Comments on: The Global Decline of the Arabic Script http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/ Speak Victorian, Think Pagan Wed, 21 Nov 2012 23:12:46 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.7.1 By: Roy Berman http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393575 Wed, 17 Feb 2010 16:25:24 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393575 By “we” I mean everybody who writes or reads in English. While English spelling conveys a lot of useful information about the etymology of words, it conveys less information about the actual pronunciation of those words than almost any other European language.

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By: Peter http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393572 Wed, 17 Feb 2010 13:03:42 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393572 “I think we can all agree that, in phonetic terms, English spelling is basically a cruel joke. But we maintain it for the same reason that the insane Japanese orthography persists, tradition and habit, and for more obvious etymology.”

Roy, I get the meaning of your first sentence. I do not quite get the meaning of your second sentence. For starters, who are “we”?

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By: Roy Berman http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393571 Wed, 17 Feb 2010 08:04:51 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393571 “Yes, Korea basically dropped the Chinese character script in a nationalist fervor, but certainly its literature and to a degree the precision that arises from characters suffered as a result.”

North Korea, yes. But in South Korea Chinese characters faded because they just wasn’t needed nearly as much as in Japanese. In cases where homonyms are likely to produce ambiguity, especially academic writing, etc., the hanja for a the tricky word is given in parenthesis. Koreans do still have to learn around 1500-2000 characters in primary education, but they tend not to retain them very well since they just aren’t important to normal literacy. So yes, it has had a negative impact on the precision of technical language, and it has also certainly had an impact on literature as well, but whether the impact on literature is a negative one is a question for those who are actually familiar with Korean literature, which I certainly am not.

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By: Roy Berman http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393570 Wed, 17 Feb 2010 07:48:39 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393570 In a similar way, Yiddish is traditionally written using the Hebrew alphabet, but being a Germanic language does not have such easily predictable vowels as Hebrew-so the orthography indicates vowels when necessary.

I think we can all agree that, in phonetic terms, English spelling is basically a cruel joke. But we maintain it for the same reason that the insane Japanese orthography persists, tradition and habit, and for more obvious etymology.

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By: Curzon http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393569 Wed, 17 Feb 2010 06:33:57 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393569 Lirelou: Yes, Korea basically dropped the Chinese character script in a nationalist fervor, but certainly its literature and to a degree the precision that arises from characters suffered as a result.

Oliver: Vowels are indeed omitted when writing Arabic language itself, but that’s more for convenience. The Koran is written with full vowel utilization. And some languages that imported Arabic script for writing use full vowel utilization, including Kurdish, Uyghur, and Kashmiri. So it has always been possible to use vowels fully in the Arabic script, but when importing it, most langauges, given the option, felt it more convenient to omit “obvious” vowels. Or to say different: “mst languajz, gvn the opshn, flt it mor cnvenient to omt ‘obveeos’ vwlz.”

Every phonetic language has certain issues that only make sense subjectively. Consider the incompleteness of the Latin alphabet in this regard. English is rare in that it does not have the dots and indentations that appear on top of such vowels in other European languages. Then look at the Latin alphabet in Turkey and Vietnam and how so many of the letters have been augmented.

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By: lirelou http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393568 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 23:07:21 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393568 Very interesting post and replies. The Latin alphabet does have some useful advantages, however it helps to learn the local script. In Korea, at least, several romanization systems exist, and maps will be printed in one of three. Being able to read Hangul was handy for identifying Daesoeng-ni from Taesong-ri from Ttaessong-ri when two or more such named places existed. In some cases, my Korean co-workers lamented the dropping of Hanju characters in the case of homophones, in that the Hanju characters were more precise.

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By: Oliver http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393566 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 20:03:25 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393566 @Curzon

Of course Arabic has vowels, but it has less distinction than most languages. If I understand the descriptions of the language and hence script correctly, there is no difference, for example between: bitter – better or botch – butch

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By: Warner Anderson http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393564 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 16:19:38 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393564 …Except that, with the advent of the computer some years ago (!), the initial, medial and final forms of Arabic letters are automatically entered correctly from the keyboard, with the program doing the hard thinking. Is type truly set by hand anymore?

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By: e http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393563 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 15:54:05 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393563 Curzon
February 15, 2010
4:47 pm
Definitely not. Arabic, as a much more strict phonetic language, is a lot easier to learn that English. This struck me as I walked past “Ace Hardware” in Dubai recently. The Arabic read “Eis” which makes much more sense phonetically.
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“Eis” is exactly how “ace” would be transcribed in my language, which is Lithuanian, which is one of the oldest surviving Indo-European languages.

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By: Duncan Kinder http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393561 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 14:55:07 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393561 Re: “Because there are several forms of each Arabic letter depending on where it appears in the sentence, material produced in the Arabic script could not be easily reproduced with a printing press.”

