A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, July 27, 2012

Obligatory Olympics Arabic Note: Marhaba bikum fi London, Sort of

It's the opening day of the London Olympics, and while I plan to avoid any Mitt Romney-esque gaffes, I should note that one of the blunders reported so far has an Arabic aspect: the official shopping center (no, really) of the Olympic Games, the Westfield Center, put up banners in Arabic script welcoming people to London, and quickly took them down again. I say "in Arabic script" because no one could recognize it as the Arabic language. If you read Arabic, look closely at the above.

It takes a while. First, read it from left to right, not right to left. Then, of course, the letters are not connected to each other. But other than that, it reads "Marhaba bikum fi London," welcome to London.  .sdrawkcab tsuj s'tI (It's just backwards.)

It doesn't rise to the level of showing the South Korean flag while introducing North Korean athletes, which miffed the North Koreans (who tend to be very miffable) no end. But it does raise the question, doesn't anybody proofread this stuff before it goes up? It's not as if there are no Arabic speakers in London. And somebody bothered to get the phrase translated (correctly) but didn't know Arabic goes from right to left?

On that note, let the games begin. And let us all ponder this question: in Ancient Greece, did the Olympic Games have an official shopping center?


Anonymous said...

More likely, whoever assembled the banners was given the Arabic panel with no indication of which way was which, and lost the coin toss.

Rashad said...

Actually, this is most likely a software problem. A lot of printing programs don't process arabic script properly, so someone probably sent a correct text to the banner company, who then put it into their program which wasn't designed for R to L languages, and then this is what came out.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

I wonder if an early version of Android might also be implicated. Early versions wrote Arabic with separated letters -- right to left, not left to right, but with the letters separated. My original Droid phone still does this, but my Android tablet does Arabic correctly.

Anonymous said...

There are two common software problems that causes this:

1. Failure to preserve or process the right-to-left markers, or infer them from the glyph language.

2. Absence of the joined-up versions of the arabic glyphs from the font, or an inability to process them.

As you note, earlier android systems, disappointingly, had the 2nd problem.

Odds are, it was correct when it left the customer.

FWIW I've seen this problem before in London, at Victoria train station. I (and I'm sure others, including employees) reported it, and in fairness the signs were re-printed pretty quickly.