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Arabic Timed Text Style Guide

This document covers the language specific requirements for Arabic.  Please make sure to also review the General Requirements section and other related guidelines for comprehensive instructions surrounding timed text deliveries to Netflix.

1. Arabic Language Style

  • Only Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) should be used for translation. Please refrain from using any dialectical words. When there is no alternative to the word in Modern Standard Arabic, use the word closest in meaning.
  • Avoid using dialectal expressions, including but not limited to, يا خبر for instance.
  • This style guide takes precedence over language-related instructions found in other sources.

2. Acronyms and Abbreviations

  • Acronyms should be translated if they have a well-known and widely-used equivalent in Arabic, such as “CIA” - “الوكالة المركزية للاستخبارات”.
  • Some acronyms and abbreviations should be transliterated as uttered (e.g. OPEC  أوبك, UNICEF يونيسف) as they are commonly used without complete translation, and people are more familiar with this phrasing than the full wording in Arabic.
  • For acronyms that don’t have an equivalent or the equivalent is not well known, they should be transliterated without adding periods between words and adding quotation marks (“  ”). For clarification purposes, you may add a descriptive word or two about the acronym for example, "NBC” should be transliterated as “محطة "أن بي سي.
  • Do not attempt to create abbreviations if an equivalent to the English one is needed; this may seem unexpected or confusing to viewers.
  • The general rule for abbreviations in Arabic is to either use the first character of the word (such as “ص” in “صباحًا ” for “AM”) or to connect two characters that are initially present in the English word which has no translation in Arabic but a transliteration such as “سم ” for “centimeter.”
  • Whenever possible, it is advisable to write these words in full in Arabic such as:

"مساءً"، "متر"، "غرام" 

  • The International System of Units does not allow for periods. There should be a space between the number and the abbreviation. More abbreviations rules can be found in associated Arabic style guide documentation available to vendors.

3. Character Limitation

  • 42 characters per line

4. Character Names

  • Proper names should be transliterated. Do not translate unless approved translations are provided by Netflix.
  • Do not use Arabic versions of names that appear in the content. Stay loyal to the original language pronunciation and only provide transliteration for these instances, such as Issac, Jesus, Jacob, Abraham, Luka, etc.), e.g. Jasmin should remain جاسمين and not ياسمين.
  • Some languages may have specific considerations around character names and format. For instance, in Korea, characters may be introduced following the last name/first name pattern, while Arabic follows the opposite convention first name/last name. For example, Park Shin-Hye should be شن هي بارك or شنهي بارك. Ensure you do the necessary research.
  • Nicknames should be transliterated. Only translate if the nickname conveys a specific  meaning relevant to viewers.
  • Use language-specific translations for historical/mythical characters depending on the context (e.g. Santa Claus can be translated as بابا نويل and سانتا كلوز).
  • Use well-known transliterations for political figures and celebrities. For example, MBS (the nickname of Saudi Crown Prince) cannot be transliterated in Arabic. Instead, it should be fully translated as محمد بن سلمان.

5. Continuity

  • When including ellipses in subtitles, please use the single smart character (U+2026) as opposed to three dots/periods in a row.
  • Do not use ellipses or dashes when a sentence is split between two continuous subtitles.

Subtitle 1: 

ألم أقل لك

Subtitle 2: 

أن تنتظرني البارحة؟

  • Use an ellipsis to indicate an intentional pause of 2 seconds and more, an accidental suspension, or an abrupt interruption. If the sentence continues in the next subtitle, do not use an ellipsis at the beginning of the second subtitle. It’s preferable to move the conjunction to the second subtitle to avoid ambiguity and improve readability.
  • Use an ellipsis without a space to indicate that a subtitle is starting mid-sentence. 
  • A sentence that is interrupted by a second speaker and then continues must have ellipses before and after the interruption. When a line is interrupted by an FN (primarily for documentaries) or by an SDH cue, treat it as any other speech interruption, and include ellipses before and after the interruption.
  • Incomplete speech should end with an ellipsis.
  • Ellipses within the same subtitle should be generally avoided if they don’t offer a significant difference in terms of readability/meaning or if the Arabic equivalent is already a full sentence.
  • When the source template has a word cut/interrupted, avoid cutting a word in half and instead cut it off mid-sentence, avoiding any unintended ambiguity whenever possible.

