Numbers in transliterations

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Otter in disguise
Joined: 19.09.2016
Pending moderation

Hello there!
I've seen a lot of Arabic transliterations with numbers in them and I'm wondering... What do they actually mean? Sure, I guess they're suppossed to represent a phoneme of some sort, but aren't transliterations supposed to be able to be, y'know, read? How do you read each number anyway? And why use numbers instead of any other symbol?
Please excuse me if this is a dumb question, I'm totally clueless about the language *unknw*

Aɴɴɪɴɢᴀɴ & Mᴀʟɪɴᴀ
Joined: 10.05.2012

I'm not an arabic speaker, but I know one thing or two about this phenomenon. That said, take my words with a grain of salt, a native speaker can easily disagree.
As far as I know, using numbers for an Arabic speaker is way simpler than using diacritics or other letters for two reasons: the shape of some Arabic letters look like these numbers (don't forget that the number system we've all learnt in school is called Indo-Arabic because it was created in India and developed by Arabs) and because some represent sounds that are hard to transliterate using the Latin alphabet.
I understand it's hard to read this kind of transliteration (I'm the first who has no idea what they stand for), but for learners and natives it makes way more sense. Plus the goal of a transliteration is not to make a language clearer to those who don't know it, but to put it in another context (this happens for various reasons).
Wait for the input of a native speaker to have a confirmation or to understand this better.

Joined: 25.09.2015

Native Arabic speaker here, I agree with @DarkJoshua, pretty spot on. The idea indeed is that there are a bunch of letters/sounds in Arabic that don't exist in other languages like English. Also it's true that the choice of numbers comes because of the visual similarity between the Arabic letters and most of those numbers chosen. I'll list them below so you can observe that.

2 --> ء (similar to 'A')

3 --> ع (very specific sound, check vid below)

3' --> غ (GH)

5 --> خ (KH)

6 --> ط (Heavy T sound)

7 --> ح (Heavy H sound)

9 --> ق (Heavy Q/K sound)

Here is a video below that shows the letters with examples of how they sound in some Arabic words. Note that the GH in the video should be written as 3'. Also towards the end 'H' and 'SH' are included, those are sounds that already exist in English and are irrelevant to the Arabic chat language.


One final note, it is true that the numbers make transliterations way more accurate for Arabic speakers/learners. However, as you are already aware, they are unreadable for people who are not familiar with Arabic or the Arabic chat language.

As a result, the general consensus on the website between Arabic content editors/mods is that both transliteration styles are accepted (the ones with and without Arabic chat language). So it's up to the translator to choose which one they use. And that's why some translators on here, myself included, are usually gladly willing to provide a different transliteration style when someone requests it.

See my two transliterations of the same song below as an example.


Otter in disguise
Joined: 19.09.2016

Thank you all for the answers. It's a lot clearer now.
@Velsket, thanks a lot for the video. It was quite enlightening!

Joined: 25.09.2015

No problem, always glad to help Regular smile

Black Mamba
Joined: 03.10.2015

Does anyone know how this song is called?

Joined: 06.10.2016

I'm sorry to intrude, but there are also some Hebrew "transliterations" on this site that contain numbers in them like this and this, and even I can't read them being a native speaker. I don't think this has anything to do with Arabic specifically. I have no idea how to read this thing and I've never even heard of it. It looks like it should come with a legend at the bottom, explaining how to pronounce that specific letter/number. Looks like a big unnecessary mess to me.

Joined: 24.10.2011

We also use numbers in Greek when we're texting e.g. 3 -> ξ (x) or 8 -> θ (th) etc It has nothing to do with phonetics it's just easier (and quicker) to replace letters with numbers when you're writing Greek with Roman letters.

Editor (Resident Evil)
Joined: 26.10.2015

Pretty much like writing stuff like "C U l8R, m8!" ("see you later, mate!") in English...
Yes, it does tend to become unreadable to people not familiar with that kind of texting.
"I 1der do U 1/2 an FR?" - "I wonder, do you have an affair?" You get the picture...

Joined: 25.09.2015

@Thomas222 People sometimes publish transliterations into their own languages/scripts that are different from the original lyrics. So, being a native speaker of a language won't ensure that you can read every transliteration out there. So for example, I'm a native Arabic speaker but can't read any of this obviously:митли-н-наас-cyrillic.html#...

There are many other examples out there, but you get the point. So, if someone makes a transliteration of Arabic lyrics into the Cyrillic script, they obviously don't intend for Arabic speakers to understand it. Similarly, if someone makes an Arabic Chat Language transliteration of Hebrew, their audience is not Hebrew speakers.


Joined: 25.09.2015

@magicmulder Just for the sake of clarity, I have to leave this comment so that people don't mix up between the use of numbers in English and Arabic: The Arabic numbers/chat language are not out there to abbreviate anything at all like they are used in English.

I already explained their use in comment #3 above, but since the topic of this thread is Arabic chat language I had to write this so that it doesn't confuse people in the future. I say this because the question of this thread comes up a fair bit and I intend to use this page for future reference when it does again.

Moderator sapiens sapiens
Joined: 05.04.2012

I have always been intrigued by this! @Velsket thanks for your help!

Joined: 25.09.2015

@Alma Barroca Glad I could help, anytime! The questions on this topic are, pretty understandably, something I encounter every now and then. So I'm sure I myself will be glad to have this forum thread here in the future as well!

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