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Alphabets of Languages with Bidirectional Scripts and their Support. Israel Ervin Gidali IBM Globalization Centre of Competency- Complex Text Languages. Agenda. The predecessors of the first true alphabets The first alphabets Direction of writing The “modern” RTL scripts

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alphabets of languages with bidirectional scripts and their support

Alphabets of Languageswith Bidirectional Scriptsand their Support

Israel Ervin Gidali

IBM Globalization Centre of Competency-

Complex Text Languages

  • The predecessors of the first true alphabets
  • The first alphabets
  • Direction of writing
  • The “modern” RTL scripts
  • Bidirectionality
  • Bidi– some of the challenges
  • Implementation aspects
the alphabet predecessors
The Alphabet Predecessors

The predecessors of the first true alphabets:

The Egyptian hieroglyphics (since 3000 BCE)

The Mesopotamian cuneiforms (since 3100 BCE)

the egyptian hieroglyphs
The Egyptian Hieroglyphs




the cuneiform writing systems
The Cuneiform Writing Systems




the first semitic alphabets
The First Semitic Alphabets

Proto-Sinaic and Proto-Canaanite.

  • Originated around the 18th or 17th centuries BCE, under the influence of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
the first semitic alphabets8
The First Semitic Alphabets
  • The revolution: purely phonetic (only consonants without vowels).
  • Influenced originally by the polyphony practice in hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts.
proto canaanite
  • Limit the set of sounds to 22 consonants only, still without vowels.
  • Acrophonic.
  • Letters easy to distinguish and remember (their shapes resemble familiar objects).
the alphabet success
The alphabet success

Proto-Canaanite, Phoenician and Greek

direction of writing
Direction of Writing
  • Hieroglyphs were written in both directions.
  • Starting from the 11th century BCE,

the writing direction of all Semitic scripts (except Ethiopic) is

from right to left.

the modern rtl scripts
The “Modern” RTL scripts

אין כל-חדש תחת השמש

(קהלת פרק א פסוק ט\')

There is nothing new under the sun.

(Qohelet/Ecclesiastes 1/9)

arabic script the script of islam
Arabic Script – the Script of Islam

The Arabic script, the script of Quran, used for:

  • Arabic
  • Persian (Farsi)
  • Urdu
  • Ottoman Turkish (until 1929)
    • Uighur, Kazakh,Uzbek, Tajik, Kirghiz,
  • Old Malay, Swahili, Hausa, Baluchi, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Pashto, Lahnda,Dargwa,Morrocan Arabic, Adighe, Ingush, Berber,Kurdish, Jawi/Javanese……
hebrew script
Hebrew Script

עברית שפה יפה

  • Used for:
    • Hebrew
    • Yiddish
    • Ladino (Judezmo)
    • Arabic
    • Karaite/Karaim
    • Turkish
hebrew script and diacritics
Hebrew script and diacritics

Hebrew text:

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ

Vocalized with “points”

and cantillation marks:

decimal digits forms
Decimal digits forms

European digits (Arabic digits):

(Used in Hebrew script and

in some Arabic countries)

Arabic-Indic digits:

(Used in Arabic)

Numbers are written from left to right regardless of their form

and regardless of regional variety

bidi rectionality
  • National language (Arabic, Hebrew, etc...) text is written from Right to Left


  • Numbers and English (or French,Russian, etc.) text is written from Left to Right

english text 123 TXET CIBARA

bidi appearance aspects directionality
Bidi Appearance Aspects- Directionality
  • Mixed direction of text segments:
  • Page alignment on the right
  • Book binding on the right
  • Mirroring of GUI elements

(only when translated)

bidi data processing aspects some of the challenges
Bidi Data Processing Aspects – some of the challenges
  • Bidirectional text data entry
  • Visual versus Logical text type
  • The Paragraph Orientation
  • Arabic script cursiveness: shaping and ligatures
  • Variety of text layouts in use
the bidi layout challenges
The Bidi Layout Challenges
  • Bidirectional text in different systems and applications has multiple possible layouts
  • In heterogeneous environments proper layout transformations should be performed
  • Higher order protocols integration
the challenge of gui mirroring
The Challenge of GUI Mirroring
  • When translating the interface of an application to a language with Bidirectional script, provisions must be made to ensure that the GUI is properly mirrored.
implementation aspects
Implementation Aspects
  • Almost all platforms and Operating Systems provide support for Bidirectional text entry and processing
  • New platforms should react to this challenge too
  • Except for adequately engraved keyboards, there is no need for special hardware for Bidi text support.
last word
Last Word
  • RTL scripts are not a novelty. As a matter of fact they have preceded the current Western world scripts
  • Their support is different but not necessarily much more complex, as long as one is prepared for it.
the end
The End

Thank You