Category Archives: Research

Arabic Speech Corpus shared by Dr. Nawar Halabi

respond symbol with audioIf you have been using our Arabic symbols page you will have noticed that we have made every phoneme for our lexical entries available as a sound file, so that you can hear how it is pronounced. You can see the audio links at the bottom of the symbol for ‘respond’ in the picture beside this text.   This can help those who have literacy skills difficulties as well as those wish to learn Arabic.

Nawar, who has been part of our Tawasol Symbols project from the beginning at the same time as successfully completing  his PhD, has made this possible with the development of an Arabic Speech Corpus with support from the University of Southampton and MicrolinkPC.

The synthesised speech output that results from this corpse is a very natural sounding voice, recorded using Levantine Arabic, as heard in and around Damascus.  Levantine Arabic is considered one of the three main Arabic dialects and differs from Gulf Arabic in some aspects of grammar and pronunciation although when phonemes are read aloud, they are often nearer Modern Standard Arabic and when combined there is less dialectal impact.

The corpus has been made available for download as a zip file and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  As the Arabic Speech Corpus website says the packages includes:

  • 1813 .wav files containing spoken utterances.
  • 1813 .lab files containing text utterances.
  • 1813 .TextGrid files containing the phoneme labels with time stamps of the boundaries where these occur in the .wav files. These files can be opened using Praat software.
  • phonetic-transcript.txt which has the form “[wav_filename]” “[Phoneme Sequence]” in every line.
  • orthographic-transcript.txt which has the form “[wav_filename]” “[Orthographic Transcript]” in every line. Orthography is in Buckwalter Format which is friendlier where there is software that does not read Arabic script. It can be easily converted back to Arabic.
  • There is an extra 18 minutes of fully annotated corpus (separate from above, but with the same structure as above) which was used to evaluate the corpus (see PhD thesis). Feel free to use this in your applications.

Please contact Nawar Halabi by email for further information.

Question words – Why are they so hard to design?



We have been having another look at our question words and it is really hard to design ones that make sense in all contexts.  If you are working in a European language such as English you will be used to the concept of the ‘wh’ words and there is a particular order in which they tend to appear as mentioned by Mira Shah  “what,” “where,” “why,” “how,” “when,” then “which.” “Where” is earlier in English and “who” is earlier in Italian.”

ARASAAC offer a collection of symbols for them














But then one has to think about the context and it might be time or an action.  So should one add more clues or just have what + Time as a separate question mark with a clock face?



The general consensus amongst the symbol sets  seems to be that ‘what’ is just a question mark and the other question words come with a clue but that can be difficult when the word in Arabic is combined and there needs to be a difference in the gender…



what is your name (F)?

what is your name (F)?

what is your name?

what is your name (M)?




why (F)

What time is it?

What time is it?


It seems that we need to have many more question words that are linked to relevant settings but they can cause confusion, such as ‘when?’ and ‘what is the time?’ or ‘what time is it?’




There do not seem to be any articles on this subject and as different languages have very different ways of asking questions we will go on developing more symbols so there is lots of choice!

Any ideas for ‘which’?


how are you

how are you?

Adding elements to symbols to enhance their use.

AAC symbols need to be bespoke, personalised and relevant to the time of communication as well as the setting and task being undertaken.  However, this is not always possible in the time available with on the spot conversations.  Where there is time to adapt symbols the process often has to be carried out in special programs.  To over come the need to search out these special programs or apps Tom Lam has developed a very simple online application that allows those looking for symbols on our web site or from any other site to add elements to the original symbol.   Changing the usage of a symbol to fit the needs of a particular language (Lundalv et al, 2006)  is also important and may require arrows going in different ways such as from left to right to denote past in Arabic but future in English.

They are sitting

Symbol Creator with a symbol for sitting used to make the phrase ‘They are sitting’

We provided examples of how this could be done in a previous blog and now you can experiment and develop your own symbols using the  ‘Symbol Creator’  on the Tawasol symbols website. It is possible to add borders, background colours, text labels, arrows , plus or minus symbols that can provide plurals or signs for more or less.  Other symbols can be added on top of the first symbol in miniature to offer gender differences etc but as this is on the web it is not possible to change the order that you add things so the first item will go to the back and so on.  But you can delete any of the symbols when you highlight them and re-upload to get the order right!  We are looking into how we can make this process easier.

