Tell Tale
Thomas Milo, President, DecoType, The Netherlands

Target Audience: Manager, Software Engineer, Systems Analyst, Marketer

Session Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

It is fascinating to realize that the alphabet that we take for granted as the starting point of all script technology, in fact is the outcome of a thousands of years long process of cultural erosion, not to say utter devastation. I shall attempt to give some vivid evidence of this claim.

Driving from Damascus towards the North of Syria, the main road between Hamaa and Aleppo actually cuts right through a hill. Anywhere else this would be a moment for a paleontic break to look for squeezed dinosaurs. Not in this part of the world. This hill is a tell: a mound of remains of thousands of years of human activity. One can clearly see how this hill is made up of layers of former inhabitation. What attracts special attention, are the intermittent black layers one can discern.

From the beginning settlers gradually perfected their adaptation to the environment and so grew their wealth - until their settlement became far too powerful a magnet for the subsisting desert dwellers. Well, the black lines show when the nomads move in, as barbarians who burn down everything. That is the bad news.

The good news is that in the process they baked the clay tablet libraries, thus preserving evidence of writing civilization forever. As the dust settles the newcomers realize the opportunities of their new territory and try to reconstruct the successful civilization they just destroyed. Obviously they miss a lot of clues regarding intricate traditions and rituals.

In fact, the emerging new civilization sanitizes the previous one, while it gradually grows as insane as the one it replaced. This process repeated itself many times. As a result each black layer can be associated with a new phase in writing that becomes more and more dislodged from the intricacies of a particular culture. In the event, the alphabet, a culturally portable writing system, appears as the outcome of thousands of years of cultural devastation.

Against this background one can understand why computing, being totally alphabet-biased, is facing such enormous problems when it is required to deal with writing traditions that have remained firmly integrated in the civilization of which they are part.

When the world wants to talk, it speaks Unicode
Program Showcase Past Conferences Registration Unicode Standard Call for Papers
Accommodation Sponsors Talks and Papers Travel Conference Board Next Conference
International Unicode Conferences are organized by Global Meeting Services, Inc., (GMS). GMS is pleased to be able to offer the International Unicode Conferences under an exclusive license granted by the Unicode Consortium. All responsibility for conference finances and operations is borne by GMS. The independent conference board serves solely at the pleasure of GMS and is composed of volunteers active in Unicode and in international software development. All inquiries regarding International Unicode Conferences should be addressed to info@global-conference.com.

Unicode and the Unicode logo are registered trademarks of Unicode, Inc. Used with permission.

30 July 1999, Webmaster