Alphabets of Languages
with Bidirectional Scripts
and their Support
Israel Ervin Gidali
IBM Globalization Centre of Competency-
Complex Text Languages
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Agenda
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The predecessors of the first true alphabets
The first alphabets
Direction of writing
The “modern” RTL scripts
Bidirectionality
Bidi – some of the challenges
Implementation aspects
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The Alphabet Predecessors
The predecessors of the first true
alphabets:
The Egyptian hieroglyphics (since 3000 BCE)
The Mesopotamian cuneiforms (since 3100 BCE)
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The Egyptian Hieroglyphs
Pictograms
Logograms
Phonograms
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The Cuneiform Writing Systems
logo-syllabic
syllabic
words
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The First Alphabets
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The First Semitic Alphabets
Proto-Sinaic and Proto-Canaanite.
 Originated around the 18th or 17th
centuries BCE, under the influence
of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The First Semitic Alphabets
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The revolution: purely phonetic
(only consonants without vowels).
Influenced originally by the
polyphony practice in hieroglyphic
and cuneiform scripts.
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Proto-Canaanite
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Limit the set of sounds to 22
consonants only, still without vowels.
Acrophonic.
Letters easy to distinguish and
remember (their shapes resemble
familiar objects).
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Proto-Canaanite Descendents
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The alphabet success
Proto-Canaanite, Phoenician and Greek
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Ancient Hebrew and Samaritan
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
South Arabian
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Aramaic
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The Square Hebrew Script
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Nabatean
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Direction of Writing
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Hieroglyphs were written in both
directions.
Starting from the 11th century BCE,
the writing direction of all Semitic
scripts (except Ethiopic) is
from right to left.
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The “Modern” RTL scripts
‫חדש תחת השמש‬-‫אין כל‬
)'‫(קהלת פרק א פסוק ט‬
There is nothing new under the sun.
(Qohelet/Ecclesiastes 1/9)
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Arabic
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Arabic Script – the Script of Islam
The Arabic script, the script of Quran, used for:
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Arabic
Persian (Farsi)
Urdu
Ottoman Turkish (until 1929)
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Uighur, Kazakh,Uzbek, Tajik, Kirghiz,
Old Malay, Swahili, Hausa, Baluchi, Kashmiri, Sindhi,
Pashto, Lahnda,Dargwa,Morrocan Arabic, Adighe,
Ingush, Berber,Kurdish, Jawi/Javanese……
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Arabic Vowels
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Hebrew Script
‫עברית שפה יפה‬
Used for:
•Hebrew
•Yiddish
•Ladino (Judezmo)
•Arabic
•Karaite/Karaim
•Turkish
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Hebrew Script
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Hebrew script and diacritics
Hebrew text:
‫בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ‬
Vocalized with “points”
and cantillation marks:
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Syriac
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Thaana
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Decimal digits forms
European digits (Arabic digits): 1
(Used in Hebrew script and
in some Arabic countries)
234567890
Arabic-Indic digits:
(Used in Arabic)
Numbers are written from left to right regardless of their form
and regardless of regional variety
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Bidirectionality
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National language (Arabic, Hebrew, etc...)
text is written from Right to Left
TXET CIBARA
Numbers and English (or French,Russian,
etc.) text is written from Left to Right
english text 123 TXET CIBARA
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Bidi Appearance Aspects- Directionality
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Mixed direction of text segments:
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Page alignment on the right
Book binding on the right
Mirroring of GUI elements
(only when translated)
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Bidi Data Processing Aspects – some
of the challenges
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Bidirectional text data entry
Visual versus Logical text type
The Paragraph Orientation
Arabic script cursiveness: shaping
and ligatures
Variety of text layouts in use
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The Bidi Layout Challenges
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Bidirectional text in different systems
and applications has multiple possible
layouts
In heterogeneous environments proper
layout transformations should be
performed
Higher order protocols integration
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The Challenge of GUI Mirroring
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When translating the interface of an
application to a language with
Bidirectional script, provisions must be
made to ensure that the GUI is
properly mirrored.
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Implementation Aspects
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Almost all platforms and Operating
Systems provide support for
Bidirectional text entry and processing
New platforms should react to this
challenge too
Except for adequately engraved
keyboards, there is no need for special
hardware for Bidi text support.
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
Last Word
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RTL scripts are not a novelty. As a
matter of fact they have preceded the
current Western world scripts
Their support is different but not
necessarily much more complex, as
long as one is prepared for it.
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Alphabets of languages with Bi-directional scripts and their support
The End
Thank You
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