13 December 2010

Arabic alphabet and sign posts in Arabic

There is something so beautiful and mesmerising about the Arabic alphabet (script).  I find myself drawn to signs written in the Latin/Roman alphabet as well as in the Arabic alphabet.  Here are a selection of door signs and sign posts written in different styles of Arabic calligraphy for your perusal as well as some general information about the Arabic alphabet.  The official written language in Tunisia is Modern Standard Arabic and the spoken language is Tunisian Dialect Arabic.  French is also widely spoken.  Some English is spoken in places catering for tourists.  Here is a link to a website which details the languages of Tunisia:

"The Arabic alphabet (Arabic: أبجدية عربية‎ ʾabǧadiyyah ʿarabiyyah) or Arabic abjad is the script used for writing several languages of Asia and Africa, such as Arabic and Urdu. After the Latin alphabet, it is the second-most widely used alphabet around the world.

The alphabet was first used to write texts in Arabic, most notably the Qurʾān, the holy book of Islam. With the spread of Islam, it came to be used to write many languages of many language families including, at various times, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, Baloch, Malay; Fulfulde-Pular, Hausa, and Mandinka (all in West Africa); Swahili (in East Africa); Brahui (in Pakistan); Kashmiri, Sindhi, Balti, and Panjabi (in Pakistan); Arwi (in Sri Lanka and Southern India), Chinese, Uyghur (in China and Central Asia); Kazakh, Uzbek and Kyrgyz (all in Central Asia); Azerbaijani (in Iran), Kurdish (in Iraq and Iran), Belarusian (amongst Belarusian Tatars), Ottoman Turkish, Bosniaks (in Bosnia), and Mozarabic and Spanish (in Western Europe). To accommodate the needs of these other languages, new letters and other symbols were added to the original alphabet. This process is known as the ʿAǧamī transcription system, which is different from the original Arabic alphabet.

The Arabic script is written from right to left, in a cursive style, and includes 28 basic letters. Because some of the vowels are indicated with optional symbols, it can be classified as an abjad. Just as different handwriting styles and typefaces exist in the Roman alphabet, the Arabic script has a number of different styles of calligraphy, including Nasḫ خط النسخ, Nastaʿlīq, Ruqʿah/Riqʿah خط الرقعة‎, Ṯuluṯ خط الثلث, Kufic الخط الكوفي, Ṣīnī and Hiǧāzī. 

Primary letters

The Arabic alphabet has 28 basic letters. Adaptations of the Arabic script for other languages, such as Persian, Ottoman, Urdu, Malay or Pashto, Arabi Malayalam, have additional letters, on which see below. There are no distinct upper and lower case letter forms.  Many letters look similar but are distinguished from one another by dots (ʾiʿǧām) above or below their central part, called rasm. These dots are an integral part of a letter, since they distinguish between letters that represent different sounds. For example, the Arabic letters transliterated as b and t have the same basic shape, but b has one dot below, ب‎, and t has two dots above, ت‎.

Both printed and written Arabic are cursive, with most of the letters within a word directly connected to the adjacent letters. Unlike cursive writing based on the Latin alphabet, the standard Arabic style is to have a substantially different shape depending on whether it will be connecting with a preceding and/or a succeeding letter, thus all primary letters have conditional forms for their glyphs, depending on whether they are at the beginning, middle or end of a word, so they may exhibit four distinct forms (initial, medial, final or isolated). However, six letters have only isolated or final form, and so force the following letter (if any) to take an initial or isolated form, as if there were a word break.

Some letters look almost the same in all four forms, while others show considerable variation. Generally, the initial and middle forms look similar except that in some letters the middle form starts with a short horizontal line on the right to ensure that it will connect with its preceding letter. The final and isolated forms, are also similar in appearance but the final form will also have a horizontal stroke on the right and, for some letters, a loop or longer line on the left with which to finish the word with a subtle ornamental flourish. In addition, some letter combinations are written as ligatures (special shapes), including lām-ʾalif.


Regarding pronunciation, the phonetic values given are those of the pronunciation of literary Arabic, the standard which is taught in universities. In practice, pronunciation may vary considerably between the different varieties of Arabic. For more details concerning the pronunciation of Arabic, consult the article Arabic phonology.  Six letters (أ د ذ ر ز و) are not connected to the letter following them, therefore their initial form matches the isolated and their medial form matches the final."

This extract was taken from the following website:
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