How to Translate Mafia in Arabic?

Cursive Is the Only Way to Write in Arabic!

McMafia in English
Have you had a chance to see the AMC TV series McMafia recently? It is promoted as a James Bond-like action packed international organized crime thriller.

Given its international aura, it is fitting that the producers created an intro sequence with the word McMafia changing from one language and character set to another. This sequence of international characters takes about 5 sec. If you play it in slow motion, you will be able to decipher some of the languages that were tackled in that process.

Arabic is one of these languages that we are very familiar with at GlobalVision and we could not help noticing a common error that occurs on U.S. TV series and movies — the use of Arabic letters to form words, but in the non-cursive form, which is never used in Arabic.

The Influence of Arabic on European Languages

Before we tell you about this common error, it may be interesting to our readers to learn a little trivia. The word mafia, may have had its origin derived from the Arabic language. History tells us that the Arab world in the early second millennium flourished and spanned from the Middle East in Asia, through Northern Africa, all the way to Andalusia in Spain. Arabic’s influence spanned also over many islands in the Mediterranean along the way including Sicily.

People all over Europe took many Arabic words and converted them to their own. Words like alcohol, sugar, coffee, mattress, algebra, pantaloon… are all derived from Arabic words. Some say that the word mafia was derived from the Arabic word معفية pronounced ma’fya, meaning exempt. This is in reference to organizations that were exempt from tax payments due to their influence on corrupt officials or the terror tactics that they exercised. This tale may not be verifiable, but has some merits given the similarities of the two words!

Always Write Arabic in Cursive

Now back to our little issue with the improper use of the Arabic letters. The producers of the TV show McMafia are commended to be promoting the name of the show in many international character sets. But why not take the extra effort to ensure that the rendering of these international words are accurate, particularly if you are going to add the copyright © notation after it? The James Bond producers will not make this mistake!

McMafia in Arabic

If  you are not familiar with the Arabic language, Mafia today is translated to مافيا. It is basically a transliteration of the word letter for letter into Arabic. Arabic is written from right to left. Notice how in the properly spelled word مافيا the first letter م (m) is attached to the letter ا (a) and the third letter ف (f) is attached to the ي (i) that is then attached to the ا (a).  The letter ا (a) can be attached on the leading side, but not the trailing side. We don’t usually recommend machine translation, but in this case, even Google Translate gets it right!

We’ve also seen Arabic writing done erroneously from left to right. This happens when authoring tools or content management systems do not have bidirectional character support. Not only Arabic is always written in cursive form right to left, there are also special rules on how the Arabic letters connect with each other and the different written forms they take based on how and to what letter they are attached to. Furthermore, Arabic numerals and Latin letters used in Arabic writing need to continue to be written from left to right, complicating matters even more.

We had warned about these issues in previous blog posts in Arabic Localization, Going Backwards?! and Lack of Quality Assurance. Yes, we know, it may be hard to remember all these rules, but this is why you need to have someone on board that thoroughly knows the languages that you want to deal with. And this is why GlobalVision is in business! If you are looking for competent English to Arabic translation services, look no further.


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