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Written by Amin ELSALEH   
Friday, 15 February 2013 13:22

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 My work on Arab Standards is largely influenced by my cultural heritage. I am inviting the reader after studying carefully the following sources which represent  a very small part of what I've been supposed  to do, to explore Al-Farabi teaching which was more oriented towards ‘‘Book of Particles’’ rather than "Book of Letters". The question remains to find and support in this 21st century a qualified person to complete Al-Farabi's vision of the "Book of Particles".


Pour coder l'alphabet arabe en informatique, le processus était long (1978-1984) car aucune source académique n'a spécifié quel est le nombre de caractères arabes nécessaires pour pouvoir lire correctement un texte arabe: des sources nous ont dit 28, 29 ,31 et devant cette incertitude j'ai contacté personnellement deux académies: celle de Damas et celle de Rabat en la personne de Al-Akhdar Ghazal. Lorsque j'ai posé la question au regretté Rateb Naffakh (académie  de Damas) la réponse était par une autre question: pourquoi ne vous êtes pas adressés à nous? Et il m'a expliqué pendant 2h ce que sont les caractères arabes (le groupe de Hamza, Lamalef est constitué de deux lettres, l'importance des voyelles etc... et nous sommes arrivés au résultat que le nombre historique devait être porté à 44). J'ai soumis mes notes à Al-Akhdar Ghazal, il a dit textuellement:"si Rateb Naffakh vous a dit cela, je l'approuve entièrement", il ne le connaissait pas, mais avait beaucoup de respect pour lui, et moi je n'étais que le messager. Donc l'informatique n'avait rien à faire avec ce que j'ai fait, je suis parti de la base et le reste ne m'à demandé qu'une période de sensibilisation qui a duré un certain temps pour obtenir le consensus des pays arabes et des industriels européens.

Amin Elsaleh


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT[1]: TO TC8 (Technical Committee for Arab script in IT) in particular: Mansour Farah, Mohamed Mrayati, Sami Khiami (Syria), Yousef Nusseir, Ahmad Abou Al-Haija (Jordan), Ghassan Abdullah (Palestine), Ali Al-Shahawani (Irak), Ahmed Cherif (Tunisia), Mohammed Dcheich (Morocco): TO ECMA(Manufacturer Organisation) in Particular: Raymond Khalil (IBM), Joachim Friemelt(Siemens).

 PART I – Review of basic published standards for computer processing and transmission of the Arabic language.

·       ISO 8859-6[2] (ASMO 708) Information processing – 8 bit single-byte coded graphic character set (Latin/Arabic alphabet)[3].
·       ASMO 969 – 1989: Displayed and Printed Arabic characters repertoire.
·       ASMO[4] 663: Arabic terminal keyboard layout.


·       Arabic entries in ISO 10646[5]: Multiple octet coded character set.
·       Interrelationship between ISO/IEC 10646 and ISO/IEC 10036:1996 Information Technology – Font information inter change. The applied standard is ISO Glyph ID 8059[6].
·       Font information interchange ISO/IEC DIS 9541/DAM – Annex A : Typeface design grouping.
·       Document Description and processing languages SGML[7] (ISO 8879) and related applications.
·       EDI: Electronic Data Interchange  (ISO 9735) and related applications.·       Latin-Arabic handling in WEB interface[8]

