Hmong, Yolongu, ISO, etc.

From: Marion Gunn (
Date: Tue Sep 23 1997 - 18:24:17 EDT

Herewith transcript of recent SBS (Australia) broadcast, by kind permission
of Gina Wilkinson. This is a long msg (prints out to four A4 pages in
12pt), so, unless you are particularly concerned with rare languages and
scripts, and international standards relating to their use on the internet,
go hit your DELETE button now. For the rest of us, read on. With best
wishes, Marion Gunn

Received: from ( for <>; Mon, 22
Sep 1997

Dear Marion,

Thanks for your help with this story. It has been very popular with the
broadcasters here. The paragraphs following the "F11- (name) (time)
are actual sound bites.

 Thanks again.

Gina Wilkinson

f11-A sfx 0:15
(sound of modem connecting, then typing)
Throughout the world, people are being urged to get hooked
up to the internet and join the telecommunications

But the vast majority of information available on the
internet is in English.

Linguists and computer experts warn this could have
profound implications for non-English speakers.

They say the net holds both opportunities and dangers for
rare and endangered languages.

COMMUNICATIONS magazine, says the dominance of English on
the net is a legacy of its birth in the UNITED STATES.

F11-b CHRIGWIN 0:25
The original project was a joint military and academic
project first conceived in the 1960's. For most of its life
the internet has been centred in America, and up until very
recently a very high proportion of the users were Americans
in academia, and that suggests English as the dominant

Mr CHRIGWIN says the lack of a significant non-English
language presence on the internet alienates a huge section
of the world's population.

F11-c CHRIGWIN 0:17
The more that computing in general excludes non-English
speakers, the more it will either downgrade the local
language or exclude non-English speakers from the
globalisation of the internet.

are co-founders of a free internet service which allows
speakers of all forms of Gaelic to communicate easily
across the world.

Mr O DONALIE fears the internet could threaten the survival
of some languages.

11F-d ODONALIE 0:13
English is spreading around the world like wildfire, driven
by computer technology, and it's not just languages like
gaelic which are in danger lots of small languages will be
feeling very threatened soon.

Despite the dominance of English on the net, there are
numerous sites in several major EUROPEAN languages, such as

CHRISTINA EIRA, a Web Development Officer at Melbourne
University's Liguistics Department, says languages with a
roman script* can be easily incorporated onto the net.
(*english lettering:a,b,c,d etc)

But she says speakers of other languages have been forced
to use a clumsy form of transliteration, using an english
based script.

11f-e eira 0:26
If you use an roman script with additions, then it's sort
of like using a badly written form of your language, so you
have to make some guesses about what the words actually
are. Another major language is Greek - that doesn't have
equal access to writing in authentic Greek, so they'll use
roman letters to indicate the pronunciation of Greek, but
it might not be totally's rather chaotic

Ms EIRA is developing software and a web site to be used by
HMONG refugees who have left their homes in CHINA and
South-east ASIA.

She says the internet is a fantastic way for small or
isolated groups to maintain their language and culture.

11f-f eira 0:30
For the Hmong, Its extremely important because they've left
their country, they've therefore become dispersed all over
the world, so it's not only their language is in danger,
their sense of indentity has been totally disintergrated.
If you can maintain links through things like the internet,
it's way faster than using the mail and also you can talk
to your entire family group.

However, she says the HMONG, like many ASIAN and MIDDLE
EASTERN groups, have great difficulty communicating on the
net because of the need to use roman characters.

11F-g eira 0:30
It's encouraging or forcing the choice of that script to be
used internationally, and people who only read, or would
prefer to read the other scripts don't have access to the
net. That mean's if you're going to keep up with technology
then you're forced to take on a particluar culture as well.
 There's no reason why we can't have technology in Hmong,
without forcing Hmong to become Americans or

Ms EIRA is currently working on a program allowing HMONG
people to use their indigenous script on the net.

11f-h eira 0:35
They see this as retaining their own identity rather than
being submerged into another culture. I've set up a home
page, the front page is in english, and that walks you
through the steps to get a font for that script and then
you can switch to a page a read material in Hmong in their
script. It's a long process

While the dominace of English on the net may be alienating
to some, CAOIMHIN o DONNAILE (Qwee-hmenn O Donally) says
the Gaelic service has proven extremely popular.

