Writing System Implementation On-the-Fly
Sharon Correll - SIL International
Those needing to work with multilingual text written using complex scripts have often encountered two significant obstacles: defining an adequate keyboarding mechanism and providing for complex rendering. Rendering is a particularly difficult problem made all the more germane by the fact that Unicode compliance requires smart rendering for many scripts. Recently developed solutions make it possible to work effectively with many of the more complex scripts, with the best known of these implemented as part of the operating system. Although there are a number of advantages to using operating system solutions, a signficant disadvantage is that such implementations cannot be modified or extended by the end user.
Many of the lesser-known languages around the world are written using writing systems that vary to some degree from the standard orthographies of the major languages. While keyboarding and rendering implementations may exist for the major language, they may not be adequate to meet the needs of minority language groups. Even a relatively small variation in the minority writing system may render the built-in solutions extremely inconvenient at best, or at worst, virtually unusable.
Two software packages exist that can provide a solution to this dilemma. Keyman is a programmable system for creating keyboards, and Graphite is a corresponding system for defining smart rendering modules. Beginning with a general keyboard or rendering definition program for a major language, a handful of programming statements can be added to produce corresponding modules for a language using a variant script. This extensible approach to complex script implementation has the potential to be a powerful factor in bridging the "digital divide" encountered by many computer users in developing nations.
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