Resizing is possible but the canvas has been set to 500×500 pixels to fit with the original size of all the Tawasol symbols.  However, you can save the results in several formats and carry out any other adaptations in other graphical packages.  Because the Symbol Creator is online it is important to save the final version as a download as soon as possible!   This process will wipe what has been done but you can always upload the image again.

Please do try the Symbol Creator and if you could fill in the quick survey to give us some guidance for making future improvements that would be wonderful. 

Although the tool will not offer all that can be achieved with a sophisticated commercial program, it will provide an instant method of adapting symbols.  There are other online options such as those offered by ARASAAC for symbol creation and phrase making. 

Of course, this is only the beginning of a process as Amy Speech and Language Inc demonstrate in their examples of  communication boards or stories for symbol users and Lessonpix has a sharing page that provides more resources.

text2picto screen grab

Text2Picto example of a text to symbol translator. CCL KU Leuven

The exciting bit is when one can generate text to symbol sentences that make sense or symbol to text sentences that allow both the symbol user and their friends and family communicate more easily across the airwaves!   Have fun with the Text2Picto beta online text to symbol processor. (Sevens et al 2015) to learn more about the issues of sentence generation.



Lundälv M, Mühlenbock K, Farre B, Brännström A. SYMBERED – a Symbol-Concept Editing Tool. LREC – Language Resources and Evaluation Conference, Genua, 2006, 1476- 81.

Leen Sevens, Vincent Vandeghinste, Ineke Schuurman and Frank Van Eynde (2015). Natural Language Generation from Pictographs. In: Proceedings of 15th European Workshop on Natural Language Generation (ENLG 2015). Brighton, UK. [Paper] – See more at:

What do symbol users think of our symbols?

voting AWSAJAs part of our project, it is essential that AAC users and persons with communication difficulties evaluate our symbols. This will ensure that the very people that will be using them can provide us with feedback and we can tailor the symbols to their needs. The team contacted the Speech Therapy team at AWSAJ Academy for students with special needs to see if we could do a voting session with some of their students. Dr. Biji Philips arranged for 11 students to vote individually, with 15 minute time slots to complete the task. 2 students; a Tobii user with Cerebral Palsy and another with severe Autism required 30-45 minutes.

The students were given 20 of our symbols to vote on and a voting AWSAJ2thumbs up and thumbs down symbol to communicate their like/dislike for the symbol. Some students preferred to use okay as an option as well. Based on the student’s capacity judged online, Nadine and I asked why they liked/disliked the symbols. Some of the older students were superb and gave us detailed feedback relating to the need for more detailed facial expressions, or adding context to the symbol rather than just characters. Others did not want to let us down and said they liked the majority of the symbols. Here are the results of the voting sessions:


  Good Ok Bad Comments
Hello (Assalumu alaikum) 11 1 –   Not clear, waving or speaking

–   Saying hi and smiling

–   He tells how are you

–   Goodbye

–   Nice because he’s wearing Thobe

–   Nice clothes

–   Clear

–   Goodbye

Rice & Chicken 12 –   Only chicken

–   Doesn’t look like our food

–   Chicken

Children 10 2 –   Not nice hair

–   Put them in uniform

–   Boys

Dance 12 –   Very nice

–   Sing

–   Nice because he’s dancing properly

–   Nice design

Eat 9 2 1 –   Looks angry

–   I don’t see plate or water; I like that he’s opening his mouth and has spoon

–   Eat with hands

–   Don’t wear Thobe when you eat

–   Holding pen

First 11 1 –   Won

–   Appropriate for Qatar

Friends 10 2 –   Uniform

–   Like because it has 2nd and 3rd

–   Clear

–   Thobe are same

–   It’s nice how they hold each other

–   All the shoes black color

–   Shoes different

–   They shouldn’t hold their hands, it’s a shame

House 12 –   White + door white/gray; It’s big

–   White + smaller

–   Two thumbs up

–   Like our house

–   Qatari houses are different

Hug 12 –   Change clothes color

–   The girl is hugging her mother

–   Mom cuz wearing Abaya

I 10 1 1 –   Needs arrow on top of  head

–   Picture matches meaning

–   Full body

–   Not clear

Mother 10 2 –   Add rainbow color + lighten colors to look more happy

–   Child holding hand + smiling

–   Put Abaya

–   Should be in Abaya. I know non-Muslims don’t wear it. Should wear Abaya wherever you go

