el 3arabia dada

el 3arabia dada variation 002

el 3arabia dada, an open ended experiment in the contemporary use of Roman type to communicate in Arabic via simple text messaging. Please consider joining in exploring this dynamic and promising theme. The images here are my own experiments, the text being derived from conversations with my former students in Qatar (the text here: aly n68tah n3m wly 89dtah la2 - I said yes when I meant no).

el arabia dada

While teaching graphic design recently in Doha, Qatar (a small peninsula in the Persian Gulf), my students made me aware that when they text-messaged each other via cell phone, they chose not to use the Arabic text but chose Roman variations/adaptations instead because the Roman variations better preserved their individual dialects (i.e. Qatari vs. Egyptian, Lebanese, etc.). This stunning insight is loaded with interesting issues (not the least of which are letterform gestalt-shifts, especially alpha-numeric, incredible too because of their Arabic roots), and offers a path for non-fluent westerners to approach Arabic in a new way.

The image above is an actual menu from a Doha restaurant, but offers an interesting juxtaposition of contemporary issues in the Middle East, in this case, the seemingly contradictory influx of western style cultural icons, both graphic and physical. The wanting is much better than the having, and in a region where anything is made possible by vast petro-dollars, one can see clearly that the cultural “wars” are already “won” by businesses and products: there is no need for armed conflict.

I always wanted to take an image of food courts in the Doha malls, because I thought it would be comforting for people in the West to see so many men, women and children, dishdash and abayas, enjoying each others company in the same dismal food court surroundings so familiar to them. This is a contrasting image/appreciation of this part of the world that should comfort and disturb at the same time.

type specimen

The above text, el 6aree2 6aweel, translates to: It’s a long road. Here, one can easily see the interesting typographic possibilities of addressing appropriate levels of gestalt shift, both in positive and, in blackletter form (very popular in some cases in the Gulf), perhaps negatively affecting those shifts. These experiments are endless in nature.

el 3arabia dada variation

These experiments are preliminary and I want to emphasize that I, by no means, mean to suggest a devaluation or replacement of the original Arabic (Persian?) scripts. Just the opposite. This is a humble and small “enrichment,” a new form of the language both practical and metaphorical. Reading from left to right, everything is wrong about this, but it is a contemporary and a dynamic part of our modern world. Again, my simple hope is that it might form a new way to approach Arabic (especially for non-literate westerners), and a new way of forming vital communication.

It should be clear that these expressions offer a window into everyday life in the region, small sayings that seem innocuous and yet so familiar (and why should one be surprised by that). Here are a few examples, again from former student in Doha, that one might consider experimenting with.

dah mesal men el matlob = this is an example of what’s wanted
el 6aree2 6aweel = its a long road

hada 7ewar kan beeni we been marwaa = this is a conversation between
me and marwa
shaklo 2ina ana wa7da 3adeemat i7sas
= it looks like i’m a pretty insensitive person
marwaaa la2 entii moo 3adeemet el e7saaas ;) = marwa ur not insensitive person ;)

If interested in participating: I welcome pure typographic expressions, sample texts of all kinds (the more normal and mundane/everyday the better) accompanied by the English (or any other language in Romanized form) translation, graphic and typographic sketches (72dpi and max 500pixels wide, see examples here). It is possible that we could collaborate on a larger publication or restrict ourselves to some form of online communication alone. (I am contemplating a more official call for entries and participation/open experimentation along this theme sometime soon).

Please post interest in participating here (by joining this blog), or feel free to write me at erikbrandt (at) typografika (dot) com for more info.

el 3arabia dada © 2008 Erik Brandt

5 Responses to “el 3arabia dada”

I think this is very similar to teen text’ers here in america. BRB, BFF, OMG, WTF, even young adults swap out #’s for words: “2″ replaces “to” “sk8″ replaces “skate”, there are many different variations. It seems the american TXTRS use these to communicate more quickly, while your students in Doha use them to preserve their individual dialect.

I was wondering if these roman characters your students are swapping for the arabic characters are also quicker to text (?)

FELLA612 added these words on Jan 24 08 at 12:59 PM

I believe that they do that for the same reasons you describe, Ben. You picked up on the right comparisons, there is a global language developing faster than anyone can keep up – also see the posting on the Japanese cell phone books that are so popular now:


Erik Brandt added these words on Jan 24 08 at 1:23 PM

Now that I think of it, when I lived in Thailand the number “5″ was used in to show laughter in a text message. In Thai the number “5″ is pronounced “ha”; 555, LOL, its all the same.

FELLA612 added these words on Jan 24 08 at 9:29 PM

hisham abbas…

Man i love reading your blog, interesting posts !…

hisham abbas added these words on Feb 08 08 at 3:58 AM

Cheers for the comment, Hisham! Achlan wa sachlan!

Erik Brandt added these words on Feb 09 08 at 9:31 AM

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