Hindi versus Arabic Numerals
Thread poster: Hikmat Faraj

Hikmat Faraj  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:53
English to Arabic
+ ...
Jul 18, 2006

The more I look at Arabic imprints the more I see Arabic instead of Hindi numerals--whether in pagination or within the body of the text.

Regionally, North African publications almost unanimously are using Arabic numerals. Syrian printing houses are leaning more in that direction.

So where is this leading to? Any hope of consistency?

Hikmat Faraj


Fuad Yahya  Identity Verified
+ ...
It depends on what you mean by "consistency" Jul 18, 2006

If you mean absolute uniformity, it will probably never happen, but the positive elements in the current scene are:

1. People in both North African and Middle Eastern countries are becoming more aware of each other's tradition, and translators are becoming less oblivious to the differences;

2. Software offerings are becoming more compliant with diverse traditions; and

3. The issue of diverse numeric system is openly addressed in public discussions, with diverse opinions and outcomes.

These represent progress. Just a decade ago, the issue suffered from public ignorance and software primitiveness. Economic imperatives mandated the use of mass production tools in the media, including software that was too primitive to handle different numeric systems within the same language, so people in Middle Eastern countries began to see Arabic numerals embedded in Arabic text. The first reaction was shock, but in the absence of an immediately viable solution, the public resorted to a conceptual solution: Since Arabic numerals are "Arabic," why should anybody object? That did not quite agree with some traditionalists, who pointed out, among other things, that Hindi numerals have been used consistently in the writing of Quranic verse numbers, for instance. On the other hand, others felt this shift, although necessitated by software shortcomings, may actually bring back a numeric system that may have some advantages, such as the use of a round zero, instead of a dot zero, which is easily confused with other dots (like full stops). The return to the old Arabic numeral system also had the advantage of bridging the North African-Middle Eastern chasm.

Meanwhile, software advances made some aspects of this debate moot. It is now possible to choose the numeric system that you prefer, although tough challenges remain, particularly in HTML rendering. One of the most vexing difficulties is the simple fact that Arabs do not make their own software, and have failed to exert significant influence on software makers. For instance, the default setting in MS Word is the "system" setting, which renders numerals according to the preferred language of the system. It is possible to switch to the "context" setting, but that option is buried underneath layers of menus and submenus. It would take no genius to figure out that the default setting ought to be the "context" option, but for that to happen, Microsoft needs to be know that this is a strong user preference.

As far as translators are concerned, the question of "what is the target country" ought to be a standard question for every English-to-Arabic translation job. Incidentally, this also applies to the other question posted recently on the names of the Gregorian months.

Inconsistency can be maddening, but the madness can be reigned in by the application of method, by increased awarness, and by actively influencing software development.


Hikmat Faraj  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:53
English to Arabic
+ ...
You hit the nail on the head! Jul 18, 2006

Dear Fuad,

I couldn't agree with you more, especially when you say:

"As far as translators are concerned, the question of "what is the target country" ought to be a standard question for every English-to-Arabic translation job."

Alf shukr for your input.



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Hindi versus Arabic Numerals

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