–   Black Abaya

Pray 11 1 –   I like he’s praying

–   Like him praying

–   Put him in the house. You don’t pray in the middle of the road

–   Clear

Nursery 12 –   Kids are playing and smiling

–   Good

–   School

–   The colors are nice

–   Nice colors

Please 5 2 5 –   Add text

–   She’s saying please and child should be angry

–   Open hands

–   Tilt head

–   Telling secrets

–   Not clear, I can’t see the two hands

–   Talk

–   Greeting

Souq Waqif 10 2 –   Add a lot of people

–   It has Thobe and Abaya

–   Looks like the old days

–   Didn’t know

–   Change the buildings

Pray 7 5 –   Needs more colors + full mosque

–   Not clear

–   Put someone praying + purple sky

–   There’s a bird

–   Didn’t know

–   It’s a mosque, not clear, maybe add colors.

–   I prefer the other praying symbol

–   Add colors

Thank you 8 1 3 –   Hand  gesture is more I love you ; handshake

–   Hold and shake hands

–   I do this for thank you

–   No hand on chest

–   He’s saying the national anthem

–   I don’t use this gesture for thank you

–   Hands greeting

Travel 10 2 –   More sky + men with yellow clothes

–   Need stairs or bus

–   Terminal

–   Dad looks like brother

–   Add airport

You 10 2 –   They should look at each other

–   Context. Add playground

–   Clothes are so different and shoes are different

–   Didn’t know

–   Not clear

–   Come

Bye 9 1 2 –   Show side profile + say bye to someone else

–   Sad face for saying bye

voting AWSAJ 3

Overall it was a great voting session with some valuable feedback obtained. Speech therapists reinforced the need for such a project, giving the example of one student who “could not look at” a picture card used for inferencing emotions due to the image of the boys not covering their arms (picture to the left). Teachers also report that students felt empowered by giving their feedback as they have always been accustomed to receiving help but on this occasion they felt they were able to help others.

The Mix of Symbols and Words – Where, When and How?

YouTube Video Published on Jul 24, 2015  (1hour 25mins lecture)

Janice Light ( Penn State University) describe strategies for maximizing the literacy skills of individuals who require AAC.  This webcast was produced as part of the work of the AAC-RERC under grant #H133E080011 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)

In recent years there has been increased interest in teaching literacy skills to those who use AAC and one particular research project on Literacy Instruction led by Janice Light and David McNaughton at Penn State University in the USA has resulted in a very useful resource.  Not everyone agrees about how this task should be achieved and there remains the dilemma around the amount and type of symbols that should be used to support the learning of words with  letter combinations especially where phonics is involved and bilingualism.

Here Jane Farrall highlights other issues in her article “Symbol Supported Text: Does it really help?” and cites Erickson, Hatch & Clendon (2010) who also say:

For multiple reasons, pairing picture symbols with words may limit access to learning to read. Pictures actually may increase confusion, especially when they represent abstract concepts, have multiple meanings, or serve more than one grammatical function (Hatch, 2009). This is particularly true when words do not have obvious picture referents, as is the case with verbs such as do and is. Because they do not have picture referents, they must be represented by abstract, arbitrary symbols […]. While the orthographic (print) representation of these words is also abstract, printed words appear much more frequently and are understood more broadly than are abstract picture symbols. As a result, students learning to read the words rather than recognize the abstract picture symbols have more opportunities to encounter the words and interact with others who understand them.

