Re: Burma/Myanmar

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Mon Oct 04 1999 - 23:29:20 EDT


> As "bright, educated, and personable" as these representatives may have
> been, I'm not very confident that the "official representatives" approved by
> the brutal SLORC regime are going to stand up in a public forum and declare
> their opposition to a policy that SLORC has been trying to actively promote
> around the world, even if there's no uniformed thug in the room glaring at
> them. They may, in fact, have genuinely approved of the name but, based on
> this answer, I still don't have any reason for believing so (or believing
> not, for that matter). I'm just wondering out loud, perhaps for the benefit
> of those Burmese who aren't able to freely speak for themselves. If they had
> opposed it, how would we know? Would they have been less bright, educated,
> and personable?

A reasonable question. I cannot crawl into their heads, of course, nor
do I wish to make this an issue of personalities. Suffice it to say
that the MITSC delegation used "Myanmar" consistently and made their
opinion regarding the name known.

You and others may think that WG2 was "had" by a delegation with a hidden
political agenda of international legitimization. But frankly, with the
way WG2 works, there was little likelihood of any other outcome. Asian
committee members by and large sympathized with and supported the
Myanmar request. The U.S. delegation's charter on character names
is essentially to not fight over names until they are finalized by the
ballotting, and then to insist that they don't change because of the
destabilizing impact of name changes on the standard. Given that mix,
and given the serious technical issues in the Myanmar encoding that
needed to be worked out, it was basically a foregone conclusion that
the Myanmar delegation was going to get the character names they

> Actually, the part about it being a different transliteration of the same
> word was something that I have been aware of for some time. So were Cambodia
> and Kampuchea, yet the people of Cambodia wasted no time in eliminating all
> use of the term "Kampuchea" as soon as they drove the hated Khmer Rouge from
> power. Though the same in Khmer, the variant transliterations represented
> different governments.
> I don't know if Burma and Myanmar are the same or not, and I'm still
> wondering.

"Myanmar" may well be freighted now with SLORC illegitimacy. I
don't run in Burmese freedom fighter circles, so I don't know.
Actually, I guess it should now be called SPDC (State Peace
and Development Council) illegitimacy.

If anybody really wants to run this down:

has links to all kinds of organizations, from the mainstream NLD
to ones that might be a rather unpleasant themselves. And yes, they
appear to avoid the term "Myanmar". So maybe the next government -- whoever
they might be -- will change the name of the country back to
Burma. And they may engage in a campaign of frenetic name
rectification. Or maybe not.

> > the people of Myanmar that WG2 heard from clearly *did* prefer
> > "Myanmar".
> Or so the official representatives of the people who made that name change
> officially claimed for the official record.

Of course.

> > And since they were also very knowledgeable about
> > character encoding, computers, and software implementations,
> > and since they were engaged in the process, their opinions
> > weighed heavily in the decision that WG2 made.
> >
> Or at least the opinions that they were able to express.
> Of course, we can't read their minds, and I honestly don't know, so this
> isn't a criticism of anyone, least of all of the UTC who didn't even create
> the name. I just haven't yet seen any good evidence that the Burmese people
> aren't being irrevocably tagged with a name that represents SLORC more than
> Burma.

It isn't the Burmese people who are being irrevocably tagged with the name --
it is a list of 78 characters in 10646.

If a legitimate government or other organizations object to the term
Myanmar in the future, on whatever grounds, the introduction and discussions
of the script can always be rewritten in the Unicode Standard to reflect whatever
current sensibilities and politically correct opinion suggests. It is just the
tags for the 78 characters that stay constant.

And there are ways around even that. The French, of course, are not
satisfied with anything in English, and so plan on translating the
whole 10646 standard, *including* the character names, into French.
A future Myanmar (or Burmese) government could decide to do the same
thing -- and interestingly enough, now that Myanmar (or Burmese) is
encoded in Unicode, they could do it in Unicode and translate the
relevant character names into Myanmar (or Burmese).

By the way, lest people get the impression that WG2 just got
hook, line, and sinkered by some slickeroos, it may be helpful to
note that the fact that Unicode 3.0 retains Pali and Sanskrit extensions
for the Myanmar (or Burmese) script, that a contiguous extension area was
reserved calculated to fit the additional characters needed in the
future to cover Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, and Shan, and that that
extension area was not visibly represented in the standard as a second-class
area, was at the insistence of the U.S. and Irish delegations. The
Myanmar delegation would just as soon have seen the encoding limited to
standard Myanmar (or Burmese) only.


> Glen Perkins

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