6. Documentary/Unscripted

  • Only translate a speaker’s title once, the first time the speaker appears.
  • When ongoing dialogue is interrupted by a speaker’s title, use ellipses at the end of the sentence in the subtitle that precedes it and at the beginning of the sentence in the subtitle that follows it.
  • Dialogue in TV/movie clips should only be subtitled if plot-pertinent and if the rights have been granted.
  • News tickers/banners from archive clips do not require subtitles unless plot pertinent.

7. Dual Speakers

  • Use a hyphen followed by a space if two characters speak in one subtitle with a maximum of one character speaking per line.
  • Ideally, text in each line in a dual speaker subtitle should be a contained sentence and should not carry into the preceding or subsequent subtitle. Creating shorter sentences and timing appropriately helps to accommodate this.

.علينا أن نعود إلى المنزل قبل غروب الشمس -                                         

لماذا؟ -                                         

8. Font Information

  • Font style: Arial as a generic placeholder for proportional SansSerif
  • Font size: relative to video resolution and ability to fit 42 characters across the screen
  • Font color: white

9. On-screen Text

  • Forced narrative titles for on-screen text should only be included if plot-pertinent.
  • When on-screen text and dialogue overlap, precedence should be given to the most plot pertinent message. Avoid over truncating or severely reducing reading speed in order to include both dialogue and on-screen text.
  • The duration of the FN subtitle should as much as possible mimic the duration of the on-screen text, except for cases where reading speed and/or surrounding dialogue takes precedence.
  • Forced narratives that are redundant (e.g. identical to onscreen text or covered in the dialogue) must be deleted.
  • Forced narratives should be enclosed in double straight quotes (" "), except for foreign dialogue.
  • Never combine a forced narrative with dialogue in the same subtitle. If both appear at the same time and there is not enough room, dialogue takes precedence.
  • If possible, try to avoid interrupting a line of dialogue with a forced narrative. When a forced narrative interrupts dialogue, use an ellipsis at the end of the sentence in the subtitle that precedes it and at the beginning of the sentence in the subtitle that follows it (as mentioned in section 5).
  • If a forced narrative for on-screen text extends across multiple subtitles, use one set of quotes at the beginning and end of each applicable subtitle.

10. Foreign Dialogue and Words

  • Foreign dialogue should only be translated if the viewer was meant to understand it (i.e. if it was subtitled in the original version).
  • Foreign words or phrases should be translated when possible (i.e. hello, goodbye, thank you, merci) or transliterated when no accurate translation exists.
  • Place names and currencies should be translated using their Arabic equivalent such as:

المكسيك، أثينا، البيرو، بروكسيل، اليورو، البيزو

  • Foreign mainstream words must be translated into the equivalent correct MSA (avoiding the forms used on the internet and social media). For example, radio, TV, makeup, email, social media, etc.

Use:

تلفاز، مذياع، تبرّج، بريد إلكتروني، موقع إلكتروني

Do not use:

 تلفزيون - راديو - مكياج - ايميل - ويب

11. Italics

  • Do not use italics.
  • Italics are not recommended in the Arabic language.

12. Line Treatment and Line Breaks

  • Maximum two lines.
  • Text should ideally be kept to one line, unless it exceeds the character limitation.
  • Avoid having one word in the second line. Try to shorten the subtitle, or apply an early line break to avoid it.
  • Bottom-heavy pyramid subtitles are recommended.
  • If two separate subjects are being discussed by the same speaker, you can split it into two separate lines for clarity and readability.