We have already discussed the issues about learning the sounds that make up the various parts of words along in a previous blog and the Tawasol website offers text to speech to support the syllables and diacritics that aid the learning of phonemes.  But there is a problem when learning individual letters as they change their sound when said in isolation.  The text to speech does not always make a good job of the sounds required so it may be that we will need to use recordings for this element.

in the meantime there is also the issue of how much symbol support is provided when learning groups of words or small linking words such as conjunctions, prepositions etc. Some speakers such as Marion Stanton illustrate the problem very vividly in a talk about “Supporting students who use AAC to access the curriculum”. when working with an older student and others such as Professor Janice Murray have also shown in their slides about Language, Literacy and AAC the problems when words may not have any representative symbols or have very different meanings in certain situations and how a simple word symbol matching system will not work.

sample f text and symbols

Sample of text and symbols taken from the Dundee StandUp project consent form

The symbol dictionary team have been debating how to make supportive information and booklets available using the Tawasol symbols knowing that this is an important subject and one needs to start when on the journey to reading and writing as soon as possible as suggested by Carole Zangari in her ‘Lessons for Beginning AAC users‘ .

The issues that have been discussed have begun with such simple concerns as

  • Should text be above or below the symbols?  See Cricksoft’s practical point  and looking at all the handouts it seems to depend on personal choice?
  • Should the accurately written sentence appear below or above the symbols or each symbol match a word?
  • Should some words remain as words or always be translated into representative symbols even if the result is not always an easy one to interpret?
El Greco page using symbols

With grateful thanks to ARASAAC for all their support in this project

Some of the abstract linking words or conjunctions and prepositions simply do not work in a bilingual dictionary situation. This may be due to the position and direction of an arrow due to the right to left and left to right directions of the text or it may be the fact that a simple mathematical symbol may be easier to understand when compared to an unknown image. There is also the thought that it might be easier to learn a word such as ‘of’ instead of showing it as and ‘from’ and research has shown that there may be times when not working with the actual words slows literacy skill progress. 

On the other hand even though you may not speak Spanish this page illustrates how a booklet with supporting symbols can explain a piece of history where learning to read is not the main aim.  Here the goal is to communicate a story for knowledge building and enabling all those involved in the visit to the museum to have an inclusive experience.   This image has been taken from a booklet about El Greco developed by Dirección General de Organización, Calidad Educativa y Formación Profesional de la Consejería de Educación, Cultura y Deportes de Castilla-La Mancha.with pictograms from Sergio Palao. Procedencia ARASAAC ( Licencia Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA).

It is felt that when developing AAC materials they will nearly always need to bespoke, but when they are being offered for general use there needs to be a clear understanding as to their intended use.   As can be seen in this short article the needs of the AAC user may vary enormously depending on their abilities, skills and situation as well as the type of teaching task and resources available.  communication and knowledge building may well be aided by the combination of symbols and text.  However, literacy skill building may require other types of strategies and different learning materials.


Erickson, K.A., Hatch, P. & Clendon, S. (2010). Literacy, Assistive Technology, and Students with Significant Disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42(5), 1 – 16.  (Accessed 11 Dec 2015)

Working on the linguistic aspects of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary

quadieDr Ouadie Sabia has joined the team as a consultant specialist in linguistics and has provided us with essential support regarding the accuracy of Modern Standard Arabic lexical entries that are being added to our database. Initially he queried the way we were categorising the lexical entries as they needed to be used for both spoken communication and literacy which, when one is coping with a diglossic language does not necessarily work. There is an insightful blog on the subject written by Michael Erdman titled “Is Arabic really a single language?”

tree with root word

An introduction to the root and pattern system in Arabic from Arabic Learning

However Dr Sabia persevered with his support for our work and commented “This is a common problem with languages such as Arabic where words are derived from one root and might appear without the correct diacritics or even non-existent diacritics.  It can be hard to determine their grammatical category. “ذهب” could mean “to go” or “he went” (verb) but could also mean “gold” (noun). Because the diacritics are missing, the grammatical category is unidentifiable. However in many cases the context plays a crucial role in categorising words in Arabic. This has been proven when developing an Arabic TTS corpora. I have added the appropriate diacritics to make over a thousand Arabic sentences, readable, understandable and grammatically accurate. I also monitored the recording carried out by a talent to make sure that all the diacritics were correctly used in order to preserve the grammatical accuracy. A word function can be altered if the diacritics are incorrectly placed.  Another issues is that by changing just one diacritic we can go from a subject function in a sentence to an object function, without even changing the word order in a sentence.”

