The Arabic script is a unique way of writing which is used, not only for writing and reading the Arabic language, but also for other languages. Persian (Farsi and Dari), Kurdish, Sindhi, Punjabi, Urdu, Somali, among other languages, use the same script. Prior to 1928, it was also the script incorporated by the Turkish language. It is the second most used writing system globally.
A cursive script which is written/read from right to left, some letters are written as stand-alone script or joined to other letters, depending on the meaning to be conveyed. Basic letterforms do not change. Typically, written in small letters (no capitals exist), Arabic calligraphy is used to write most things of an ornate or religious nature, in the Arabic language. As the script lends itself to multiple curves and artistic lines, written in calligraphy, the script resembles something akin to a piece of art. If you are learning how to read or write the script, here are some pointers that will make things clearer for you.
Calligraphy used in Arabic
Arabic calligraphy is usually written in roundel form. This is a round or circular way of Arabic writing, and you will find it on ceramic ware, vases, archaic texts, plates and tapestry. Simply put, this indicates that one word follows another, but the whole text is written according to the curve of a circle. Sometimes, the calligrapher tries to cleverly arrange words so that they fit into a confined decorative space. You will discover such writing as words placed in the form of stairs. So the first word will be placed at the bottom, the next above it and slightly to the left, and so on.
In more complex organizations of words, calligraphers may write the words from the top to the bottom. You have to read them that way too. At times, the words may start at the bottom and progress in an arch-like space, to the top. Mirroring is a concept used in Arabic calligraphy too. So the design requires the reader to read the text incorrect format as well as reversed. Highly abstract forms of calligraphy also exist, and its almost as if the calligrapher doesn’t want the text to be read at all. These examples are evident in the Persian ”shekasteh” style.
Direction of Reading
Whether it exists in calligraphic art or normal text, you have to know how to read the Arabic script in its regular form to read any Arabic script. Force yourself to read from right to left. There’s no point in thinking of any capitals, even for names, because there aren’t any in this cursive Arabic script. Identifying letters may be strange and difficult because of this, but stick with it.
Learn about Letters
The letters themselves. There are twenty-eight letters in the Arabic calligraphy alphabet script. Each of these letters has four distinctive shapes. These are known as initial, medial, isolated, and final. In the language, variants of these are used in combinations and permutations, depending on the location of letters in words.
The letters in the Arabic alphabet are consonants. Nonetheless, while reading or speaking out words in Arabic, vowels may be sounded, but they aren’t ever written as singular characters, as in English.
Tread in Small Steps
Learn limited sets of Arabic calligraphy letters. Many alphabet sets of Arabic are written in calligraphic font. If you try to learn the Arabic alphabet in its entirety, at one shot, this may pose a challenge. Many letters look almost the same as each other, and you may get confused. You will succeed in your reading endeavor if you learn sets at a time. Practicing two or three letters a day is a good idea for a start. Writing out a letter and learning it, with all of its variants, will help you learn faster.
Look at Different Textual Material
Use practice texts. You can get great material to help your learning curve go in the right direction. Once you have practiced a single letter with its variants, look at Arabic calligraphy texts. See whether you can identify the letter you have learned and practiced – as well as with its variant components. Read it out aloud. It is important to learn each sound that matches a letter and its variant. Some of these intonations are not phonetically present in the English language, so they may seem weird at first.
The Arabic language and its script is filled with consonants mainly. Nonetheless, some vowels do exist, but only for sounds pertaining to long vowels. These are from the letters “a”, “i”, and “u”. The way short sounding vowels are written are as distinct marks below or above the letters that are consonants. Typically, such markings are seen in texts of a religious nature, and in books of instruction for children and students of Arabic language study. Marks are different for different sounds, and they help you when you have to read Arabic script. They tell you how letters and words should be pronounced.
While learning a language, reading, writing, and speaking are inextricably linked. So it is when you read Arabic calligraphy script. As mentioned earlier, Arabic letters are always written in cursive style. What this means for the Arabic language is that all the letters are connected. Six Arabic letters have two variants instead of the usual four per letter. These are not related to any other letter after they have been used in any given word. When you are trying to read Arabic script, you will discover that many letters look different when they are connected to other letters. Standing alone, these may seem like new letters altogether. Learning the forms that a given letter may take needs a lot of practice.
Reading from Writing Practice
When you’ve had some practice writing letters in the Arabic script, you will automatically be able to read a few short words too. Reading words fluently will require a lot more practice and effort. You will, no doubt, have an appropriate textbook. That should be your go-to resource to ensure you are pronouncing words correctly.
Calligraphy in Arabic Text
The writing you will see in printed material will likely have nicely written Arabic calligraphy script. Naturally, this will be easier to read than some material that is handwritten. Calligraphy is clear, and all the markings will be singularly distinguishing.
Compare Different Calligraphy Texts
When you are practicing your reading (and writing), look for different forms of Arabic calligraphy. You can find a lot of material online, so that you can compare your reading skills and have a diverse knowledge base.
General Pointers to Help You
When a child learns English, the right hemisphere of the brain is active. This is so for most languages that involve learning in the Roman or Latin script. In Arabic learning, identifying the location as well as the number of marks (dots) is vital in differentiating letters. The right hemisphere of the brain finds this hard to do as it mainly uses information processing mechanisms of familiarity. The complexity of the reading process involved in deciphering Arabic calligraphy script needs the work of both hemispheres, to a degree, plus a lot of practice.
Native Arabic Readers
Children who learn Roman languages draw on global familiar content and learning isn’t so tough. Even if you are a novice and want to learn French, or German, for instance, it won’t be as hard as learning Arabic. In the early stages of learning such languages, both hemispheres of the brain work cohesively. In native Arabic children, who learn Arabic, they may speak it faster, as their parents speak to them from birth. Nonetheless, reading it and writing it will still be difficult.
About the Alphabet
Technically, Arabic calligraphy letters are not alphabets at all, but they are simply known as glyphs. The combination (what we refer to as the “Arabic alphabet”) of forms of the script is called ‘abjad’. Arabic is a phonetic language, and it is pronounced exactly as it is written down in text. Out of all twenty-eight letters, or rather, glyphs, nineteen have English counterparts, but nine do not. Nonetheless, five out of these nine have sounds that you can find in English, so your task of reading may not be hard after all.
Sounds are Coupled
When you read Arabic calligraphy, letters are read with combinations of marks, as mentioned earlier. You will discover that in each pairing, one represents a soft sound, and the other a gruff tone. The soft sound part is the part that has a matching phonetic in English. All in all, you will probably find only four letters that are totally unfamiliar in their sounds to you.
Accents when you Read
While reading in a new language, the accent is tremendously important when you read or communicate. It should be as authentic as possible. As mentioned earlier, there are long vowel sounds that correspond to “a”, “i”, and “u” in English. Some will argue that the “i” sound is actually an “e” sound as it relates to English vowels. In English too, these produce similar sounds. There are short vowel sounds in Arabic too. These are known as Al-Tashkeel. If you know these basic short vowel sounds and how to read them, your reading will become a lot simpler and you will progress faster.