An Experimental Approach for Recognizing Handwritten Arabic Words*

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ABSTRACT. This paper discusses the process of implementing an off-line system for recognizing handwritten Arabic words. In order to recognize a word, its ...

JKAU: Sci., vol. 7, pp. 119-130(1415A.H./1995 A.D.)

An Experimental Approach for Recognizing Handwritten Arabic Words*

KAMAL M. JAMBI

Departmentof Computer Science,Faculty of Science, King Abdulaziz University,Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

ABSTRACT.This paper discussesthe processof implementing an off-line system for recognizing handwritten Arabic words. In order to recognize a word, its character decomposition should be known. This is done through segmentation. In our model, Arabic character recognition goes through a preprocessingstage followed by a recognition stage. Each character of the word is investigated in order to determine its features associatedwith the window number in which they arelocated. The stepstaken for obtaining the window frame and windows aswell as thosefeatures usedare elaborated. A table lookup isused to determine the nameof the character under consideration. This is followed by a discussionof the results and their interpretations. A comparisonof the resultsobtained with other related work isgiven.

1. Introduction Arabic character recognition is an active field of current research.Researchersthese days strive to achieve better speed and higher accuracy for character recognition leading to a communication interface betweenthe computer and its users. This implies direct storage of user handwritten documentsinto computer memory without going through a keyboard. The Arabic languageis the main language in more than 20 countries in the world and spokenby more than 200 million people. It is not spokenby Arabs only, it is also taught to all Muslim people. There are severalproperties of Arabic characters that .A summary of this work waspresented in Arabic, The Fourth Saudi Engineering Conference, Jeddah Nov., 1995,Vol. 3, pp. 69-75.

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K.M. Jambi

give handwriting style uniquenessand causemore difficulty in recognition. The writing direction goes from right to left. Sincethe charactersare cursive (i.e., characters of a single word within any text are connected) it implies that boundaries of these charactersoverlap. It is interesting to note also that somegroups of charactershave the samemain body with slight changes.Thesechangesare presentedby the number of dots and their relative position with respectto the main body. For example, Table 1 shows that charactersBaa, Taa, and Thaa have the same main stroke but differ in the number of dots aswell as their position. Therefore, Baa hasa single dot below the main body while Taa and Thaa have two and three dots abovethe main body respectively. Moreover, Arabic charactershave different shapesdepending on their location within a word (i.e. isolated, or occuring at the beginning, middle or end of the word) as shown in Table 1. Therefore, rather than dealing with the 28 charactersof the Arabic alphabet, researchersmust deal with more than 60 characters. TABLE1. The different shapesof Arabic charactersdepending on their Position Within the Word Name

I Isolated

First

Middle

Last

Dhad

Alif Baa

Name

'":0'

-!

Taa

.:..

...

Thaa

~

.

'---

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~

Last

First

-"

..r"'-

Tta

.J.

.J.

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~

Zha

j;.

-!O

!i.-

.:-

Ain

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~

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?'"

->-

->L-

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In order to get familiar with the approachesused to recognize Arabic characters, the reader may refer to Jambi[1,2].The scope of the surveyed work varies, with respectto complexity, from printed isolated charactersto handwritten words. This implies that evaluation of the work basedonly on the recognition rate is not fair and the reader may be misled. For instance, it is not fair to compare a 100% recognition rate for isolated printed characters and 90% recognition rate for handwritten cursive words. In Jambi[2]there are also some details discussingdifferent techniquesused in other languages.This might suggestconcepts for researchersto implement with respectto Arabic characters. Although severalpapers deal with printed Arabic charactersand texts, very little

