Graphic vs. linguistic realism

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Kumail Nanjiani discusses the Karachi street signs in Call of Duty:

I've never any version of Call of Duty, and couldn't locate any street-sign images to check Kumail's claim that the signs are in Arabic. If this is true, though, it summarizes several aspects of the modern world.


  1. bulbul said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    He's probably talking about COD Modern Warfare 2? I remember COD 4 Modern Warfare – the predecessor – a portion of which took place in an unnamed Middle Eastern country and prominently featured the leader thereof, a fellow by the name of al-Asad*. One of the missions was set in a television studio and it bugged me to no end that while they did include writing in Arabic, it was all disconnected letters, left to right. And then I stumbled across some graffiti on the wall which was done correctly and repeated over and over again. It was Infinity Ward, the name of the developer, transcribed in Arabic.

    * IIRC, the game featured speeches by the character, but I really can't remember if they were done properly or not.

  2. Silvio said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 8:39 am

    There's a small screenshot with *some* lettering at … I don't know if that's Arabic or Urdu.

  3. Bob Violence said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 9:00 am

    It was Modern Warfare 2. Gamer sites jumped on this pretty quickly.

  4. Andyo said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    Also, check out one of the first links at the google images link you posted. The responses are even worse:

    What the heck?
    What do you mean your husband?
    Nobody wants to hear some old housewife rant about stuff shes too old to understand!
    Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is the kind of thing that is going on in this generation but if you cant handle that please spare us from the rant.
    And really, are the signs that big of a deal?
    Does it really matter that much?
    Comon get with the program

  5. Alex said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    Here is a video of the Karachi level:

  6. GeorgeW said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

    Silvio: " I don't know if that's Arabic or Urdu."

    Urdu is written in Arabic script (modified), so without seeing the actual words, it could be either. But, that might not help as names would be the same. Also, there are so many Arabic loans in Urdu that it still might not be clear.

  7. J Lee said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

    unliking arabic speaking countries pakistan prefers the nastaliq style of the perso/arabic script common to all these languages, so i should think with decent screenshots it would be obvious if the game lifted them from arab cities. shame on the developers..i'd have thought they even included authentic urdu background noise as one just may hear in karachi…

  8. goofy said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

    Alex wrote: "Here is a video of the Karachi level:"

    I think I see some words ending in ة, which is an Arabic thing.

  9. bulbul said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

    But of course, youtube! Here's the intro to the al-Asad level and as it turns out, the Arabic is very fuṣḥā and the voice acting is excellent.

  10. GeorgeW said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

    J Lee: "unliking arabic speaking countries pakistan prefers the nastaliq style of the perso/arabic script common to all these languages."

    Good point, the script style (along with Urdu modifications if any) would be strong evidence.

  11. raquel said,

    March 21, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

    Wow, I wonder if they did the same thing in the Afghanistan missions.

  12. Charly said,

    March 22, 2011 @ 2:46 am

    Is the (modified?) Arabic script something old and at this point natural, or something imposed much more recently by some regime or other? For example, is this like writing Romanian in its (natural, logical) Latin alphabet, or its (imposed, horrible for this Latinate language) Cyrillic one used under Ceauşescu?

    I know so little about the languages or our current war engagements. It would be an interesting post.

  13. michael farris said,

    March 22, 2011 @ 3:34 am

    "For example, is this like writing Romanian in its (natural, logical) Latin alphabet, or its (imposed, horrible for this Latinate language) Cyrillic one used under Ceauşescu?"

    Actually Romanian was first written in the Cyrillic alphabet and only changed to a Latin based system in the 19th century (around 1860). The communist period did see some fiddling with the alphabet (especially with regard to â and î) but Ceausescu didn't really have anything to do with that – a 1993 reform re-officialized pre 1953 written standard and at present both systems are still in private use.

  14. minus273 said,

    March 22, 2011 @ 4:02 am

    The non-usage of Nastaleeq does count as graphic irrealism (albeit only to trained eyes).

  15. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    March 22, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    @Charly: Surely you mean Moldavian in Soviet times?

    BTW, is all that CoD Karachi signage in Arabic after all?

  16. J Holiday said,

    April 11, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

    Yeah, could someone confirm whether it's in Urdu or Arabic? There are a bunch of links posted above, if someone who knows one and hopefully has some experience with the other could check, that would be sweet.
    I mean I'll trust Nanjiani on this one I suppose; if he grew up in Karachi then he almost definitely knows what he's talking about…

  17. Timo said,

    April 19, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

    The signs in the video posted above ( are written in the Naskh script which is the form found in newspapers and printed (as opposed to handwritten) signs in the Arabic-speaking Middle East. The sign over the shop at 0:27 says شاكار (Shākār) which isn't an Arabic word. There is an Iraqi fashion designer named Uday Shakar (عدي شاكار), but as a name seems to be exceedingly rare. The sign at 1:41 says either ساركؤ‎ or سار كؤ‎. The كؤ‎ is not an Arabic word and I have never seen it in a name of a person or place. Googling كؤ‎ turns up mostly Kurdish websites and it seems like it is sometimes found at the end of Kurdish names. In another part of the level is a sign that reads محظة سرفيس which is Arabic for minibus station, but سرفيس is primarily used in the Levant. I am not sure about Iraq, but the usual word for bus in Iraqi is paas. Underneath the same sign is written Main Bus Terminal. In the hallway past this sign is another sign saying محطة الحفلات which is standard Arabic for bus station. In real life this would be weird, the signs would either be in standard or dialect, not switching back and forth. Furthermore, there is a sign with "Magasin generale" written on it. On a level in the same game set in Afghanistan there is an Arabic sign that translates to fresh fruit and vegetables.

    In conclusion, I would say that the signs are written in Arabic but there is nothing definitive about their location. In real life they could be from Syria, or Iraq, or anywhere else really. I wouldn't be surprised if the developers just re-used graphic elements from Modern Warfare 1, which they also developed, especially considering a level in that game was set in Basra.

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