He says it has grown to include a strain of Gaelic from the
Isle of Man, which had until recently been considered

11F-i O DONNAILE 0:15
People think it's died out. They say the last native
speaker died forty years ago but in fact there's been an
unbroken line of people who learnt from native speakers.
There's more manx-gaelic on the internet than scottish
gaelic..It's amazing.

MARION GUNN has set up many internet networks for Celtic
speakers, and founded the Gaelic list, with CAOIMHIN O
DONNAILE(Qwee-heen O Donally)

She says she welcomes the many English speakers drawn to
the Celtic lists.

But she has had to develop seperate networks to cater for
English speakers with an interest in Celtic languages and

11F-j GUNN 0:11
We've been actually outnumbered by English speakers saying
"What does this mean? What does that mean? please include
an English translation". We are basically trying to
communicate in our own language. Sometimes they get

MARION also supplies internet systems and software for the
INNUIT people in CANADA.

She says while many people are developing ways to use
non-roman scripts on the internet, this has in turn created
new dilemmas.

11F-k GUNN 0:13
All of these problems are being solved, the trouble is
there are almost as many solutions as there are problems,
With the result that you have several different computer
systems out there, all of them able to solve these
problems, but unable to communicate with each other.

She urges all people working on internet scripts to ensure
they are compatible with other systems.

11F-l GUNN 0:18
I belong to an international standards organisation called
ISO - the International Standards Organisation, which tried
to reconcile the representation of languages across
international barriers, and across different computing
platforms so people will actually be able to communicate
regardless of the script in use.

In AUSTRALIA, Aboriginal people are also grappling with new
internet technology.

MICHAEL CHRISTIE, from the Northern Territory University,
is setting up web sites for the YOLNGU(yol-en-ngaw) people
of Arnhem Land.

Like MARION GUNN, MR CHRISTIE also liaises with global
organisations to ensure the internet caters for all people.

11F-m CHRISTIE 0:19
Part of our work is to get the internationally recognised
bodies set up so that they do listen to indigenous voices
all over the place, and structure the ways that information
is stored in ways that relflect indigenous people's

He says YOLNGU(yol-en-ngaw) people use a script introduced
by Methodist Missionaries almost seventy years ago.

But he says this contains accents, acutes, grafs and
circumflexes* which are difficult to use on the internet.
*signs which change the pronunciation of letters)

He says it's vital that Aboriginal people are not excluded
from the internet.

11F-n CHRISTIE 0:14
Yolunghu are widely seperated from each other through lots
of little communities, certainly in the future, internet
type communication may become as important as telephones
are at the moment.

CAOIMHIN O DONNAILE(Qwee-heem o donally) also runs the
European Minority Language web page, which contains
information on more than 50 rare tongues.

11F-o O DONALIE 0:35
I'm in front of the comouter so i'll just click on the
page...It's most of the European minority languages, some
of which I don't even know very well myself...Albershay,
asturiano, Bairisch, which is Bavarian-german,
Brezhonequewith is Britain, Catalan, Corsican, Welsh,
Delnor Serbski, which I think is one of the small Slavic
enclaves in the former East Germany, Basque, Cerouise -
that's just the start.

Through this web page, users can find links to specialised
information on each language.

Australian Communication's RICHARD CHIRGWIN says market
forces may also help preserve some languages, but those
based in poorer countries may be ignored.

11F-p Chrigwin 0:27
The most populous country in the world in China, therefore
to exclude Chinese who do not speak English from the
internet is also to exclude what is potentially the largest
single market, or to exclude Japanese speakers from the
internet is to exclude possibly the wealthiest market.

CAOINHIN O DONNAILE (Qwee Heem O DONALIE)is optimistic that
the internet will help keep endangered languages alive.

11F-q O DONALIE 0:37
The internet is a great resource and it's going to get
better and better, there will not only be text, there'll be
sound material and I think some languages which had been
fated to die out because the numbers are so small will
manage to keep going, because there'll be material
available on the net. It's part of the cultural inheritance
of mankind...(sound of modem connecting, then typing(0:15)


Marion Gunn, Everson Gunn Teoranta
27 Páirc an Fhéithlinn; Baile an Bhóthair; Co. Átha Cliath; Éire
Gutháin:  +353 1 478-2597, +353 1 283-9396
15 Port Chaeimhghein Íochtarach; Baile Átha Cliath 2; Éire (Ireland)

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