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Hello world: meet قلب, a programming language based on Arabic script

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Alb programming language [via Animal New York]
Alb programming language [via Animal New York]

In the Arab world, aspiring programmers are faced with a unique kind of challenge: nearly every computer language, platform, and standard in history has been built around a Latin character set — a set of symbols that, in many cases, is utterly mysterious to them. It's with that in mind that computer scientist Ramsey Nasser has built قلب (pronounced "Alb," lit. "heart"), a fully-functional programming language based on Arabic script.

Historically, computers have never been very friendly in this situation. When faced with Arabic, terminals and text editors either crash or have no idea what to do. Nasser, a resident of the Eyebeam technology lab who teaches programming to students around the world, says it usually makes more sense to learn English before learning to code. "That shocked me," he says in an interview with Animal New York. "I believe that code and computation should be something anyone can access." Previous attempts have been made, like AMMORIA, an open source language that uses Arabic words. But Nasser's project doubles as a kind of conceptual art piece, looking into the unique aesthetics of Arabic script and how they can be made to function in a coding environment.

"Code and computation should be something anyone can access."

At Eyebeam's latest Annual Showcase, Nasser demoed several small programs he made with قلب, including the obligatory "Hello World," an algorithm that computes Fibonacci numbers, and even a recreation of the mathematical "zero-player game," Conway's Game of Life. The language isn't perfect, and it probably will never be, seeing as how pretty much all of the web's programming architecture is based in English words. But it's at least a kind of poetic statement about language and creativity, and maybe even a way to help demystify the art of coding for others around the world.