Another issue that has had to dealt with over the last few months is the inaccuracies that develop when working with English verbs that tend to be presented in the present tense and those needed in Arabic that are essentially always given as part tense.  Much discussion has resulted in the latter winning the day with a recognition that if ARASAAC symbols for verbs come with a label including ‘to’ such as ‘to go’  the ‘to’  will be removed to that the verb can be declined in any tense and with or without a pronoun.  All the verbs have now been checked by Dr Sabia and sentences added to further explain the meaning.

Arabic verb analyser

Arabic verb analyser

As Dr Sabia explains, “Having spent a reasonable time studying the lists, I have reached a clear idea about the type of tense we should be using to translate the Arabic past tense 3rd person singular masculine as the “infinitive” to + verb” in English. Arabic verbs have the form: “he + past tense” (merged) and this has to appear in the dictionary.  The second point is that the symbol user who wishes to gain literacy skills will only have to learn the declined forms. In other words, if we take the verb ذَهَبَ (he went) as an example, it will be used to teach the action of “going” in the past as a single male, then later, in order to teach the same action of “going” (male single) in the present tense, a newly declined form يَذْهَبْ would be used. Infinitive does not exist in Arabic grammar.  As a result, a translation of a verb such as ذَهَبَ has become “go”.  Verbs like “have” in English are prepositional groups in Arabic. However, for communication purposes, the team has decided to call them verbs too but this needs further discussion.

Further work has included the correction of all the AAC lists collected by the team so that they could be uploaded to the symbol management system along with 500 words that are now considered to be the most useful words for the AAC users and have become the core of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary.  The analysis of the frequency of use from a grammatical point of view, it has become clear that the lists have presented wide variations in terms of the Parts of Speech being used. Most top 100 core entries from Kelly, Beukelman, Buckwalter, Oweini-Hazoury have a very low frequency of nouns / verbs compared to Supreme Education Council list taken from reading books. A more detailed description of the findings is available in a paper presented at the 6th Workshop on Speech and Language Processing for Assistive Technologies that will be provided once the publication is available. There were also found to be distinct differences between the types of words found in English AAC user lists compared to the Arabic AAC user lists with more nouns in the latter and it is worth remembering the comments related to the use of a verb which is combined with a pronoun in Arabic.

Another task has been related to the importance of generating correctly spoken words when the Text to Speech part of the project is included in the dictionary.  This is where the diacritisation is so important for correct pronunciation of the Arabic words and much time has been spent on making sure over 1129 entries are correct.   Dr Sabia has also added all the missing SUKUUN and SHADDA to the definite articles to allow for correct reading of Moon / Sun letters.

Sun letters
t th d dh r z s sh l n
Moon letters ء ه
ʼ b j kh ʻ gh f q k m w y h

As communication boards using Tawasol symbols with Arabic entries have been developed Dr Sabia has been checking their accuracy as part of the ongoing evaluation process and these are being taken out into clinics for trials.  ARASAAC symbols are also being used where the image is acceptable and the English is translated.

to beWork is also being undertaken to decide which words need to become symbols but are represented as the actual word as well as abstract images.  Examples include linking words such as  “and”, “to”, “until” along with the need to make decisions around verbs such as “is”, “are”, “were” which have no equivalent in Arabic because the verb “to be” does not exist. Although, the symbol manager has to have this rather important verb in English!

Finally a monumental piece of work was completed by Dr Sabia – the manual inclusion of the Buckwalter five thousand Arabic words with their 5000 English equivalents as an addition to our collection of lists to give us an idea where the differences in parts of speech may be occurring. This list has become an invaluable aid to our work as it is the only list published as being the  “Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners (Routledge Frequency Dictionaries) by Tim Buckwalter, Dilworth Parkinson”

All this work lays the foundation for the Tawasol website that will be launched in the coming months and once again Dr Sabia has helped us by translating the content into Arabic.

More Vocabulary lists and papers for conferences

Highland cowThe last two months have seen some members of the team taking time out, one member heading off to carry out research at MIT and two members introduced us to their new daughters! Other members of the team have been on holiday, not all to sunny climes!

However the work has continued and from a research perspective we have been looking at a collection of Arabic core vocabularies to analyse the differences between our own Doha AAC lists and other lists of frequently used words on the web, in conversational situations and for language learning.

