28 Jan 2009 roozbeh   » (Master)

Arabic in movies: I’ve been watching some 24, which is so full of stereotypical “terrorists”. Most of them are Middle Eastern of course. To try to get “balanced”, in a few episodes they go and add a few “good” Muslims or Middle Easterners, probably to protect themselves. Sometimes it gets pretty funny too. To prove the innocence of some Muslim US government agent, someone says “But she’s even a registered Republican!” I really don’t know if they knew it’s funny... Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about.

What’s really annoying is that to someone knows a bit about Middle Eastern culture and language, a lot of things are very phony. These are some random things from 24 that I found. (Note: I am not a native speaker of Arabic. I just learned some in school.)

  • There is an hostage execution scene, with the captors talking in front of a black background with Arabic text on it. Guess what the text says: “الموت لأمريكيين”, which means “Death to Americans”! I’m quite sure no “terrorist” would want to say that. “Death to America”, they may say.
  • The names of some Middle Easterners are pretty made up. There is this family, named “Araz”. Now that’s an Azerbaijani name, and no one would really be named Araz if he’s not an ethnic Azerbaijani or from the Caucasus. But guess what? Their first names are very Arab first names (not even names common in non-Arab Muslim world), and their son has a very Persian first name (Behrooz)! A totally impossible combination.
  • The writers seem to have taken “terrorist” names from whatever was at hand. Two minor terrorists, Arabs in apperance, whose names is mentioned almost next to each other in the same episodes. Guess what are they last names? The first is named “Khatami”, the second “Ardakani”. Where are these names coming from? They come from the full name of the very popular reformist former President of Iran, Seyyed Mohammad Khatami Ardakani. Interestingly, that full name is rarely mentioned, except in one place, an old version of CIA’s world factbook. The writers simply got their hand on whatever they could find about “terrorist” regimes, and took the smiling president’s name. They didn’t know that Ardakan is the name of a small city in central Iran, and Arabs would probably not name themselves after that city.
  • Arabic text is not what it looks like in the real world at all. The letters are usually disjoint, each letter on its own, instead of contextual shaping. In some cases, it’s even both left-aligned and left-to-right.

Of course, 24 is famous for showing torture to be working sometimes, depicting huge conspiracies, showing government officials on very foolish errands and breaking laws left and right, and very interestingly, a Democratic Chief of Staff becoming a Republican Chief of Staff in the next administration. (All in all, I really think the world of 24 is a parallel universe. Fun to watch, but not much connection to real world.)

The disjoint Arabic phenomenon is not unique to 24, of course. Even better-produced shows like Lost do it. In Season 4, Episode 9, a TV news programming is shown, supposedly in Tunisia broadcasting something happening in Iraq. The Arabic text is totally disjoint, and unacceptable to anybody who knows anything about the language or script.

I suppose the producers pay people to translate the text into Arabic. Can’t they also make sure the software they use to render the text also displays it fine? If it doesn’t, why bother? Just show some squiggles!

Tintin did it much better, with much lower budget, I guess.

Latest blog entries     Older blog entries

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!