An Experimental Approach for RecognizingHandwril/en Arabic Words

121

researchhas beendone regarding handwritten Arabic words. The approachadopted in the work of Jambi[3),which wasalso implemented by the author of this work, used a rectangular frame with six windows. Moreover, in the work of Nouh etal. [4]the authors stated that a circular frame is the best shape to contain Arabic characters. Therefore, the frame in this work waschangedto a circular one and many testswere performed to figure out the best arrangement of the window to be accepted. After the image was obtained with a scanner, the operations of the preprocessing stageare applied. Theseoperations include finding the boundariesof the word, thinning, and separatingthe overlapped subwords.The main sectionof the paper discussesthe processof recognition which beginsby decomposingthe word into its characters. Then eachof these charactersis investigated to identify its feature points and the location of eachwithin the sevenwindows of the frame that contains the character under consideration. 2. PreprocessingOperations The image of the isolated word is obtained by means of a scanner, where noise elimination is not needed and the binary image can be obtained automatically. The extreme boundaries of a word are used to simplify the operation by eliminating the processof scanningthe white area around the word. Therefore, having the absoltue correct values of the extreme boundaries is not a critical issue, which makesthe situation flexible and not sensitiveto the noise. These boundaries are used also to identify the constraints of upper and lower limits for the image of eachcharacter. The One PassThinning Algorithm[5] is used for thinning. It starts by scanningthe image frame in a raster fashion using a sliding template. If the scannedpixel is black, this pixel and its neighbors are treated as a template that should be compared to other predetermined templates. Whether the scannedpixel is removed (i.e., a 1 becomes a 0) or kept depends on the results of the comparison with anyone of the templates for testing pixel removal. Another test takes place by comparison with templates used for connectivity testing. In the caseof a match, the removed pixel has to be restored. This stepshould be repeated until no changeis produced. Separationof overlapped subwordshas generally beenignored in previous work, although the overlapping of adjacentcharactersexistsnaturally. Overlapping means that the beginning of a characterstarts on a column located before the one where the end of the previous character has been detected. Although, Almuallim and Yamaguchi[6],however, took care of this problem implicitly by tracing continuous strokes, erasingthem from the original image, then consideringthe other strokes. In this work, it is essentialthat overlapping should be resolved. This is becausethe histogram for the segmentation process depends heavily on this operation. Figure 1 shows how this work deals with this problem explicitly by shifting some strokes and making sure that there is at leastone blank column betweenoverlapped strokes. In fact, separationof overl!iPped subwordsis not as easyas it m~y initially appear. It is time consuming, since all strokes should be traced and assigneddifferent labels. Dots should be assignedto their main strokes by giving those dots the same label as the

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K.M.Jambi

main stroke. Left and right boundaries should be determined in order to test for overlapping. If that is the case,shifting should be done for the left stroke(s) as well as all dots and secondarystrokes associatedwith those strokes. Shifting is done by having at least one blank column (i.e., no black pixel) betweentwo adjacentstrokes of overlapped subwords. It should be mentioned that shifting will take place provided that enoughspaceis available to accommodatethe processof shifting[2].

.

jl ~...J (a)

...J ...J (b)

FIG. 1. An Arabic word with overlapping (a), and the sameword after overlapping is resolved by a shifting process(b)12J.

3. The Processof Word Recognition The processof word recognition starts by the decomposition if the isolated word into its character components where each of these characters is investigated separately. 3.1 Segmentingthe Word into Separate Characters The characters used to construct the handwritten word should be identified. The work of Jambi!7]gives a complete description.of our approach to implementing this operation. The operation starts by constructing a histogram done by counting the number of black pixels in eachcolumn. The beginning of eachcharacteris identified by sensinga suddenchange in the histogram, howeversomedifficulties should be resolved regarding different width sizesof Arabic characters. Therefore, a threshold value is determined to overcome this problem. This histogram, which is known also as an imageprojection, produces an array that contains the number of black pixels counted column wise. The last array is then processedin order to identify some interesting points. These points are either actual start or end points of a character (represented by's' and 'e' accordingly). Other points are represented by 'b' or 'c' indicating candidate begin or end points of a character. The 'c' is replaced by 'f if it is recognized to be a permanent end point. These point canalso be displaced in order to eliminate the effect of the long connecting stroke that canbe used for connectingthosecharacters.Also, thesepoints may be removed if it is discovered that they are no longer needed!7].There are sometests that should be done regarding the different forms of the last character of each word. At the end of this procedure, the above points are usedto identify the beginning and the end of each character of the word. 3.2 Defining the Features to be Considered Although there are many features that can be considered, the following features

An Experimental Approach for RecognizingHandwritten Arabic Words

123

are the most suitable ones for the structural approachadopted in this work .Branch point Representedby a black pixel surrounded by at leastthree black pixels .Corner

This point representsa change in the direction of the pen's movement (decided if the measurementof the angle, between both lines of eachdirection, exceededa predetermined threshold value based on the work of Han et al.[8]. .End

point

This point representsthe start or stop point (i.e., a point where a pen starts or stops writing the current stroke). This canbe found easilywithin the image, sincethis is the only point (black pixel) with just one black pixel neighbor. .Position

An integer for the position of the character. It takes one of the following values 1 2 3 4

for isolated characters, for those connected from left, for those connected from right, and for those connected from both sides.

