Unified Arabic (TM) was created by Nasri Khattar (1911-1998), and it led to a design patent in 1947. Mr. Khattar later created a full type system comprising eight typefaces based on the concept of Unified Arabic, in which each character has one unified shape. Some of Khattar's typefaces were designed in the printed form while other were designed as connected letters. Even in the connected forms, the characters remain unified, in that they have one unique shape.
Traditional Arabic type is a slavish imitation of the cursive Arabic calligraphy that evolved over centuries and at a time when all books, documents, and correspondence were penned by hand and no copying machines existed. This brought about a variety in the shape of each alphabetic character and hundred of ligatures, which are letters superimposed on top of each other. It was done to facilitate and speed up the cursive process of writing — which had become a sort of shorthand — and of copying, which was then a profitable enterprise.
When this intricately written Arabic was cast into type, it was found necessary to cast more than a thousand type bodies to make the printed page readable, although the Arabic alphabet consists of only 28 letters. Thus the Arab world — and others beyond — found themselves stuck with this problem for which there seemed to be no solution.
Prior to the Gutenberg invention of movable type in the Fifteen Century, the Arabic script was more widely used than its Roman counterpart. But the Arabs failed to simplify and adapt their alphabet to machine composition as the West had done.
With the advent of Unified Arabic (UA - TM), we now have, as the Western world, two alphabets: one for handwriting and calligraphy, and another in type forms for printing — both fully compatible with each other. It must be noted here that the similarity between the two is greater in Arabic than it is in English, French, or Spanish.
The Unified Arabic Alphabet is the very same familiar 28-letter alphabet, minus the superfluous variants and ligatures. What Nasri Khattar, designer of Unified Arabic did, was to eliminate the unnecessary flourishes, confusing curlicues, and the twisted variants needed in the cursive handwriting, and to standardize the letter forms. Each of the new characters consists of the essential identifying characteristics of the old variant forms of that letter, with the result that the emergent design is quintessentially more Arabic, more identifiable, and more readable than the old contorted shapes. Any literate Arab can read it Unified Arabic instantly—as many have discovered as they try it on a reader of Arabic, Farsi, or Urdu.
Vowelization, known as harakat in Arabic, compounds traditional-type difficulties. The 28-letter alphabet contains only three vowels. However, there are some 20 additional signs, known as short-vowels that are placed to the left, on top, or below the letters. These are generally omitted in the ordinary printed page. However, some are a must in legal and literary works. Religious and beginners’ texts call for total vowelization.
The addition of the above short-vowels compounds the problem of the traditional type and could add hundreds (many thousands if vowelized in full) of characters to the font. In his lifetime, Mr. Khattar had never seen a totally vowelized Arabic script, mechanically composed. This is one of the reasons that titles, subtitles, and ads in most publications, including newspapers, are done by hand.
Unified Arabic does the job with a font of less than a hundred characters, including letters, short-vowels, punctuation, and numerals.
The efficient use of space is one of the basics of type design. Unified Arabic is legible and readable in six-point and even smaller sizes. Large Unified Arabic sizes are attractive and comparable in their legibility with Western type of the lower-case variety. This means great savings in space and economy and makes possible pocket-size books, map-making in Arabic (now nearly nonexistent), and full-size dictionaries, reasonably-sized dictionaries, et cetera. The importance of the above cannot be exaggerated: Three to four times can now be printed in a given page with increased legibility and accuracy. There is no traditional Arabic type today of equal legibility in less than 10-point size. And large-size Arabic is rarely used because it magnifies the defects of the traditional Arabic type.
Unified Arabic is the very same alphabet — an addition, not a substitution. However much the traditional Arabic letter-variants complicate the educational and typographical process, they will continue to be used in Arabic handwriting and calligraphy, because they facilitate the former and embellish the latter.
Beyond handwriting and calligraphy, Unified Arabic is bound to have a spontaneous impact on the printed page, once it enjoys greater availability. With the capabilities and potentialities of present-day technology, demand for the new typefaces will skyrocket. Unified Arabic is the very same alphabet — only many times easier to read, compose, and teach. Unified Arabic provides an addition, not a substitute to any of the many methods now in use.
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