Saba7 El 7'eir


At some point back in the early nineties seeing the above words on a PC screen would have caused me to stop and worry I might have a file corruption.  Today, I see such Romanized Arabic words everyday on TV, on my PC or mobile, on advertising billboards and I even once spotted it printed on a guy’s t-shirt but I was too slow to read what it said before he whisked away. 


Luckily none of these sightings inspire fears of file corruption anymore although some would argue there's a dangerous element of corruption at play (cultural not digital) and would quickly point fingers at the poor guy with the t-shirt.  That is an interesting debate and deserves to be the sole subject of a later post.  Today, I'd like to talk about the phenomena of Romanized Arabic and the release of Microsoft Maren.


I found it difficult to pin point when I began seeing and using Romanized Arabic.  It definitely wasn't around the days of Gopher or Mosaic. I don't remember using it in ICQ or IRC.  If you haven't heard of any of these and you are not an internet historian you need not bother look them up.


Consensus seems to be that the wide use of Romanized Arabic on the internet and in phones started in the mid 1990s.  The concept of Romanization, the use of the roman (latin) alphabet to represent the words of another language has been around for much longer and has been applied to many languages. 


Pinyin, for example, is a popular romanization form of Mandarin.  Unlike the grass roots origin of the widely used Romanized Arabic, Pinyin was developed by a Chinese government committee in the 1950s. Pinyin is officially recognized as an international standard and is widely supported (e.g. Windows supports text input and automatic transliteration of Pinyin).


Support for Romanized Arabic on the internet has also emerged in the past couple of years. Onkosh, Yamli and Google have all offered web-based implementations.


Today, with the release of Maren, Microsoft offers a solution that integrates seamlessly with Windows. Typing in Romanized Arabic is no longer restricted to a particular web page or browser. You can now easily do this in the applications that you use every day, on the web or the desktop.


Email or IM a friend. Comment on a photo. Search the web. Write a document. Blog. Keep a to do list. Maren makes it easier to complete many day to day tasks in Arabic and using the applications you use today for accomplishing these tasks.


Use it, let us know what you think about Maren or Romanized Arabic as a phenomena.




ahmed el-shimi,

Cairo  Microsoft Innovation Center (CMIC)