Example:

أترغبين في احتساء القهوة؟

هل يمكنني الحصول على قهوة بالحليب؟

  • The line break should not separate the following linguistic elements:

الفعل والفاعل

الأحرف الملازمة للأفعال والأفعال

الصفة والنعت

المضاف والمضاف إليه

حرف الاستثناء والاستثناء 

حرف النداء والمنادى

حرف الجر والاسم المجرور

العدد والتمييز

13. Quotation Marks

  • Quotation marks should be used at the start and end of every line of applicable dialogue and not at the start of every subtitle. As long as the same speaker is still reading the same quote, one set of quotation marks should be used at the start and at the end of the quotation, not at the end and start of every sentence of the quotation.
  • e.g. A speaker quoting someone else:

Incorrect:

Subtitle 1

".الفوضى تولّد الفرص يا بنيّ"

Subtitle 2

".وهذه فرصة لمزارع عائلة (سندفورد)"

Correct:

Subtitle 1

.الفوضى تولّد الفرص يا بنيّ"

Subtitle 2

".وهذه فرصة لمزارع عائلة (سندفورد)

 

  • e.g. A speaker reading questions from a card:

Incorrect:

Subtitle 1

قُتل (ميخائيل) و(دوبروف)"

على يد سكان (فيردا)

Subtitle 2

".خلال صيدهما الغزلان مع (مال)

Subtitle 3

".لكنهما قُتلا بطرق مختلفة"

Subtitle 4

"كيف لقي كل منهما حتفه؟"

Correct:

Subtitle 1

قُتل (ميخائيل) و(دوبروف)"

على يد سكان (فيردا)

Subtitle 2

.خلال صيدهما الغزلان مع (مال)

Subtitle 3

.لكنهما قُتلا بطرق مختلفة

Subtitle 4

"كيف لقي كل منهما حتفه؟

  • Use quotes when characters are seen to be reading aloud.
  • Use double straight quotation marks " " without spaces for regular quotations.
  • Use parentheses ( ) for quotes or names within quotes.
  • Punctuation should be included within the quotation marks if the quote is an independent clause and outside if it’s not.

Incorrect

."يجب إعدامك بتهمة الخيانة العظمى"

.ثمة تعليقان آخران

Correct

".يجب إعدامك بتهمة الخيانة العظمى"

.ثمة تعليقان آخران

  • Direct speech is introduced by a colon or a comma. Either may be used, but must be used consistently throughout.
  • Use double quotation marks for proper names of people and places.
  • A "kashidah" should be added to the article when it comes before double quotation marks or brackets. “Kashidah” can be found on keyboards using U+0640.
  • Keep the definite pronoun ال التعريف outside the double quotation marks.

Incorrect: "ال"برونكس

Correct: "الـ"برونكس

  • If an on-screen character does “air quotes” when speaking, please apply quotation marks to the equivalent word in the target language in order to retain creative intent and to help ensure clarity about which word or part of the sentence the air quotes apply to.

14. Reading Speed

  • Adult programs: 20 characters per second
  • Children’s programs: 17 characters per second

15. Treatment of Hashtags, Email and Names of Websites

  • The word "hashtag" must be translated into Arabic as وسم.
  • Do not keep it in English, transliterate it or insert the symbol #.
  • Example:

#HumanRights

وسم حقوق الإنسان

  • In cases where an email address or website appears on screen, use: على الموقع/البريد الإلكتروني الظاهر على الشاشة.
  • When email addresses and websites are mentioned in dialogue, they should be transliterated as:

نتفليكس دوت كوم

  • Using Latin letters in Arabic subtitles to render an email or a website looks odd on screen)

16. Repetitions

  • Do not translate words or phrases repeated more than once by the same speaker.
  • If the repeated word or phrase is said twice in a row, time subtitle to the audio but translate only once.
  • Do not contradict visual cues. For instance, when a character is pointing at multiple things, do not omit repetitions.

17. Songs and Poetry

  • Only subtitle plot-pertinent songs if the rights have been granted.
  • Opening and ending theme songs should only be subtitled if clearly plot pertinent (e.g. for children’s content when the lyrics tell a story) or if instructed by Netflix. Normally, adult programs should not have the opening songs subtitled, except for SDH.
  • Use an ellipsis when a song continues in the background but is no longer subtitled to give precedence to dialogue.
  • Punctuation: only question marks and exclamation marks should be used.
  • Use double quotes for song lyrics and song titles.
  • Double quotes are only needed at the beginning and the end of a song, or portion of a song if interrupted by dialogue.
  • Do not use italics.
  • Include quotation marks if someone else's poem is being recited.
  • Do not use quotation marks if a character is reciting their own poem.
  • Existing translations of poetry and literary works may only be used if they are in the public domain and/or clearances have been obtained.