The Doha Arabic AAC lists are made up of a collection of the most commonly used words as collated by special needs teachers, therapists (e.g. speech therapists and occupational therapists) and parents. These lists also include the referents for symbols from AAC user workbooks, AAC devices, therapist progress notes of symbols worked on in therapy, and commonly used symbol signage around special needs centres and facilities.

The Arabic most frequently used words have come from individuals’ comments on the Aljazeera websites which were often posted in colloquial Arabic and collected by Dr Wajdi Zaghouani plus another list of words collected in lectures, the KELLY Project (Keywords for Language Learning for young and adults alike) and Buckwalter and Parkinson’s Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners.

There were also several lists based on words needed to encourage literacy skills such as the Supreme Education Council standards (Grade 1, 2, 3 and kindergarten, Ahmad Oweini and Katia Hazoury’s list of Sight words based on a collection of words gathered from popular reading books in Lebanon (grades K to 3)

On the English side the word lists have come from the research collected early on in the project linked to the work of Hill and Romich, Blandin and Iacono, Benajee et al, Van Tatenhove and Beukelman et al. Some frequency lists are based on the General Core Vocabulary (GCV) measure.

The analysis of these lists has been written up in a paper for the 6th Workshop on Speech and Language Processing for Assistive Technologies in Dresden as part of a larger Interspeech conference and will be published after the event in November2015. In essence we took our Doha lists and compared them to the other collections to see whether there were any major differences and which words we also needed to include in our lists to develop symbols that would aid communication and literacy skills. We not only found that there were several differences in the vocabularies but also in comparison to the English lists, there were many more nouns.

In English Boenish and Soto state that the use of nouns goes from 7% in the top 100 words to 20% in the top 300 whereas in MSA the corresponding frequency levels are 26% and 45% according Buckwalter and Parkinsons’ lists. When looking at the English AAC user list this appears to be true but when looking at the Doha AAC lists there are many more nouns and one has to wonder whether this is due to the make up of the Arabic language or that it is much easier to develop symbols related to concrete objects rather than abstract feelings, concepts or happenings!

Word cloud made with WordItOut

More analysis will need to be done in the coming months, but in the meantime the voting sessions continue with the acceptance of symbols and this process was explained in another poster for the ASSETS 2015 conference. The support for literacy skills for Arabic AAC users will be the topic for a poster at Communication Matters in UK and a paper on our participatory approach to the development of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary will be presented at AAATE 2015 also in the first week of September, 2015.


W. Zaghouani, “Critical Survey of the Freely Available Arabic Corpora,” In the Proceedings of the International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC’2014), OSACT Workshop. Rejkavik, Iceland, 26-31 May 2014.

A. Kilgarriff, F. Charalabopoulou, M. Gavrilidou, J. B. Johannessen, S. Khalil, S. J. Kokkinakis and Volodina, E. “Corpus-based vocabulary lists for language learners for nine languages,” Language Resources and Evaluation, 1-43 2013.

W. Zaghouani, B. Mohit, N. Habash, O.Obeid, N. Tomeh, and K. Oflazer. “Large-scale Arabic Error Annotation: Guidelines and Framework,” In the Proceedings of the International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC’2014). Rejkavik, Iceland, 26-31 May 2014.

Oweini and K. Hazoury, “Towards a list of Awards a Sight Word List in Arabic,” International Review of Education, 56 (4), 457-478 2010.

K. Hill, and B. Romich, 100 Frequently Used Core Words. Accessed May 2015

K. Hill, and B. Romich, “A summary measure clinical report for characterizing AAC performance,” Proceedings of the RESNA ’01 Annual Conference, Reno, NV. pp 55-57. 2001.

J. Boenisch and G. Soto, “The Oral Core Vocabulary of Typically Developing English-Speaking School-Aged Children,” Implications for AAC Practice. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, pp.77–84. 2015.

Balandin and T. Iacono, “A few well-chosen words,” Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 14(September), 147–161 1998.

Banajee, C. Dicarlo, and S. Buras Stricklin, “Core Vocabulary Determination for Toddlers,” Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19(2), 67–73. 2003.

Beukelman, D. R., Yorkston, K. M., Poblete, M., & Naranjo, C. (1984). Frequency of Word Occurbence in Communication Samples Produced by Adult Communication Aid Users. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 49(4), 360-367.

