pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Someone on Quora linked to the Wikipedia article on the ‘Canaanite shift’:

In historical linguistics, the Canaanite shift is a sound change that took place in the Canaanite dialects, which belong to the Northwest Semitic branch of the Semitic languages family. This sound change caused Proto-NW-Semitic *ā (long a) to turn into ō (long o) in Proto-Canaanite. It accounts, for example, for the difference between the second vowel of Hebrew שלום (šalom, Tiberian šālōm) and its Arabic cognate سلام (salām). The original word was probably *šalām-, with the ā preserved in Arabic, but transformed into ō in Hebrew.

The article cites several examples, some of which I had known independently as Arabic and Hebrew forms, but I had never inferred that regular sound shift from them! (Quite possibly because I don’t really know Hebrew and Arabic.)


pne: A hexagon with a colour gradient (colourcube-100)

So Arabic, as you know, is written with connected letters - a bit like cursive English handwriting, except in Arabic, they do it even in print.

There are several writing styles, but what you'll see on computers is predominantly a style called Naskh. That's also what you'll typically see printed Arabic (as in, real books) in, in my experience.

However, some countries using the Arabic script typically use different styles - especially with Urdu in India and Pakistan, which uses Nasta`liq, a more "hanging" style.

Getting Nasta`liq out of a computer is pretty difficult, not least because letters have to move up and down depending on where they come in a word (e.g. if a word begins with two meems, then the first will be higher than the second: font support for that sort of thing is technically probably possible, but tricky, especially if you want the result to look good). Even lead-block printing needs hundreds of sorts.

So apparently newspapers often get written by hand by a calligrapher rather than being typeset - and in the computer world, people apparently exchange image files rather than text.

Now, as far as I know, those people can also read Naskh Arabic; they just prefer not to. So I was wondering what it felt like for them. (Incidentally, I wonder what is the case for Persian. I know one person told me that he didn't like the typography in the Persian Book of Mormon he had because he felt the writing style was associated with Arabic, rather than Persian - but I thought that Persian tended to use Naskh as well? I wonder whether he was thinking of Nasta`liq, too, or was the difference he was thinking of more subtle?)

Today, I got around to reading a blog entry from March by Michael Kaplan about writing styles for Arabic (yay ReadItLater!). And in the comments, "carlos" suggested:

Imagine if every computer you could buy displayed text in Gothic script. You can read it, but it's a painful chore.

And perhaps that does approximate it! Many people who can read English could read English if printed in Blackletter script, but some couldn't; and even those who could would generally find it to be a slog to read large amounts of text in it, and would probably prefer to send around text in more familiar type styles.


pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)
Philip Newton

June 2015

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