I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic
Anyone who can read Arabic but lives in the Anglophone world rapidly becomes used to seeing Arabic text turned into gibberish by Western word processing and layout software. For some reason which a techie could no doubt explain to me, humanity can send people into space and produce every form of communications gadget with which to render ourselves more and more harassed and miserable. But having more than one alphabet on the same document. No way. You can hear the cogs grinding… I’m told that there is a ‘Middle Eastern’ version of the layout software InDesign, but it costs extra. FFS.
This (stolen from Raph Cormack) is a good example, from the recent BBC series The Night Manager. The Arabic letters spell the words Port of Alexandria, but the words are the wrong way round and they have been de-linked, which makes them senseless since Arabic is a fully cursive language:
Raph tells me that there was an even more egregious example in the BBC drama series The Honourable Woman, which I believe featured an entire stained glass window – which, one assumes, cost a fair bit to commission – on which the Arabic was meaningless.
Other examples from organisations with budgets which might not match that of the Beeb but who should still at least be able to find a native speaker of Arabic to wave their copy past include the programme of a Palestinian production of Shakespeare’s Richard II at the Globe Theatre, part of the World Shakespeare Festival. The entire Arabic section was, again, inverted, and the letters delinked.
I hadn’t really considered until today that this litany of font/layout imperialism extended to languages other than Arabic, but of course Hebrew (and, one assumes, many other Asian and African languages) also falls victim to it. As do not-very-bright designers for clothes companies such as DimePieceLA. I noticed a screenshot on Twitter depicting a hoodie with Hebrew text and a comment alerting viewers to the fact that the Hebrew was the wrong way round. Visiting the DimePiece website, I discovered that it’s not just that one hoodie – it appears to be almost all of the company’s new season range:
Surely, surely getting a Hebrew translator to glance over this would have been a lot cheaper than the possible costs in pulped stock, annoyed customers (when someone pisses themselves laughing at them in the street) and lost face. Or perhaps the linguistic hegemony of English is such that no-one (who matters) will care?