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Diacritics in the Arabic Script

The Arabic script has been a long developing writing system, and its diacritics constitute a visually rich and complex in dimension. There are points that differentiate consonants that have similar forms known as niqāṭ, vocalization marks known as tashkyl, Qur’an accents to aid in recitation, and decorative marks. What is the history and relevance of these diacritics, and does their form follow a system? With the development of the Arabic script, the various letters with similarity in form and pronunciations were expected to be known by heart, and without clarification from the text. With the spread of Islam geographically, many foreigners to the script were reading the Qur’an text with many mispronunciations and copious misunderstandings. This created the need to disambiguate the text, which led to the creation of certain marks to differentiate letters. This talk will expand on the history of Arabic diacritics, their introduction to the script, and their development into the forms we know today. We’ll also discuss why these enhancements were considered offensive at the time of their inception. It also considers how the system introduced by Abuw Al-’Aswad Al-Dū’aly enhanced the script to how Al-khalyl bin ‘Aḥmad Al-Farāhydy developed the forms we know today. The talk describes the various types of diacritics, and why vocalization marks are often omitted from the text in addition to the methods used by calligraphers to place vocalization marks.


Najla Badran

Instructor of Typography American University in Cairo

Najla Badran is a typeface designer and researcher from Egypt. Badran’s interest in typography led to her constant search for knowledge about type design. This drove Badran to pursue a master’s in typeface design from the University of Reading in 2014, which was funded by the Monotype Scholarship. Badran taught at the German University in Cairo from 2016 to 2017, and is currently teaching at the American University in Cairo. Badran is pursuing her PhD in diacritics in the Arabic scripts and typography at the University of Reading.