18. Titles

  • Main titles: do not subtitle the on-screen main title card.
  • Episode titles: do not subtitle episode titles if they do not appear on screen/are not voiced-over. If on-screen (either as part of the principal photography or burned into video) or voiced-over, please reference the KNP tool for approved translations.
  • For main titles mentioned in dialogue, please reference the KNP tool for approved translations.
  • Titles of published works, existing movies and TV shows: use official or well-known translations. If none are available, transliterate the titles.

19. Numbers

  • From 1 to 10, numbers should be written out in full letters, with exception of references to time and dates. Please observe the right grammar rules for numbers العدد والمعدود.

Incorrect:

"رأيت رجلين 2"، "اشتريت كتابًا 1 فقط"، "10 أطفال"، "5 سيدات"

Correct:

"رأيت رجلين اثنين"، "اشتريت كتابًا واحدًا فقط"، "عشرة أطفال"، "خمس سيدات"

  • Above 10, numbers should be written numerically: 11, 12, 65, 125, 2,365, etc. Please observe the right grammar rules for numbers العدد والمعدود.
  • These rules above may be broken due to space limitations, reading speed concerns, consistency when listing multiple quantities, or when a number is used as a figure of speech.
  • Only start sentences with numbers if it improves readability.
  • Currencies should be spelled out fully whenever possible and not use abbreviations.

e.g. US Dollars

Incorrect:

د.أ

Correct:

دولار أمريكي

  • Ordinal numbers must be written in full letters for single-digit numbers: 1-9. For example:

Incorrect:

الموسم 1، موسمين 2

Correct:

الموسم الأول، الموسم الثاني

  • For ordinal numbers composed of double, triple digits, or more, numbers must be written numerically and the Kashida should be used in its correct form.

Incorrect:

القرن 15 - القضية ال24

Correct:

القرن الـ15، القرن الـ21

  • For numbers made up of four digits or more, do not add a space. Use a comma to separate the thousands, i.e. 1,234. (Not 1 234). Do not add a comma if it is a reference to a year, such as 1940.
  • The decimal separator is “.” Do not omit the 0 when noting decimal numbers, i.e. 0.123 (Not .123)
  • Indicate time on a 12-hour basis (the common time format in Arabic) and based on the different parts of the day following the Arabic time indications.

20. Punctuation

  • There should be no space before commas, interrogation marks or exclamation marks.
  • Do not use exclamation and question marks together (?! or !?). Pick the one that best suits the intonation or the meaning.
  • More punctuation rules in the references section below.

21. Special Instructions

  • Dialogue (including expletives) should be rendered as faithfully as possible, without using dialect or words that would otherwise introduce a level of obscenity not implied in the content.
  • Always match the tone of the original content, while remaining relevant to the target audience  (e.g. replicate tone, register, class, formality, etc. in the target language in an equivalent way)
  • Plot-pertinent dialogue always takes precedence over background dialogue.
  • Deliberate misspellings and mispronunciations should not be reproduced in the translation unless plot-pertinent.
  • Please pay attention to the content when translating words relating to family connections. For example:

