Arabic in the text... or not!
A globetrotter by nature, the indefatigable cub reporter criss-crossed countries and continents throughout his career. Four of his major stopovers were in the Middle East: Cigars of the Pharaoh (1934), The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), Tintin in the Land of Black Gold (1950) and The Red Sea Sharks (1958). It's hardly surprising, then, that Arabic should feature prominently in these adventures.
In the first two stories – mentioned above – its presence is largely anecdotal. In fact, Hergé uses it sparingly to punctuate his story – here and there – and make it more authentic. It's not uncommon, therefore, to come across arabesque writing at the turn of a phylactery or a decorative element.
In Land of Black Gold, on the other hand, Arabic plays a more prominent role, not only as the title on the cover, but also at the heart of the story when, on illustration plate 37, the Emir hands Tintin the letter in which kidnappers claim responsibility for his son's abduction. Obviously, the young man can't help but be puzzled by this document, for two reasons...
Firstly, because he has no command of the language. Not even rudimentary knowledge. And secondly, even if he had some, he wouldn't have been able to decipher what was written anyway, because the calligraphic text here is pure fantasy. Graphic gibberish created by Hergé himself!
In 1971, at the request of Methuen, the English publisher, the adventure underwent radical changes to bring it more in line with current events. The result was a partially redrawn version.
Hergé took the opportunity to ask a calligrapher to compose the texts in literary Arabic, so that they finally meant what they were supposed to in the story. Thanks to this, the missive addressed to the Emir became much more "understandable"... but only for the initiated!
International Arabic Language Day
Whether literary, vernacular or dialectal, Arabic is an ancient, rich and constantly evolving language. Spoken by millions of speakers worldwide, it was adopted by the United Nations as an official language on December 18th, 1973. This is why it has been celebrated on this date every year since 2012.