A plea for Arabic digitalisation



The Arabic language is gaining importance in the digital world. There is an abundant development of numerous Arabic typefaces going on in response to the demand for various Arabic translations and uses. Written Visuals is part of this movement, playing with Arabic words in a visually cheerful way.

For Written Visuals, Mohannad Al Mahayni (36, born in Damascus) and Abir Fawaz (26, Lebanese, living in the UAE) worked together for the first time out of a shared passion for Arabic fonts. Al Mahayni studied Fine Arts. Starting his career in the advertising world, he is specialized in what he calls “Arabisation and localisation“: translation, digital Arabic calligraphy, and Arabising layouts, logotypes and brand IDs. At the moment, Al Mahayni is a beta tester of the first online Arabic calligraphy font engine. Abir Fawaz holds a degree in Visual Communication and has been working on several projects as a graphic designer. She is currently developing her own typeface called Awal. Both are internationally renowned for their work.


In Written Visuals, the shape and visual appearance of the Arabic words convey the meaning of these words. The project examines the vocabulary of the Arabic dialects for their descriptive qualities. “The question I asked myself was: can someone who does not know Arabic understand the meaning of a written word by simply looking at its shape?” Al Mahayni explains. Abir Fawaz adds: “The goal of the project was to show that Arabic dialects are full of expressions and colour that are visually missing in the written language.” (Usually, only Standard Arabic is written as local Arabic dialects enjoy little status and are therefore rarely written / printed, Ed.)


Al Mahayni and Fawaz consider the Arabic dialects and Standard Arabic as two equally important parts of Arab culture, both irreplaceable and complementary. Abir Fawaz: “Standard Arabic is important because it is understood by a larger audience beyond the borders of a country. Dialects are important because they define the people within these borders. Where one lacks, the other picks up.” She thinks dialects were developed out of emotions, influences, sounds and the environments they were cultivated in. Therefore, in her opinion, creating conformity within any Arabic dialect, whether in terms of pronunciation or spelling, will rob it of its essence. Al Mahayni however would appreciate language experts finding ways to Arabise the never ending introduction of terms and expressions to the language. “Especially the terms used in technology. People use these terms every day and are forced to use foreign words because of the lack of equivalents in Arabic terminology,” he says.

Images © Mohannad Al Mahayni & Abir Fawaz


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