 - 12:40:29 EST

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    In the NEW YORK TIMES today
    comes a report of a USA patent for a new version of written Arabic
    letters, designed to make them easier to read/write/typeset without
    making them too different from traditional Arabic script: -

    The piece includes a photo of the new style.

    Some quotes from the piece ... "To counter his daughter's aversion to
    learning the language of her heritage, Saad D. Abulhab devised a
    simplified alphabet. It may prove useful in computers as well. ... The
    hurdles of learning Arabic as a second language are daunting. Arabic is
    written right to left, and each letter can take one of four forms,
    depending on where it appears in a word. Finally, Arabic is printed and
    written only in flowing script, never as individual letters. Those
    obstacles can be overwhelming for students of the language - and for
    computer programmers trying to render Arabic characters on screen - at
    a time when there is a critical need for clear communication between
    the West and the Arabic-speaking world. In fact, it can be a challenge
    even for some native Arabic speakers to learn to read and write in
    their mother tongue. That is what led Saad D. Abulhab to patent a
    simplified Arabic alphabet that he says is easier to learn. ... " ...
    my 6-year-old daughter did not want to learn to read Arabic because she
    said it was written backwards," said Mr. Abulhab, an Iraqi-American ...
    "That gave me the idea to make it bidirectional, with letters that went
    both ways but didn't lose their characteristics," he said. "It's your
    choice how to use them. ... Mr. Abulhab ... designed letters that took
    one form wherever they appeared in a word, could be printed in block
    style, and could appear as separate letters instead of connected in
    cursive form. That alphabet could then be written from left to right
    for those more comfortable with the pattern of English, or from right
    to left in the traditional Arabic manner. ... he does not want his
    invention to be thought of as a replacement Arabic alphabet. "I love
    Arabic calligraphy," he said. "I like to think of this as a variation
    on traditional Arabic. It's a good tool to break the barrier of fear
    for someone to learn without right-to-left direction or changing
    shapes. ... It's based on Arabic calligraphy so the Arabic-reading eye
    will recognize it ... "
            In designing his alphabet, Mr. Abulhab drew on script from 22
    languages based on Arabic, like Persian, Kurdish and Urdu. ... [In]
    traditional Arabic ... each Arabic letter has four shapes, for example,
    depending on where it appears in a word - at the beginning, middle, end
    or by itself. Mr. Abulhab said his goal was to create one universal
    shape for each letter. The shape-shifting nature of Arabic letters also
    means that computer software needs a lot of extra programming power to
    render an Arabic font. "For Arabic or Hebrew, you need software that
    goes from right to left," Mr. Abulhab said. "For Arabic, in addition,
    you need to add a shaping engine. When you type a letter, for instance,
    it has a shape. But when you type the next letter, the first one
    changes completely. ... To my eyes it's very annoying." Mr. Abulhab
    hopes his alphabet will ease matters for Arabic-language students and
    software programmers. He says he believes that students who learn to
    read Arabic with his alphabet will more easily progress to reading
    traditional ... printed script. " ... it should be good enough for
    newspapers," he said. "It's a good first step. They could learn the
    shapes and the shapes are pretty universal." Mr. Abulhab calls his
    alphabet Arabetics, a word he says he coined "to be more descriptive
    and inclusive of people who speak languages other than Arabic, like
    Persian or Urdu." He also received a design patent for a font - called
    Mutamathil, meaning "symmetric and uniform" - based on the alphabet.
    ... in informal tests most Arabic, Urdu and Persian speakers had no
    trouble reading texts that used his generic alphabet. ... "

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