Shall We Please Stop Transcribing Arabic in Latin Letters?!

A- “Hi, ezayak?”
B- “Tamam al7amdulillah!”
A- “Eih el a5bar 3andak?”
B- “Mashy el 7al!”

This is a beginning of a typical chat conversation where Latin characters are used in writing Arabic words.

We must admit that writing Arabic using English letters has indeed become a phenomenon among Arab youths, especially Egyptians, in other words, it’s the “funky” chatting language that has been used during the last few years, precisely since the introduction of the internet technology in the Arab world. Things got even worse recently with cellular phones becoming increasingly available for all.

But the difference between the phonetic natures of both languages left some Arabic sounds with no exact equivalent in English language, a problem people developed a solution for by using Latin numbers. For instance number 7 is used instead of the Arabic letter Haa’- it’s similar to the English letter “h” but heavier. Similarly, number 3 is being used to replace the “Ain”- an Arabic letter that also has no English equivalent.

Writing Arabic using such vague and confusing method has indeed rendered bad results: people now are incapable of writing proper Arabic or English, not to mention the negative implications of the practice, i.e. disrespect for the beautiful Arabic language and calligraphy.

Trying to justify such habit, some claim that they found the practice a good alternative saving time and effort, arguing that English typing is much easier, whereas Arabic typing requires more practice.

Others view using English letters and Latin numbers in writing vernacular Arabic in chat rooms, emails, instant messaging, as well as mobile text messages, as somehow “prestigious”, for it demonstrates their foreign education and the fine social standard they belong to.

The fast growing popularity of such phenomenon could be somehow attributed to the evident growth of internet users in recent years, especially in Egypt, which occupies a leading position among Arab countries in regards to the availability of Internet services at a wide scale. According to Internet World Stats, the Middle East region witnessed during the 7 years between 2000 and 2007 a major Internet usage growth rate of 920.2 %.

Discussing this bad habit can well give us insight into the negative side of modernity and Westernization and the impact of both on our societies.

But that’s not all- the media role should not be overlooked. A similarly confusing language is being used in print advertisements and lifestyle magazines as a means of drawing readers’ attention.

Now that we’ve presented various examples for that phenomenon, it’s time to come up with a solution.

Some may use the fact that personal computers, the World Wide Web, e-mail, instant messaging and mobile phone text messaging, are all Western technologies as a pretext for using Latin characters. But that’s a weak argument I must say. For the vast majority of mobile networks now offer softwares that allow users send and receive messages in Arabic letters.

Also most of the PC manufacturers now produce keyboards that have Arabic letters. And if the keyboard of your computer or laptop doesn’t have Arabic letters… well, that’s an easy to solve problem. There are plastic stickers carrying Arabic letters that you can place on your keyboard- they’re available in almost all computer stores.

I agree with those who say that such negative phenomena are to some extent normal in relatively newly independent and rapidly modernizing states, specially that people still link copying whatever that’s Western with modernity and development. However such problems need to be addressed before they develop into larger ones negatively impacting each and every aspect of our lives.

Bottom line, it’s a decision you take before sending any email or message: It’s either writing Arabic or English, and there’s one and only one proper way of writing Arabic, that is using Arabic alphabets.
It’s easy to break such bad habit; you just need a sincere and honest desire to break it. It takes one 21 days to turn any attitude into a habit or break any habit as long as you have clear and realistic goal. You just need to crystallize your thinking and force yourself to strictly follow this new habit for consecutive 21 days, after that it will be very difficult to break.

This reminds me of a famous Spanish proverb saying, “habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.”
As for those who suggest that they find difficulty expressing themselves in Arabic, and that’s why their messages are a blend of English and Arabic written in English letters- I absolutely refuse their claim. It’s an inevitable fact that people express themselves more clearly and freely using their native language.

Take literature icons as an example.

Have you ever heard about a novelist or a poet who became popular by presenting works written in a language other than his native one?! William Shakespeare, whose plays and poetry rocked the world, Naguib Mahfouz; the renowned Egyptian novelist and Nobel prize winner, Taha Hussein; usually referred to as pioneer of enlightenment, François Marie Arouet dit Voltaire, among many others- they all presented they works in their native languages.

Some may ask; “So what’s the big deal writing Arabic using English Alphabets?”- Simply put, if you don’t respect your culture, which entails respecting your native language and traditions, how do you expect anyone else to respect it?!

Maha Youssuf


2 thoughts on “Shall We Please Stop Transcribing Arabic in Latin Letters?!

  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks

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