12 Jan /12

Specifics of Arabic language translation and localisation

Arabic language is the fifth most widely spoken language throughout the world based on the number of native speakers. It is one of the world’s oldest languages and is the official language of 26 different countries. Furthermore, because Arabic is the language of the Koran and is the liturgical language of Islam, millions of Muslims in other countries speak Arabic as well.

The Middle East nations are now among the most promising markets for doing business.

The vast business opportunities in the oil producing nations have increased the demand for professional Arabic translations.

Arabic script’s specifics

  • The Arabic script is written from right to left.
  • The Arabic script is written in a cursive style.
  • The Arabic alphabet is unique in that Arabic letters change their shape according to their position in a word. Each letter has a dedicated shape when it is alone and for each position it takes in the word, such as first, middle or end position.

Forms of Arabic language

  • Classical Arabic language: the language of the Koran, Islam liturgies, classical literature and cultural documents.

All Muslims are expected to understand the Koran in the original language, however many rely on translations in order to understand the text.

  • Modern Standard Arabic: taught in schools and is the language of government, private businesses, print publications and the media.

Modern Standard Arabic is the universal language of the Arabic-speaking world which is understood by all Arabic speakers.

Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic languages differ in both style and vocabulary. When translating, a professional Arabic translator has to keep in mind that for each type of Arabic, there is a different meaning to it and formats of how to do it. A translation in Classical Arabic will vary from that of Modern Arabic.

  • Spoken or Colloquial Arabic: a collective term for the spoken regional languages or dialects of people throughout the Arab world. This type of Arabic is used for daily interactions, but not in a formal situation.

Arabic dialects

“Colloquial Arabic” refers to the many national or regional dialects/languages derived from Classical Arabic.

Four main groups of colloquial Arabic can be identified:

  • Egyptian Arabic (Egypt);
  • Moroccan/ Maghreb Arabic (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia);
  • Levantine Arabic (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine);
  • Gulf Arabic (The Gulf countries).

Arabic regional languages sometimes differ enough to be mutually incomprehensible.

Arabic grammar specifics

  • Three numbers (singular, dual and plural).
  • In Arabic word order, the verb comes first.
  • Adjectives come after the noun, rather than before.
  • Nouns have three “states” (indefinite, definite, and construct).
  • The letters are lined in such a way that they cannot be divided across the lines
  • Most Arabic words derive from a three letter root which provides the basic concept (only consonants are considered). Then other letters may be added before, after or among the root letters to further define the precise concept that the word must convey.

These specifics ensure that every word must be carefully considered. An Arabic translator must translate concept-by-concept, rather than word-by-word.

Arabic language localisation

Arabic language is considered as one of the most difficult languages to localise. There is insufficient linguistic research in Arabic to create computer resources needed in a modern computing environment. Arabic poses some of the greatest web localisation challenges because of poor software support. In most cases, translation into Arabic is an ad hoc process with no clear methodologies to follow.

Many Arabic companies have their web sites, brochures, reports and manuals in English, but not in Arabic.

Since Arabic language is hard to translate and localise, it is important to use professional translators that are experienced and well-versed in Arabic translations. For example, translation company EVS Translations: EVS Translations is probably the leading translation company worldwide for Arabic translations. EVS Translations regularly translates documentation from English into Arabic and Arabic into English for companies. Their clients are not only those that do business into Arabic speaking countries, but also companies with their headquarters there too. They have provided solutions to common problems such as translating defence bid documentation into specific Arabic dialects, translating over 1,000 pages into English for a large legal case and even annual reports into English for listed companies in The Middle East.