Yamli Search: Aywa Keda!

Yamli Search is very intriguing new search engine that transliterates Arabic written in the Latin alphabet into Arabic proper, and then runs that query through Google. It's really quite neat -- for instance if you type "ikhwan al muslimeen" it will search for "اخوان المسلمين". You have to try it out to see what I mean.

The idea behind Yamli is that Arabic speakers often have to work without Arabic keyboards and are more used to English keyboards anyway. This is what they say in their press release:
The Arab world has one of the highest internet usage growth rates. Yet, access to and development of Arabic content has been difficult, mainly because of the complexity of typing Arabic. Although Arabic keyboards are available, the vast majority of Arabic-speaking Internet users are accustomed to an English keyboard. Users often resort to spelling Arabic words out phonetically using English characters, a process known as transliteration. Yamli allows users to convert these English characters into Arabic words.

Co-founder Habib Haddad explains: “I would often experience frustration trying to find Arabic news on the web. Like millions of users, I could easily express my Arabic words using English letters, but I had difficulty typing them in Arabic. The need for a technology that efficiently converted those phonetic spellings into meaningful Arabic words seemed natural to me. It would have to be so seamless that users would be able to write Arabic text and forget they were using English characters. This is how Yamli was born.”

Yamli’s patent-pending solution converts the user’s input into Arabic as he or she types. To maximize usability, Yamli accepts a variety of phonetic spellings and generates a list of suggested matches. Over time, Yamli will recognize popular patterns of spelling and word selection, increasing its accuracy.
I suspect that another reason is that with so many young elite Arabs educated in private, Western curricula school, many kids on the net don't actually master written Arabic that well. On the other hand, they do master the SMS Arabic where "3" is ع and "7" is ح.

Some people will think this further erodes the quality of written Arabic, but hats off for innovation. And there's also a standalone editor that will do the same "translation" for you. It's a short step from that to translating transliterated Arabic into other languages altogether.

[Thanks Iason]
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.