T. Buckwalter and D. Parkinson, “A frequency dictionary of Arabic: Core vocabulary for learners,” Routledge. 2014.

G. M. Van Tatenhove, “Building Language Competence With Students Using AAC Devices: Six Challenges,” Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 18(2), 38–47 2009.

P. Hatch, L. Geist, and K. Erickson, “Teaching Core Vocabulary Words and Symbols to Students with Complex Communication Needs,” Presented at Assistive Technology Industry Association, 2015. Retrieved 19/2/2015 from (Accessed 14 June 2015).

Additional symbols for Qatari culture based on ARASAAC symbols.

Over the last few months Dana Lawand (as the project graphic designer) has been building up a guide to the changes she has been making to the symbols that have been developed for each voting session.  Here are just a few of the early guidelines that may help others working in the world of localisation.

Qatari dress code

  • Emphasis on Qatari dress code in public. How men and women appear in their traditional clothing in public. Culturaly appropriate dress for young women, children are too young for the rules of the dress code so their dress is more colourful and casual and even westernised at times depending on age.






Local Landmarks

  • Food, museums, animals, sight seeing have been added or adapted to suit the locality – one humped camels and food with a joint rather than small pieces etc.local items

Arabic language

  • Words that appear within the boundaries of a symbol have been changed to the Arabic language so calendars, nonsense words used on the phone such as ‘blah, blah, blah and when writing.
  • Appropriate orthography has been used – numbers go left to right, no capitals, cursive script from right to left.

wording for Arabic





Skin tone

Social settings

  • Dress code has been much debated and voted upon with mixed results as has the need for
  • Appropriate male and female gatherings, the two (men & women) are commonly separated.

social settings


Vehicles, homes and technology

  • In Qatar cars have to cope with desert as well as the city life in the fast lane.  Drawings of various types of new model vehicles have been created from the land cruiser to the truck.
  • The latest smart phones are widely purchased by Qataris and of course contain Arabic numerals and language systems.
  • Homes owned by Qataris are normally large and have high walls surrounding them, whereas the migrant population tend to live in flats or smaller clusters of houses.

 cars, houses and phones

Final voting on Batch One Symbols with AWSAJ Academy and two AAC users.

voting on symbol

Voting to decide on types of clothing and types of action symbols

In the past month there have been final voting sessions on the first batch of adapted symbols and the voting on whether symbols should portray individuals just in Qatari dress or a mix and if action words (verbs) where gender is an issue should be portrayed by stick figures or would the dictionary need to have both male and female representations.





More votes on this subject may yet come in from the AAC Forum,  but it is felt that the initial 50 votes, as a result of face to face meetings,  could be revealed at this stage.

clothing type

Voting shows 68% want a mix of clothing types

Drawing type

Voting shows 86% want gender specific verbs







Comments for the type of dress needed on the symbols included the following:

“less distracting”, “I like both, but prefer option 1 for Qatar” (voted for just Qatari dress) “one uncovered”, “make one of them dressed in Abaya”, “Make one of the girls wear abaya and one of the males wear a thowb”, “one in abaya and one with no headcover and for male one in thobe”, “add one person from action one”, “I prefer one to wear the abaya, one to wear a normal hijab and one without a hijab”, “with one uncovered hair”, “one girl/boy can be in Arabic traditional dress, one girl can be not covered”, 

Comments for the type of drawing needed for verbs included the following:

“To make it more culturally representative and to bring out contrast of figure – around differentiation”,  “the colours are clear”, “don’t like stick figures” “colour the stick”.

The decision has been made that we need to have a mix of clothing and verbs will be represented in both male and female where required.  

Further voting sessions for adapted symbols took place with AWSAJ Academy teachers working with Arabic AAC users.  The online Quick Voting system was used. To date 62 participants’ votes  have been logged on the Symbol Manager resulting in 2341 votes for the  initial batch of 65 symbols!  These now need to be analysed for the comments received and the level of marks given out of 5 for each of the voting criteria – the voters feelings about the symbol generally,  whether it was found to be a suitable representation of the word or phrase presented, whether it had sufficient colour contrast levels and cultural sensitivity.    For all these criteria the average scores were above 3.9.  Where individual symbols have received lower scores in any of the criteria further adaptations will be made taking into account any comments received.  These redrawn symbols will be submitted for voting once again alongside new symbols developed for the next batch of voting that will take place in May.