.W-H

This variable indicates the relationship between the width and the height of the character. Therefore, the set of charactersare classifiedinto three classes.The first classincludes those characterswhose length is twice the width or more suchas (Alif and Lam). The secondclasscontains thosecharacterswhose width is twice the length or more such as (Geem-first and Taa-isolated). The third class indicates those characterswhere the above relations can not be identified. .Loop

This integer variable gives the window number where the loop is located. It gets the value '0' if no loop is detected. This is becausethe handwriting characterscontain at most one loop. .Dots This variable indicates the number of dots associatedwith the character. It should be mentioned at this point that although the result of thinning shows dots as short strokes, they are removed in the segmentationprocess[7].Those dots ,are then replaced by single pixels at the center of the previous short strokes. Therefore, after finding all features of the character under consideration, a vector (or a database entry) will be constructed[2].For each window a byte is allocated where two bits are assignedto store the number of end points, branchpoints, comers and dots that are identified in that window. Sincewe have sevenwindows, (see discussion below) sevenbytes are needed. An extra byte is also required to store the other features suchas position, W-H and loop.

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K.M. Jamb;

3.3 Identifying the Window Frame and Windows The processof finding the coordinates of a rectangularframe is a simple one. This is done by scanningthe image of the character from top, down, left, and right to find out the locations of the first pixel from eachdirection. Notice that the extreme boundaries, which have been calculated previously for the whole word, can be used as constraints. Therefore, determining those coordinatesgivesus the ability to identify the window frame as well as the windows where feature points are located as shown in Fig. 2. The point (a, b) indicates the centerof the circular frame and r presentsthe radius. (upper,end)

E::J

(upper,start)

(a)

(b)

(lower, start)

(Iower,end)

(c) FIG. 2. The rectangular frame is used to identify the center (a, b) and the radius (r).

As shown in Fig. (2a), this frame suits thosecharacterswhose height is greater than their width while the frame in Fig. (2b) suits characterswhose width is greater than their height. However, the frame in Fig. (2c) is selectedto be able to capture features that might be located at the corners of the frame, which might be missedif the other frames are selected. The number of windows plays a significant role here. A small number of windows gives an overlapping of features of different characters. On the other hand, a large number may causedifficulties in identifying small variations of the samecharacter. For instance, if the window is of the sizeof a single pixel then the situation becomes an exact pixel matching. A single window complicates the processof classification, since different characters with the same feature points are put in the same group. After a careful study of Arabic characters,it seemsthat the bestresults are obtained by diving the frame into sevenwindows as shown in Fig. (3). The window's frame hasa circular shapewhere the centeris (a, b) identified asthe following:

a = (upper + lower) t 2,

An Experimental Approach for RecognizingHandwritten Arabic Words

125

FIG. 3. Dividin~ the frame into sevenwindows.

It sh,?uldbe mentioned at this point that the origin of the image (i.e. the pixel (0,0» is located at the upper left comer. The radius of the frame is defined as shown in Fig. 2 where: r = start -b

for the caseswhere the length of the characteris greater than the width asthe caseof Fig. (2a), and r = lower -0

for the caseswhere the width is greater than the length asthe caseof Fig. (2b). However, these situations are discovered not to be very accurate. Especially, for those characterswhere some features are located on the corners of the rectangular frame suchas (Lam) and (Khaa-isolated), etc. Therefore, the radius should be calculated with a different approach. So, the length of the radius is computed as the distance from the center to the corner of the rectangular frame as shown in Fig. (2c). r = sqrt [(0 -lower)2 + (b -start)2 ] After identifying the frame, it is divided into sevenwindows (Fig. 3). Six of these windows are identified by determining the anglesassociatedwith eachof thesewindows. The seventh one is obtained by having an inner circle which has the same center as the frame. The length of the radius of the inner circle is presented as r7 which is computed to have a value as a percentageof the length of frame's radius.

.

Therefore, identifying the window number associatedwith a givenfeature located at (x,y) position is done asfollows: .Calculate the distance between (x, y) and the center (0, b) and the feature will be located in window 7 if the distanceis less than or equal to r7. .If the above is not the case,a comparison betweeny and b is done to determine if the feature is located in the upper or lower half. Then the exact window number is

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K.M. Jambi

identified by determining the angle (q) associatedwith this feature, where q is .i

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