[1] ASMO TC8 last activities were by the end of the eighties, my last contact with ECMA was by the end of 1990 when Raymond Khalil left us.
[2] This is the unique ISO (International Standard Organisation) which has an Arabic origin ASMO (Arab Standard Metrology Organisation). To become ISO standard requires the approval of 75% of the member’s states. To become an ASMO standard we proceeded to have a consensus between Arab states and computer manufacturers. The first draft was issued by the ATU (Arab Telecommunication Union) for the telex in 1961, was modified by Arab Institute of Rabat in 1967, and handled by an Arabic committee created in Amman in 1968 to create standards for computer processing and transmission of the Arabic language. His technical secretary approved by Arab states was Amin ELSALEH (1968-1987). ASMO 708 became an ISO standard in member states meeting at Helsinki (1984): it was the sixth part of ISO 8859 dedicated to Latin characters (English, French, German, Cyrillic…and Arabic).
[3] Table 3 – 8bit Arabic/Latin Code: basic characteristics of this table are that the number of Arabic characters to get a readable text is 44 including vowels, this is also mandatory for storage, search and retrieval from a data base. Arabic academy (in particular Damascus & Morocco) contributed to start the alphabet with “hamza” family, followed by “alef” etc...Contextual analysis was used to reproduce ligatures like “lam-aleph”… 
[4] Terminal Keyboard
[5] Does this standard remain a DIS? (Draft for International Standard): After the loss of Raymond Khalil, I’ve never heard that this ambitious project for multilingual character set was born. It was supposed to include all the graphics & character sets of the world nations. Some samples are included in this document: figure 2 – Entire coding space of multiple-octet coded character set; Table 22 – Arabic script  characters; LIGATURES (Arabic two characters Ligatures in Lists 56.n – Rows 051/056: Isolated Ligatures; Final Ligatures); STYLES (Fig. A.36, A.73, A.75, A.88, A.93, A.109, A.112, A.148, A.166). A Subset of this standard is known & applied in IT industry is UNICODE. In 1997 EDI  (Electronic Data Interchange) meeting in London, I saw a trilingual keyboard (English, Korean & Chinese characters), may I assume that this was based on UNICODE standard?
[6] Euro glyph has been registered as ISO Glyph ID 8059 including euro-sign & keyboards
 according to standard ISO/IEC 10036. Glyph is a real representation of a character (
bit pattern). I participated personally to some meetings (in Europe in particular) at ISO/IEC JTC1/SC18/WG8 , dedicated to Arabic glyph but without Arabic consensus no progress was achieved despite some efforts to reactivate TC8 work programme by Arab states. 
[7] SGML (Standard General Markup Language) remains a framework, a well known subset (XML: eXtended Markup Language) totally compatible with SGML, was promoted by Microsoft by the end of the nineties and is the reference for tools & applications development since that time. EDIAUDIT online server products are built on SGML standard which we believe is an open standard capable to handle wide varieties of SCENARII described in many contributions of the author in:
and finally ten recent publications in: 
[8] You may find some research concerning this issue like:,
but no Arabic consensus was achieved regarding WEB-based solutions to handle Arabic documents within a mixed environment (Latin-Arabic). This critical issue is the real 21st century threat to Arab culture positioning within worldwide heritage.

PART II - AL-FARABI "BOOK of Particles" heritage

Book of Letters covers a small portion of Al-Farabi's teachings and writings as concerns languages and language differences in the development of society and nations. The following  extracts from:  KITAB AL-H*URUF[1] might be considered Al-Farabi’s influence on my ten years research on “the ARABIC characters in IT”  


Al-Fārābı ̄, in the Kitā b al-H*urūf , is apparently the first person to maintain that existence, in one of its senses, is a second-order concept [ma‘qūlthānı]. As he interprets Metaphysics , ‘‘being’’ [mawjūd] has two meanings, second-order ‘‘being as truth’’ ( including existence as well as propositional truth ), and first-order ‘‘being as divided into the categories.’’ The paronymous form of the Arabic word ‘‘mawjūd’’ suggests that things exist through some existence [wujūd] distinct from their essences: for al-Kindı ̄, God is such a wujūd of all things. Against this, al-Fārābı ̄ argues that existence as divided into the categories is real but identical with the essence of the existing thing, and that existence as truth is extrinsic to the essence but non-real ( being merely the fact that some concept is instantiated ). The H*urūf tries to reconstruct the logical syntax of syncategorematic or transcendental concepts such as being, which are often expressed in misleading grammatical forms.

Al-Fārābı ̄ thinks that Greek more appropriately expressed many such concepts, including being, by particles rather than nouns or verbs; he takes Metaphysics to be discussing the meanings of such particles ( comparable to the logical constants of an ideal language ), and he takes these concepts to demarcate the domain of metaphysics. This explains how al-Fārābı̄’s title can mean both ‘‘Book of Particles’’ and ‘‘Aristotle’s Metaphysics.


