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Arabic and information technology

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Arabic and information technology

Computer ownership in most Arab countries is well below the world average. In Algeria, Egypt, Djibouti, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen it is less than half the world average. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are the only Arab countries where computer ownership exceeds the world average.

Similarly, internet use in the Arab countries, though growing rapidly, is still only about half the world average.

This might seem bad enough, but even more striking is the fact that Arabic-only web pages account for only one-thousandth of the worldwide total: the presence of the Arabic language on the internet is far below what might be expected in relation to the number of Arabic speakers.

Discussing this problem in a chapter on information and communications technology (ICT), the recent Arab Knowledge Report says:

The efforts expended in creating Arabic digital content are also restricted to limited areas, most of which are disconnected from the reality and needs of Arab societies and fail to enrich knowledge related to social or economic development.

Certainly, the domination of some subjects and meagre treatment of others … is out of keeping with the challenges of a highly competitive world; in such a world, marginalisation is the fate of cultures that fail to reproduce themselves adequately through the creation of knowledge and devise new forms for its utilisation.

Creating web pages in Arabic used to be an extremely cumbersome business and the report acknowledges there are still some serious technical problems in working with Arabic on computers (morphological analysis, automatic vocalisation and automated parsing, for example) which affect other processes such as indexing and searching.

Amazingly, though, the report also points out that there is still no universal system for encoding Arabic letters and symbols – and this seems not so much a technical issue as a symptom of the Arab countries’ wider inability to get their act together.

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E-MAIL: hello@novatiatranslations.com.ng

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