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Working with numbers in Arabic translations

Working with numbers in Arabic translationsWe recently wrote about numerals and measurements in Chinese and Japanese texts. While there are lots and lots of numeral systems around the world, most of us are used to the decimal system, expressed using Arabic numerals.

The term "Arabic numerals" can be ambiguous though. As Wikipedia points out, the expression

"...most commonly refers to the numeral system widely used in Europe and the Americas. Arabic numerals is the conventional name for the entire family of related systems of Arabic and Indian numerals. It may also be intended to mean the numerals used by Arabs, in which case it generally refers to the Eastern Arabic numerals."
Numbers came to Europe through the introduction of Algebra from the Arab world (hence "Arabic numbers" versus "Roman numerals"). Despite the fact that we call them "Arabic numbers" though, much of the Middle East uses different symbols for the digits 0-9. These are called Hindi numbers – but actually vary a little bit from Hindi depending on the language used:

So, which version should be used in a medical translation? The short answer is, it depends.

At ForeignExchange, we ask clients if they prefer that we use European digits or "Arabic-Indic" digits. The answer depends on where they intend to use the text. Typically, North African countries prefer European digits, while the Middle East prefers the "Arabic-Indic" style. We suggest European style digits when it is intended for global Arabic usage.

For further information, take a look at these two informative articles:
  1. Wikipedia has a good overview
  2. Tex Texin provides tons of great information on localizing for right-to-left languages, including Arabic numbers
[Shukran, Megan, for the tip!]

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  1. Suha Yacoub said...
    Great Article. Thanks for sharing it. We were discussing this same issue at work yesterday. We use Arabic (European) numbers for Tunisia, Morocco and Algiers and Hindi numbers for the remainder of the Arab speaking countries. The type of numerals displayed in a document or website is sometimes controlled via operating system, application or browser settings and may vary from desktop to desktop.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Sandra La Brasca said...
    Another interesting point is that technically Arabic is a bi-directional language in that while letters go right to left, numbers go left to right.

    From http://www.i18nguy.com/MiddleEastUI.html

    Arabic (Hindi) Digits
    Arabic digits are represented by the values U+0660 through U+0669 in Unicode. They can be written in HTML with numeric character references (NCRs) as ٠ through ٩. Although Arabic text is written right-to-left, numbers are written the same way as in left-to-right languages, with the most significant digit on the left. So the number 123 (one hundred and twenty three) is written ١٢٣ ("123", not "321").

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