RE: Unicode politics (was: A basic question on encoding Latin cha

From: Michael Everson (
Date: Mon Oct 04 1999 - 11:53:03 EDT

Ar 06:30 -0700 1999-10-03, scríobh

>Yet, I don't think that Unicode should become an universal literacy utopy.
>It is not the task of Unicode to try to develop or promote writing systems
>for language communities that don't yet have one, nor should it try to force
>a choice for language communities that are still evaluating their options.

That is easy for you to say, Marco. All characters used by the writing
system for your language have already been encoded.

>Nor it is the task of governments, religions, or ideologies to come up with
>new writing systems.

Most of the SIL "new writing systems" mean adapting the Latin alphabet to a
standard orthography for the languages in question, not the invention of
new scripts.

>And this is how it has always been in the history of writing systems. As far
>as I know, languages have always been put in writing by natives who were
>previously acquainted with the (then) dominant language *and* its writing

Not Mayan. Not Rongorongo. Not Indus. Not Cherokee, really (Sequoyah knew
about writing and had samples, but didn't read English). But mostly writing
has been spread by diffusion, primarily due to religion, but sometimes due
to business.

>As a literate member of an European tribe, I feel that my community has no
>rights (nor skill, nor need) to do such a job. And I feel that when
>strangers (missionaries, anthropologists) actually did this, they always
>ended up with poor results. Who decided, for instance, to use rare IPA
>symbols to write some African languages?

Well, I'm not sure. There were linguists involved, of course. But most of
the strange characters for those African languages aren't even in the IPA.

In 1983 the Nigerian Federal Ministro of Education worked with Herman Zapf
to design a "Pan-Nigerian" font; that same year Zapf worked on a sans serif
face, a typewriter face, and a school handwriting face.

>Probably an anthropologist who was
>only interested in a very "scientific" recording of sounds -- and did not
>care too much that natives would, one day, have had troubles with computer
>keyboards or adhesive letters on road signs...

It was invented a long time ago, and there were no computer keyboards. But
on the whole the hooks quite nicely represent the ejective and impulsive
consonants they are intended for.

Michael Everson * Everson Gunn Teoranta *
15 Port Chaeimhghein Íochtarach; Baile Átha Cliath 2; Éire/Ireland
Guthán: +353 1 478 2597 ** Facsa: +353 1 478 2597 (by arrangement)
27 Páirc an Fhéithlinn;  Baile an Bhóthair;  Co. Átha Cliath; Éire

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