Arabic-script programming language created

Aesthetic project leads to Turing-complete code base

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Arabic-script programming language created The language is based on Scheme, a modern variant of LISP.
By  Stephen McBride Published  January 28, 2013

A New York-based computer scientist has developed the first programming language based on Arabic script source code.

Ramsey Nasser created the language, called قلب - pronounced "alb", meaning "heart" in Arabic - as part of an ongoing project that investigates programming languages as mediums of self expression.

Nasser is a fellow at the Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in New York City, a non-profit venture that aims to fuse technology with the aesthetic. Nasser's past projects, described by Eyebeam's website as "looking at code as a vehicle for thought", include a language called Zajal, which is designed to "reduce the friction between an artist's creative vision and functioning software".

The قلب language is based on Scheme, a modern variant of LISP, which is one of the oldest high-level languages still in use. LISP's name is derived from "LISt Processing" and its structure - a series of parenthisised, comma-delimited operators and arguments - is ideal for allowing code builders to create associations that become new languages.

While Eyebeam works in the sphere of aesthetics, in an interview with AnimalNewYork, Nasser spoke of another reason for developing قلب.

"If we are going to really push for coding literacy, which I do; if we are going to push to teach code around the world, then we have to be aware of what the cultural biases are and what it means for someone who doesn't share that background to be expected to be able to reason in those languages," he said.

Computer languages of today use in-built constructs - including data type names, keywords, library names and global variables - that not only use Roman English script, but English expressions, such as "#include", "for", "if" and "string". This makes learning to code that much more difficult for a programmer whose native tongue is not English and even more daunting for one whose language does not use Roman script.

While widespread commercial use of قلب may be some years off (early applications include computation of the Fibonacci sequence and an execution of British mathematician John Conway's Game of Life), Nasser has created a language that has demonstrable applications. He claims that قلب is "Turing-complete", a computing science phrase that refers to a language that can perform any kind of computation.

The Middle East is currently in a technology boom and research firm Gartner projects IT spending in the EMEA region to reach $1.154 trillion in 2013. Saudi Arabia in particular has partnered with HP to produce an army of technology graduates in an attempt to move away from the kingdom's petrochemical dependence.

But would an Arabic-based programming language ever be viable enough to be an accelerant to the development of that skill base and the region’s technology growth?

“I have never known such a project to be successful,” said a regional expert with over 15 years experience in the area of software localisation and Arab language support.

“Developers always prefer the English language; most of the common programming languages are in English including the standards in HTML, CSS, Jscript and XAML. It would also be difficult for developers to keep up to date with the language’s standard updates. The best scenario is to have very good help in Arabic regarding the programming language in English, so people understand it very quickly and cross the barrier.”

2181 days ago
Dr. IT

Similar experiences went live in the early 1990's with French C++ compilers, French Pascal compilers, etc. I used them but the syntax was then left out of date, which made frnech-speaking programmers to revert to English. Anyway, I wish Ramsey all the best of luck.

2181 days ago
sarfraz mukadam

even though i am non arab i would recommend ppl to work on arabic script for programming computers, its highly recommended....if chinese , rusians and eglish ppl can do then why not Arabs ? in fact Arabic is the only language which has a very great history of protection and consistency every language changes over 100 to 200 years if you read English of 100 years back u will not understand but if you read arabic of 1400 years back u will understand its the same....go ahead think of future ...u need to support upcoming generation which will last....wish you best Allah is with you

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