I have this letterhead title in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, in which I set the English to Small Caps (that is, the first letter is a big capital, the rest are small). Now, in Hebrew, the letters are generally squarish, so they're kind of like small caps already (although there's no equivalent of the large cap). In Arabic, however, many/most letters are at half-height (e.g. و and د), while other rise well above the x-height, e.g. ال which denotes a definite article. But ال is not like a big cap at all, and the rest of my text looks so low(ly) compared to the English small caps.

What do I do?

Illustration of the letter-head


  • Here is an example of Arabic in boxed letter-forms. It's not what I would be looking for, but does illustrate how Arabic type is amenable to many (acceptable) kinds of stretching, shaping and manipulation.
  • Suggestions such as "Do something entirely different than small caps" are not entirely irrelevant, but I would rather stick to my original whim.
  • I can't just have the script in every language be set in a different style altogether, consistent only with the custom for titles in that language.
  • 1
    Khaled Hosny’s advice in tex.stackexchange.com/a/159736 is relevant here.
    – Thérèse
    Mar 9, 2014 at 20:41
  • @Thérèse: Yes, that's half-true in Hebrew as well (bold is ok, slanting - faux pas). However, neither Nastaliq nor Naskh will do for me. Is there a specific kind of script (or specific font family) you would suggest, which would go well with English small caps?
    – einpoklum
    Mar 9, 2014 at 23:24
  • 1
    This has been suggested for migration to graphicdesign: it's not a TeX question, it's a typography one. I'm minded to go with that: any objections?
    – Joseph Wright
    Mar 10, 2014 at 9:06
  • 8
    There is no caps in Arabic to have smallcaps. I’d usually suggest to go with the Arabic style that gives the comparable feeling to the reader, but for a unicameral script there is nothing even close to this since it is dealing with a completely non-existing issue. For headers I’d suggest Riqaa, but there is not that many authentic Riqaa fonts (only the one here AFAIK, couldn’t find an English page), it does not give smallcaps feeling but it gives “header” feeling. Mar 10, 2014 at 21:15
  • 3
    @KhaledHosny That sounds like the start of a great answer - it'd be really interesting to see some examples of how different Arabic calligraphy styles can be applied to modern typographic use cases like this Apr 11, 2014 at 9:12

1 Answer 1


It's unfortunate that Khaled hasn't had a chance to respond here, but I'll give you my typographer response.

As a general principle, I would strongly recommend sticking with the typographic conventions of each culture. Distorting letterforms (or choosing unusual typefaces that don't convey the same sense of formality as small caps do in English) is definitely not acceptable in a letterhead.

Imposing the sensibilities of one culture upon a communication to a different one is very dangerous. A Chinese designer used only to Chinese letterforms might think (I'm making this up as an example -- I have no idea what a Chinese designer might actually think) that Comic Sans or Chiller conveys just the right sense of dignity in a bilingual funeral announcement.

This is very much like the problem of translating idioms from one language to another. What works beautifully in one language can be a disaster in another. I once had a Thai translator ask me about the term "Christ-like" in a piece of text. "I can't say that in Thai," she said. "It would be an insult!"

Stick with conventions that work in each culture. Don't mix them, and for safety verify with a native reader that you've not committed any inadvertent faux pas.

  • 1
    Even within the bounds of the typographic conventions of a language, there's still room to maneuver. Plus, Arabic is famous for amenability to all sort of stretching and twisting, much more than other languages I know in fact
    – einpoklum
    Apr 12, 2014 at 15:49
  • Sound advice. For example, to my (non-Arab) eye, a subtle Kufi style Arabic typeface looks like it'd fit alongside the other samples - BUT as Alan G advises check with actual native Arabs as this might have unintended cultural associations so you don't for example stumble into using the Arabic equivalent of blackletter. Apr 15, 2014 at 13:43
  • @user568458: Do you think you could your comment into an answer? Perhaps with a suggestion of some specific Kufi font, or at least a link to several potential Kufi typefaces?
    – einpoklum
    Apr 16, 2014 at 14:56
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    @einpoklum: Eskimos are famous for having lots of words for snow. Unfortunately that is a myth. It is unclear how fluent you are with Arabic, but the question itself implies you may not be highly proficient else an "Arabic Smallcaps" analog would be obvious to you. You should heed the warnings here. The best advice in light of all this is that you should adjust the visual weight of the English text so that it best matches the visual weight of the Hebrew and Arabic. This is, after all, the purpose of Smallcaps in English texts: to get the uppercase to fit within the surrounding context.
    – horatio
    Apr 16, 2014 at 18:20
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    I wholeheartedly agree with the advice here. Do not try to fumble in the dark after fonts you do not know the context, the connotation to. If you do not have a native arabic designer around, then alter the stuff you know: alter the latin and the Cyrillic. Tread lightly; stick to the simple standards for that of which you know nothing.
    – benteh
    Apr 17, 2014 at 0:33

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