Never trust numbers in Arabic papers

6 Jun, '06

Maybe because of the typesetting software they use or the obtuse and non-standard numeral representation in the Arabic language on computers. I know, it’s ironic, the whole world depend on Arabic numerals, and WE can’t use them properly when we type them in letters or whatever in a computer… the situation is further exacerbated when you frequently hear a person asking you if you are dictating numbers on a phone or in person if you are dictating the numbers “from left or from right!”

This gives rise to errors like these, as printed in this morning’s Al-Wasat newspaper, which are the government budgetary figures for the next two years:

error in printing budgets in Al-Wasat

The Ministry of Information’s budget normally does not exceed 32 million for all of its programs (and yes, that’s how much the government would save if they would finally cancel this defunct organ, but anyway..) of which not more than 8 million goes to the Bahrain Radio & Television Corporation, 90% of that budget for the BRTC is used to as staff pay and staff benefits, that leaves virtually nothing to upgrade the station and it needs that upgrade desperately!

To get back on-point, why is it still difficult for Arabic papers to print numbers properly, and even if they have to include an English acronym that invariably is printed wrong? (the character set does not translate properly for some reason)

When you consider that newspapers in the Arab world adopted computer technologies to help them publish their content over 20 years ago, why is it still impossible to find an Arabic paper without these typographical errors? A lot could be attributed to the technologies they are using, but you would think with the amount of money being poured into them, they should have been able to buy Adobe and get a proper Arabic desktop publishing system written for them, rather than depending on the only real DTP software available to Arabs and that is Quark Xpress!

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Comments (5)

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  1. alfanan says:

    I agree with you. Quark is the WORST DTP program, ever.

    I had to install it on our designer’s machine at work because the publishing company we work with would not accept the files in any other format; and let me tell you… It is not something I want to install on my computer.

  2. Don Cox says:

    Actually they are called “Arabic numbers” because the Europeans learned them from the Arabs, but the Arabs in turn got them from India.

    There is a brilliant book called “The Crest of the Peacock” by G G Joseph which covers this and all the history of maths outside Europe. I think you would find it interesting.

  3. mahmood says:

    Thanks Don, I’ll look it up. And of course you are correct, the numerals we use now as Arabic are actually Indian, and it is claimed that the Latin numerals in use today all over the world are the original Arabic ones; that’s why most newspapers toward the end of the 90s started adopting them again, against the “Indian” numbers which were used for so long before that… I’m not convinced, I hope the book you referred to covers this topic.

  4. Don Cox says:

    As Palestine and Egypt were in the Roman Empire until the year 616 (when the Persians drove them out), it does seem likely that the Roman number system would be in use there until the Indian system arrived. And it takes a long time for such systems to change over – look how the Americans are still not using the metric system for measurements.

    Whatever was in use in Egypt would presumably also be in use in the Arabian peninsula. But different numbers were used for commerce and for science.

    Joseph thinks the Indian numerals probably arrived in Baghdad in 773, when there was a diplomatic mission from Sind.

    There was also a Babylonian system using 60 rather than 10 as the number base.

  5. Hana says:

    For BD 32 million–they could at least air the world cup…It is a shame that football has become a sport of the elite-or at least a sport that only those who can afford over BD100 to subscribe to it can watch it…. What was the average basic salary for Bahrainis? BD 300?

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