    Aunt could be خالة أو عمّة

    Uncle could be عمّ أو خال

  • The use of Arabic diacritics (Al Harakat) is required, but should be limited to:
    • Tanween Al Fateh: For Netflix, we put Tanween on the letter before the Alef for technical issues due to line heights that create overlapping in many cases. Do not put Tanween on Hamza and Taa marbuta unless its absence would affect the meaning.
    • Shaddah: Shaddah is required only if missing it can change the meaning of the word.
    • Dammah should be used when the verb is in the passive voice
      • "يُرمى" "يُدعى" "يُكتب"
  • Months of the year must follow the Gregorian calendar.
  • Use أغسطس for August and not آب.
  • For company and brand names, do not use local alternatives, only transliterate.
  • When brand names or trademarks appear, you may either; use the same name if it is known in the territory you are translating for; adapt to the name that the brand or product is known by that the territory you are translating for; or use a generic name for that product or item. Avoid swapping out names of brands, companies or famous people for other names.
  • Avoid unintended religious language. When an expression is used to express surprise, anger, or excitement and has no intended religious sentiment, avoid using a religious equivalent. For example, "Oh my God!"
  • Please avoid:

!يا إلهي

  • Depending on the context, use يا لها من مفاجأة, for example.
  • Do not translate onomatopoeias such as “wow”, “ouch”, etc.
  • Date formats should follow the norm in Arabic and not mimic the English form by adding commas.
  • Percentages (%) must be spelled out to ensure correct sentence formatting. Example: 20% should be written as:

  • Numbers must always be written numerically: 1, 6, 18, etc., even at the beginning of a sentence or for any reference to clock time.
  • Measurements should be converted to the metric system, unless the original unit of measurement is plot relevant.
  • It is incorrect to use a comma instead of a conjunction. The conjunction should be repeated. For example: 

Incorrect:

.المدونون، المترجمون والمترجمون الشفويون

Correct: 

.المدونون والمترجمون والمترجمون الشفويون

  • Avoid translation of fillers (e.g. "just", "really", "basically", "you know", etc.)
  • There is no need to translate them into Arabic unless they add meaning to the sentence, for example, "I've just met the guy!".
  • As Arabic doesn't use filler words, it is preferable to avoid them whenever possible.
  • Certain idiomatic phrases, such as “What the hell!”, “What on earth!” don’t have an equivalent in Arabic, and none of the Arabic dialects use those translated words across MENA. Avoiding them is recommended when translating.

e.g. “What the hell is this?”

Incorrect:

ما هذا بحق الجحيم؟

Correct:

ما هذا؟

22. Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH) Guidelines

  • Include as much of the original content as possible.
  • Do not simplify or water down the original dialogue.
  • Where content has been dubbed into Arabic, please refer to the dubbing script or dubbed audio as the basis for the SDH file and ensure that the two match as much as reading speed and timings allow.
  • Reading speed can be increased to:
    • Adult programs: 23 characters per second
    • Children’s programs: 20 characters per second
  • Truncating the original dialogue should be limited to instances where reading speed and synchronicity to the audio are an issue.
  • For TV/movie clips, all audible lines should be transcribed, if possible. If the audio interferes with dialogue, please give precedence to most plot-pertinent content.
  • All same-language audible songs that do not interfere with dialogue should be titled, if the rights have been granted.
  • Use song title identifiers when applicable - song titles should be in quotes:

["أغنية "فوريفر يور غيرل]

  • Song lyrics should be enclosed with a music note (♪) at the beginning and the end of each subtitle. Always add a space between the music note and any preceding or subsequent text.
  • When a dual speaker subtitle appears in a song, e.g. when there is a duet, each line of sung text should have a music note at the beginning and end to clearly indicate that both characters are singing.
  • Use brackets [ ] to enclose speaker IDs or sound effects.
  • Identifiers/sound effects should be all lowercase, except for proper nouns.
  • Only use speaker IDs or sound effects when they cannot be visually identified.
  • When characters are not yet identified, use the following so as not to provide information that is not yet present in the narrative.

