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  • Arabic transliteration:
    From private fonts to Unicode

    We have here some tools to help convert documents written in older, private transliteration fonts to the modern Unicode system.

    What is the problem?

    Academics who write in Arabic or other Middle Eastern languages studies have until recently used a huge number of specialized fonts for transliteration, with names such as MidEast Times, Times Beyrut, Semitic Transliterator or other. These fonts do their work, but they have the problem that they are private. Some were sold commercially, others were home-made by enterprising academics, but they all had different solutions on how to write the diacritic characters. That meant that, in order for you to read a document someone else sent you, you had to have the same font as he used installed on your computer. Publishers hated that, as every author used a different font, and communication with colleagues was always problematic.

    Over the last few years, a new and standardized system has emerged that allows us to dispense with these problems. Fonts following the Unicode system all share the same method of writing, not just living and dead languages, but also academic notation as transliteration and diacritics. Thus, when we write our texts in Unicode fonts rather than the old specialized fonts (now called "legacy fonts"), publishers, online readers and colleagues can all display them in any other Unicode font, and the transliteration is preserved, just like any other text.

    That is fine, then, for new documents we write. But what about all the old documents we have lying around, in the old legacy fonts? And, no less important, many colleagues still use old fonts, fonts we do not have, and send us documents written in them. We would in both cases like to make these documents readable in our new Unicode system. That is what these tools do: They convert documents written in a large number of old, private, transliteration fonts, to the Unicode system.


    Technically, the tools are very simple. They are a combination of 'Find and Replace' commands, e.g. they replace the letter 'a with line above' in the legacy font with 'a with line above' in the Unicode system. You can do that manually, just as long as you know what characters to find and replace. These tools, or macros, speed up the process and keep track of which characters to replace in each font. When appropriate, they display the text in a Unicode font, assuming you have one on your computer - which you probably do if you have a recent Mac or PC (if not, you should get such a font, see a different page about installing Unicode fonts).

    The actual conversion is thus done by macros, which are a part of your word processing program. We have here two sets of macros, which can be used in two common word processors: One for NisusWriter Pro, the other for Microsoft Word (tested on Macintosh, Word 2004 & 2011, but they will apparently also work on Word in Windows). Pick the file(s) for the program you use; the actual conversion is the same for both, and the same fonts are covered.

    The result is a file of the same kind as the original, a Word or NisusWriter file. You do of course not need the macros after the conversion is made - the resulting file is just a word processing file - all you need is to have a Unicode font that contains the relevant diacritics. Not all fonts have the more bizarre diacritic combinations, but very many now contain the basic ones used for Arabic transliteration, and you can choose any such font for your text. You can even put the text on the web with diacritics inside, with a reasonable hope of other people being able to read it.

    I have by various means found information, partial or complete, for about forty such legacy transliteration fonts. If the font you use is among them, download the relevant macro package to your computer. If it is not, send me a note, perhaps I can add your font to the list.

    What fonts do they convert from?

    The fonts currently covered, are: Abbas, afroas, AHT, AO Times New Roman, al-Arial, ArabTransLit, Assur, Beyrut, Bloomington, Bock, DMGTms, EuroIranica, Galil, GalilTimes, HaifaTimes, Iran Web2, islamicstudies, IslwTimes, Jaghbub / Bairut / Koufra, JAIS-font, ME Times / ME Geneva, MidEast Times, Nebe, New BaskervilleME, New World, New World Transliterator, Pamuk, Semitic Transliterator, Sima, Tabriz, Times Beyrut Roman / OI-Beirut, Times New Arabic, Times New Arabic Roman, Times New English Roman, TimesEncycBrillRoman, TimesTL, Timur / Helvan, TranslitLS and UrmiTimes.
    (>> Details)


    However, my information is not always complete, and at this point most of the macros are tested only in 'laboratory' rather than in real-life tests. They are there provided on the 'see if they work for you, but no guarantee'-basis; please use only on a copy of your documents until you are certain they work for you. On a related page I provide the information I have for each font, and what my conversions are based on.
    Please, therefore, if you find any errors, report them to me, so that I can try to improve the quality of the tools. Write to

    Information about the fonts

    Download and installation details

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