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Smiley simulacrum: Arabic “smiley” February 21, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Simulacra, Smiley.
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The Arabic letter "ta." Illustration I made on my computer.

I hesitate to call this is a simulacrum, because strictly speaking a simulacrum is supposed to be a mere imitation of an original, but this letter is not really an imitation of anything: it’s the letter “ta” in the Arabic alphabet, the phonetic equivalent of “t” in the Roman alphabet*, and I can’t really call it a simulacrum of a smiley any more than I could call the letter “t” a simulacrum of a cross or a plus-sign.  On the other hand, the letter “t”does look so much like a cross or a plus-sign that those images often replace the letter in pictographic signs and titles.  And in the sense that this Arabic letter always reminds me of a smiley face — and always makes me smile! — I think it definitely serves the function of a simulacrum!

Here in the United Arab Emirates, the letter turns up most often at the end of the Arabic word I know is “Emirates”: locally, the country’s name is often shorted to simply “Al Emarat,” which in Arabic looks like this: الامارات  (Look at the “beginning” of the word — Arabic is read right-to-left, so the “ta” sound at the end of the word actually appears on the left.  If the word doesn’t show up because of your language settings, check out the first few lines of the Wikipedia entry on the country.)

Just as one example, below is a plastic shopping bag from the Emirates General Market down the street from our flat.  Look at the Arabic name for the store across the top of the bag, and you’ll see the “ta” at the end of “Emarat” — the smiley-face, centered on the bag!

Speaking of shopping: the character also turns up at the end of the word for “sale”** a lot, and here in the UAE, something is always on sale!  So because I get to see this letter so often, I also get to smile quite a lot, too.


*  I wanted to double-check the accuracy of my claims about this Arabic character, so I dropped a note to my friend Dr. Rima Abunasser, a scholar in Arab literature, 18th-Century British lit, and pop culture who teaches at a university in Texas.  She wrote back that I had this right, and added this very cool linguistic info:  “This letter is used at the end of words (after the alef) to create a plural for female gendered nouns or to signal a female gendered noun in the singular.”  I’m not a linguist by any means, but I am a geek for languages, and I love details like this.  Thanks for the info, Doc!

** I asked Dr. Rima about the “sale” word, too, but she tells me there are a lot of words for “sale” in Arabic, so until I remember to take a photo of the word on display over here, I won’t know which one I’m seeing.  I’ll keep you posted, though.

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1. Smiley simulacrum: Arabic “smiley” in holiday lights « Smile! - December 15, 2011

[…] toward the beginning of the year, I posted an example of how the Arabic character “ta” resembles a smiley face. It’s turned out to be one of my most popular posts! So now that it’s December, I […]


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