Ancient Complex Languages (was Unicode, Cure-all or Kill-all?)

From: Jonathan Rosenne (100320.1303@CompuServe.COM)
Date: Sat Aug 10 1996 - 18:38:03 EDT

* * * A partial draft of this message has escaped to the network by mistake.
* * * Please ignore it. Sorry.

* * * JR

Michael Everson wrote:
>At 01:14 1996-08-10, Jonathen Rosenne wrote:

>>A standard should be based on existing technology.
>But ISO10646 and Unicode have, since their inception, been expanded, and
>as-yet-unimplemented schemes have been standardized.

By technology I do not mean all the details. The technology in Unicode includes
16 bit characters, decomposition of composed characters, automatic shaping of Arabic
and Han unification, all of which had been implemented and tried. Adding
characters according to an accepted technology is what I call "based on existing

Standards may also be used to enable the commercial utilization of technology,
since often technology, though tested and proven, cannot be used commercially
unless it is standardized.

No one has implemented the 75 thousand Chinese characters Prof. Huang mentioned,
no one has any experience in how to input them or use them in current technology.

And only if the Chinese people themselves do it, get it out to the public, and have
it tested by thousands of users in real life, not just language experts and computer
experts but also secretaries and students, only after that it would be appropriate
for standardisation.

The same applies for all complex languages - it is not reasonable to expect the
international community of specialists to come up with solutions for
our problems. The early drafts of 10646 on Hebrew and the earlier Microsoft Hebrew
DOS, produced without Israeli participation and without knowledge of existing
technology, are cases in point.

The responses so far seen from Western experts to Prof. Huang's message, while
providing explanations of how we got here, mainly bureaucratic in nature, remind me
of our situation a few years ago - having to explain to people who are knowledgeable
but are not really users of the language why their solutions are unuseable. For
example, many people could not understand why our concept of a vowel is not the one
they are familiar with.

Even now, Alain rejects our statement that certain Hebrew characters do not
participate in the sort.

>>People should not expect standards to solve technology problems. Standards
>>should be aimed at standartisation problems, i.e. when several products
>>implement similar technologies in incompatible ways.
>I disagree. If we can get standardization working efficiently enough, we
>could (in some fields) lead implementations.

This approach does occur from time to time, causes many problems and sometimes
fails the resulting standards. Some of the problems in getting Unicode to be
more widely implemented are related to this phenomenon. It is relatively easy,
for instance, to add a character to 10646, and then let the implementers worry
about obtaining fonts and conversions to existing codes, but they will not do
it unless they have a business justification. Adding the huge number of characters
required for a complete implementation of Chinese raises several non-trivial
implementation problems.

I propose that a joint project be set up, with Chinese and Israeli experts, to
develop and test appropriate technology for both our languages, and when this
is achieved then it could be standardized. Some people may know that Israeli
experts have made valuable contributions in the area of Chinese language processing,
and also Chinese experts can help us, so I am sure both our countries can
benefit from this cooperation.

Jonathan Rosenne
JR Consulting
P O Box 33641, Tel Aviv, Israel
Phone: +972 50 246 522   Fax: +972 9 56 73 53

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