With computerized printing, this should no longer matter so much.

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By: Curzon http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393555 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 07:30:39 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393555 Bob, it’s overstated, of course, because much of the map — China, Russia, parts of Europe, parts of Africa, India — used the Arabic script in some areas, or for some languages, not universally. But it is amazing how rapid the decline was particularly in the 1920s-1930s.

On the whole vowels thing I don’t understand what you guys are saying — Arabic has vowels, it just doesn’t use them. So “Dubai” is spelled, in the Latin script “d-b-yy,” but vowel-heavier Abu Dhabi is spelled “A-’ah-b-u Dz-b-yy.” There was never any problem writing dozens of languages — even Chinese, Polish, or Afrikaans — in Arabic.

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By: quant18 http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393552 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 06:19:48 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393552 @Oliver — “How do you note vowels not present in the Arabic language in Arabic script?”

Same way you do in Latin alphabet, with diacritics. Uyghur is quite a good example of this — in their current Arabic orthography (as compared to the pre-20th century Arabic orthography), they actually write ALL their vowels, whether long or short. For example they use و (waw) for “back o”, and ۆ (same letter with a caron on top) for “front o”.

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By: Roy Berman http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393551 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 05:32:20 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393551 The Uyghur have maybe gone through more script transitions than anyone else. They had their own alphabet for centuries which formed the basis for the Manchu alphabet, based on Sanscrit. And for the last two centuries or so they’ve been bounced between Arabic, Cyrillic, and like 4 or 5 different forms or romanization.

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By: spandrell http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393550 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 04:17:41 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393550 Being a phonetic alphabet has nothing to do with not being able to write vowels properly, Curzon.

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By: Bob Harrison http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393549 Tue, 16 Feb 2010 02:21:35 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393549 When I was younger and discussing the various Middle Eastern countries with some of my older Lebanese relatives, I asked about what script was used in Turkey. My great uncle told me, with a very obvious tone of resentment, that Turks used Arabic for hundreds of years until Ataturk switched the country to Latin. I think he realized that the height of Arab cultural hegemony was long in the past, much too his dismay.
This is a very interesting article! I never realized just how widespread Arabic writing once was.

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By: Oliver http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393547 Mon, 15 Feb 2010 23:01:30 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393547 @Curzon

Well, English is quite perverse a user of the Latin alphabet. Almost any other language is writter closer to phonetic writing. How do you note vowels not present in the Arabic language in Arabic script? For example how would you write Finnish vowels?

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By: Chris Swanson http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393545 Mon, 15 Feb 2010 19:44:17 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393545 I think it’s interesting that there’s one Arabic -related language, Maltese, that’s written with the Latin script. But then again, I always find stuff like that interesting. :)

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By: Curzon http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393544 Mon, 15 Feb 2010 16:47:37 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393544 Definitely not. Arabic, as a much more strict phonetic language, is a lot easier to learn that English. This struck me as I walked past “Ace Hardware” in Dubai recently. The Arabic read “Eis” which makes much more sense phonetically. I really think it had to do with geopolitics and the printing press, especially considering the widespread use of Arabic script up until a few centuries ago.

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By: Oliver http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393543 Mon, 15 Feb 2010 16:18:30 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393543 Might this be related to Arabic being a 3-vowel language and thus its alphabet ill-suited to writing languages with many vowels?

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By: quant18 http://cominganarchy.com/2010/02/15/the-decline-of-the-arabic-script/comment-page-1/#comment-393542 Mon, 15 Feb 2010 11:35:50 +0000 http://cominganarchy.com/?p=8817#comment-393542 I think you’re putting too much weight on government orthographies without looking at actual literacy practices of the man on the street. Wolof in Senegal (so-called “Ajami script”) is one case that’s been more widely covered in the popular media lately, so let me mention some of the more obscure ones:

In China, the government claims the Mongolic-speaking Dongxiang people are almost entirely illiterate, and went ahead and published them a dictionary with a newly-invented Latin orthography, while ignoring the fact that they regularly write their own language in Arabic letters, as well as directly writing in Arabic. Only a few obscure academic journals in Gansu have officially taken note of this fact. (On the bright side, at least the Dongxiang Latin orthography can actually be typed on a QWERTY keyboard — certainly not the case for the godawful IPA-like Uyghur orthography the PRC promulgated up until the 1980s, when they thankfully switched BACK to Perso-Arabic).

Jawi, the Arabic orthography for Malay, is certainly in decline — the most obvious sign being the closure of the Utusan Melayu newspaper — but reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. In many places you can see billboards written entirely in Jawi; I know Maxis (cellphone company) and some banks regularly do this.

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