[امرأة] - [رجل]

[صوت رجل] - [صوت امرأة]

  • Gender-neutral identifiers would follow the gender of the voice heard:

[طبيب] - [طبيبة] - [بائع] - [بائعة]

  • Where there is more than one person with the same identifier speaking in a sequence:

[رجل 2] - [رجل]

  • Use a generic ID to indicate and describe ambient music:

["موسيقى "روك]

[موسيقى "جاز" هادئة عبر المذياع]

  • Plot-pertinent sound effects should always be included unless inferred by the visuals.
  • Use conjugated verbs in the correct form: [تصرخ/يصرخ]
  • Subtitle silence if plot-pertinent. For example, when plot-pertinent music ends abruptly.
  • Be detailed and descriptive, use adverbs where appropriate when describing sounds and music, describe voices, speed of speech, volume of sounds.
  • Describe the sounds and audio as opposed to visual elements or actions.
  • When explaining sound cues, the indefinite form of the word should be used without adding any definite articles. Such as:

[زقزقة عصافير]

[خرير مياه]

  • Sound effects that interrupt dialogue should be treated as follows:

Subtitle 1: 

…لكنني مؤخرًا، بدأت

[يسعل، يتنشق]

Subtitle 2:

أرى المزيد من هذه الحالات…

  • Speaker IDs and the corresponding dialogue can be on the same line, or:

[الراوي]

 كان يا مكان في قديم الزمان…

  • In instances of foreign dialogue being spoken:
    • If foreign dialogue is translated, use [in language], for example [بالإسبانية]
    • If foreign dialogue is not meant to be understood, use [speaking language], for example [يتكلم الإسبانية] - [تتكلم الإسبانية] (Ensure that pronouns and conjugation of the verb follow the context)
    • Always research the language being spoken – [يتكلم لغة أجنبية] should never be used
  • When including a proper name in an SDH cue, keep the double quotes around the name:

Correct:

[خلف" عبر الهاتف"]

Incorrect:

[خلف عبر الهاتف]

Correct:

["بيونسيه"]

Incorrect:

[بيونسيه]

23. References


Change Log:

2021-07-09

2021-02-24

2020-10-28

  • Revised section 7 Dual speaker subtitles - 2nd bullet added
  • Revised section 12 Line treatment - 2nd bullet added
  • Revised section 13 Quotes - 2nd bullet added regarding reading aloud
  • Revised section 16 Songs - 7th bullet added regarding poetry treatment

2020-07-24

  • Revised section 5 Continuity - final bullet point added specifying ellipsis type
  • Revised section 19 SDH Guidelines - wording around aligning with dubbing revised

2020-05-07

2019-08-20

2018-11-20

2018-06-04

  • Revised section 9 On-screen Text - revised 6th bullet for clarity
  • Revised section 13 Quotes - 1st bullet rewritten for clarity

2018-06-04

  • Revised section 9 On-screen Text - revised from former Forced Narrative header

2018-03-09

  • Revised section 1 Arabic Language Style - Classical Arabic removed
  • Revised section 4 Character Names - Rewritten for clarity
  • Revised section 6 Documentary - 3rd and 4th bullet points added
  • Revised section 10 Forced Narrative - 2nd, 3rd and 5th bullet points added
  • Revised section 13 Quotes - Rewritten for clarity
  • Revised section 15 Repetitions - 1st point revised for clarity
  • Revised section 16 Songs - 2nd bullet point added
  • Revised section 17 Titles - 1st and 2nd bullet points revised
  • Section 18 Profanity Treatment removed
  • Revised section 18 Special Instructions - 1st and 4th bullet points added, 3rd bullet point revised, 5th bullet point removed
  • Section 19 SDH Guidelines added
  • Revised section 20 Reference - 5th and 6th bullet points removed

2016-05-15

  • Revised section 9 Foreign Dialogue - 2nd bullet point revised
  • Revised section 10 Forced Narrative - 3rd bullet point added
  • Revised section 14 Reading Speed - reading speed parameter increased
  • Revised section 17 Titles - 1st bullet point revised, 2nd bullet point added

2015-12-07

  • Revised section 2.7 Dual Speakers - 2nd bullet point deleted

  • Revised section 2.10 Forced Narrative - 4th (last) bullet point revised

  • Revised section 2.13 Quotes - 2nd bullet point and 9th (last) bullet point revised

  • Revised section 2.16 Songs - 4th bullet point revised. 5th (last) bullet point added

  • Revised section 2.19 Special Instructions - 3rd bullet point, 5th bullet point and 7th bullet point revised. 2nd, 8th and 9th bullet points deleted

 

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