Average scores for symbols in Batch 1

Average scores for symbols in Batch 1 all over 3.9 out of 5

Case Study A Aejaz and Tullah also met up with two young AAC Users on separate occasions.  Aejaz set up a  batch of 21 symbols on a grid with 5 versions of thumb positions for the 5 scores for A aged 8,  with the support of his father he voted on the symbols and the results were positive with only 3 symbols being marked below the mid point as can be seen with the results below.


A's scores for the symbols










casestudyMWhen working with M in the Shafallah Center,  the criteria  for voting was simplified to thumbs up for an acceptable symbol straight across for in the middle and  thumbs down for a reject.  The latter worked well and once again most symbols were found to be acceptable.  It is hoped we will have more case studies to share and batch 2 of the adapted symbols will be voted on during May and early June before Ramadan.



Past or present tense, plurals and other grammatical structures

grammatical morphemes

Class 2 milestones and patterns in development – Indira Cevallos (slideshare )

It seems amazing that one can spend over a month discussing the intricacies of verbs and how they should be represented in our Arabic / English Symbol dictionary.  The team have reached what Speech Therapists may describe as Brown’s stage 2, where we are learning how to represent more grammatical structures from verb tenses to plurals and simple multiword phrases.  These can be difficult to translate into representative symbols as well as work across two very different languages.  Yet if AAC users are to be able to make use of a core vocabulary and start to develop real language and literacy skills they must be available in any symbol dictionary that is going to be useful.

In English we tend to accept that the verb will be seen initially in the present tense so one would search for ‘play’ as the root word in for example the Oxford English Dictionary .  However, in Arabic dictionaries such as The Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic compiled by Hans Wehr and edited by J Milton Cowan which has been reviewed as one of the best Arabic English dictionaries by Sa’id  (1962) lists of action words are based on the root of the verb usually the imperfect, as an action happening in the past ’ لعب ‘ .  This root of three consonants, can then be easily conjugated (if it is regular) with a series of vowel changes and additional prefixes and/or suffixes.

verb conjugation

So the first dilemma is how do we present our lexical entries – Should the English be in the past or the present?  Should the symbols all have additional elements that illustrate the past as their main entry – going from Arabic to English?

Widgit verbsHow do we represent the past and the future when the writing is going from right to left – is the arrow for past going from right to left or left to right?  Widgit offer a very good example of how this is achieved in English with their symbols.

Google offer an example of how this should be achieved on applications and the web when there is a discussion about bi-directionality.  In Arabic we will need to mirror all the indicators of past and future as well as any diagonal marks.  So lines originally coming from top left down to right will need to change to top right down to left.

In terms of mirroring actions it will depend on what the person is doing but discussions around Arabic etiquette are being represented throughout the symbols with right hand use for anything to do with food and drink and other appropriate actions.

eating symbols

Verbs also have gender specific spellings so representing the word as a symbol – should the verbs have boys or men as well as girls or females carrying out the actions.  It may not be possible to have just the one version or a stick figure if we are supporting literacy skills and yet for those who are just getting to grips with AAC clarity and uncluttered symbols will be essential.

There are similar issues with singular and plural – can one just add the equivalent of +s as in ARASAAC symbols or a ++ as in Widgit – neither are needed if the image illustrates the fact that there are more than one.  So how relevant are these extras, do they help when teaching concepts for literacy skills?   How do we show this change of status in Arabic where plurals are different for male and female individuals  –  teachers – معلمات           معلمون  and then inanimate objects  for example tables –   طاولات  and table –  طاولة

plural plus sign



Finally (for the moment) in Arabic an adjective can change its spelling to fit the noun it follows and just as in English there are irregular words and irregular ways of changing them.  So developing guidelines as to how these things will best be represented in symbols is challenging as we reach over 800 Arabic lexical entries!


Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Sa’id M, F.,  (1962) Review of The Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic is an Arabic-English dictionary compiled by Hans Wehr and edited by J Milton Cowan. Language, Vol. 38, No. 3, Part 1 (Jul. – Sep., 1962), pp. 328-330 Published by: Linguistic Society of America. Accessed: 23 March 2015