9aba7 2l5air! Texting, Arab style

Yes– yet another report on Arabizi, it gives you a real taste of how Arabic is used on the ground by some youth today.


Text messaging and chatting are one of the most popular means of communication among the youth. Anyone joining an Arab chat room is most likely to get confused by what she or he reads. Young Arabs around the world refer to it as Arabizi which is the result of combining the words Arab and Inglizi — the word for English — in Arabic. Written Arabic has 28 letters which include sounds that are not found in English. Arabs have managed to create their own written language by combining English letters and numbers. The most surprising part is how this combination of numbers and letters is used for communication.

Since communication technologies such as personal computers, Internet, chatting and cell phone text messaging were first introduced to the Arab world in the 1990s, it has become popular and widely used. However, most of these in the beginning had the ability to communicate only in English rather than in Arabic, and some still lack the Arabic alphabet feature. As a result, Arabic speakers, in order to ease communication, transliterate (write a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language) the Arabic text into English, creating what is called “Arabizi.” Since some Arabic letters do not have an exact equivalent in English, Arabic speakers use numerals and other symbols such as apostrophes to make it sound more appropriate. There is no universal name for the Arabic chat alphabet; some call it Arabizi while others call it Arabish, which is the first syllable of the word “Arabic” and the last one of “English.”

For example, the No. 3 is used in Arabizi for the letter ayn which may be an English A or E – Abeer = 3abeer. The N0. 8 is used for the letter qaff which is equivalent to Q in English, for example, 8alb which means “heart”. Also, the No. 7 is equivalent to H in English, for example, Ba7ar which means “sea.” Moreover, symbols are also used such as (‘ *) either before or after the number. For example, ‘7aroof which is sheep; the symbol ‘ and the No. 7 together are pronounced as kh. However, there is no exact Arabizi due to its informality, not to mention regional variations due to dialect and accent. This “language” was originally popular with those in the Middle East who had been educated and who had lived abroad. Due to its wide use, Arabizi has now become common among all levels and ages of Arab society.

Mohammed Talal, a 32-year-old who lived in the United States for 12 years, said that he uses either English or Arabic when writing an e-mail or a text message. “Mobile phones and computers now have the option to switch between English and Arabic easily. I never used Arabizi and I am slow when it comes to reading it,” he said. “I type faster in English than in Arabic but I am getting better in Arabic,” he added.

Although many Arabs use it every day, Arabizi has never been formally used. At the same time, because it is widely recognized, in the last few years advertising agencies and media outlets have begun to use it. A few months ago, for example, Mobily released a prepaid line named 7ala which was hung on outdoor advertising banners all over Jeddah.

Even though Arabic is now usually available on computer keyboards, people still use the Arabic chat alphabet in instant messaging or text messaging. In addition, some people do not know how to use the Arabic keyboard or they type faster in English. Some find it difficult to change the keyboard language each time they want to write in Arabic, in addition to some locals not being fluent in Arabic due to having lived abroad for a long time. Many consider the Arabic alphabet more complicated and difficult than the English.

Sara Ibrahim, a 25-year-old university graduate, finds Arabizi much faster when writing a message, a non-official e-mail or chatting. “I got used to typing in English. I find Arabizi a quick and a fun way to write. Everyone knows it and everyone understands it. I don’t like to write in Arabic; that’s why I think Arabizi is brilliant,” Ibrahim said.

“I bought a T-shirt a couple of weeks ago at a Tahlia Street shop written on it was “a7la Lu’3ah” — the most beautiful language. Arabizi is becoming more common and is used everywhere,” she said.

Asma Siddiki, a Ph.D. in linguistics, said that she wouldn’t call Arabizi a mainstream language. “Arabizi has become part of the culture because it is convenient,” explained Siddiki.

However, she believes that Arabizi will never be a formal written language. “It is definitely a pan-Arab language but first we have to consider how many Arab people are using the Internet,” she said. “We also have to consider the generation differences,” she said.

Siddiki believes it is a little naïve to think Arabizi will replace formal Arabic. “English is shortened in informal texts but it has not replaced formal written English. I can’t imagine that Arabizi will ever replace formal written Arabic.” Siddiki does, however, believe that Arabizi will definitely evolve as and when the need arises.


Taken from: Gulf News (2009)  by Laura Bashraheel

P.s- did you work the title out?