[XX. The Emergence of a Nation’s Letters and Utterances]

116. If he needs to make others aware of what is in his mind or of his inner intention, he will first use a gesture to signify what he has in mind and what he wants from whomever he is seeking to make understand [something], so long as the one to whom he seeks to pass on that understanding is situated so as to see his gesture. After that he will use speech-sound. The first speech-sound to be used is direct address, for by this he alerts the one to whom he seeks to pass on understanding that he is the one intended for that understanding [136] rather than someone else. That occurs when he restricts himself to signifying what he has in mind by means of a gesture about sense perceptions that are in his mind.

Then after that he uses different speech-sounds by each of which he signifies one of the things he signified by gesturing to it or to sense perceptions of it, so that he establishes for each definite thing gestured to some definite speech-sound and does not use that speech-sound for anything else. This will be the case in every instance.


[XXI. The Beginning and Perfection of a Nation’s Language]


118.Hence the speech-sounds that they set down as signs for signifying to one another what they have in mind will differ from the sense perceptions they would formerly gesture to. This [137] is the first reason for the languages of nations being different. For these first speech-sounds are the alphabetical letters.[8]


128.Utterances that are firmly established [142] on their tongues and in their souls by habit -as acquired from their elders, who acquired it again from their elders, and these acquired it again from their elders, who acquired it finally from those who had originally coined the utterances for these people, [each generation successively] perfecting the original coinage - these utterances of theirs are correct and right; they constitute the idiom of the nation; whereas utterances of theirs that disagree with these are incorrect and wrong.


[XXII. The Origin of the Ordinary Arts]

130….Thus oral transmitters of speeches and oral transmitters of poems emerge in their midst as well as those who memorize the historical reports narrated in these forms. These persons will be the ones who use correct language in that nation and its eloquent persons: they become that nation’s first wise men, the ones who govern it, and those to whom recourse is had concerning the language of that nation.

The succeeding generations memorize the speeches and poems, and the historical reports and moral teachings contained in them, that were current among their predecessors.

135. …It is when the Arabs settled in cities that they began to develop their language as an art - which process occupied them, for the most part, from the year ninety to the year two hundred of their calender.0.5.

136. …At this point one will have to do one of two things: either be inventive and combine letters into utterances that have not been spoken at all before, or transfer - either [148] haphazardly and for no reason, or for a particular reason - some of the utterances that they had used before to signify other meanings.

138. …So now they will have five arts: the art of rhetoric, the art of poetry, the capacity for memorizing their historical reports and their poems and of transmitting them orally, the art of the knowledge of their language, and the art of writing.

[XXIII. The Origin of the Syllogistic Arts among the Nations]

140. [150] After the practical arts and all the ordinary arts that we mentioned are completed, human souls desire to become familiar with the causes of perceptible matters in the earth, on it, and surrounding it, and of everything that is perceived and appears in the heavens, and to become familiar with many matters discovered by the practical arts, such as figures, numbers, visual rays reflected from smooth surfaces, colors, and so forth. Thus there will grow up those who will explore the reasons for these things. At first they will use rhetorical methods to investigate these things and to validate, on their own, opinions about them, and to teach others what they validate in their exploration, because these are the syllogistic methods of which they became aware to begin with. Thus there will emerge the investigation of mathematical and natural matters.


XXV. Coining and Transferring Names

155. … But if philosophy contains meanings for which the second nation has no ordinary meanings that are similar to them in any way – although this rarely happens – then one should either contrive utterances for them made up from this nation’s letters, express them equivocally with [utterances that signify] any other chance meaning, or express them with the utterances of the first nation after changing these in order to make them easier for the second nation to pronounce. Such a philosophic meaning will be extremely strange in the second nation, since it has neither it nor anything similar to it. And if it happens that a philosophic meaning is similar to two ordinary meanings both of which have names in both nations and, even though it is more similar to one of the two, it is more appropriate in the language of the second nation that we call it by the name of the one that is less similar to it than that we call it by the name of the one that is more similar to it, then it ought to be called by the name of the one that is less similar to it.








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