Re: "Lost in translation"

From: Doug Ewell (
Date: Mon Jun 10 2002 - 11:32:30 EDT

Alistair Vining <alistair dot vining at ntlworld dot com> quoted Brian
Whitaker in the _Guardian_:

> "Transcribing Arabic into the Roman alphabet is fraught with
> difficulty. And in an age of electronic text, search engines and
> databases, the problem is only going to get worse"

Surprisingly to some, Unicode won't do much to solve this problem. It
will make it much easier to store, exchange, and query Arabic-script
text. But people who can't read the Arabic script will continue to need
Latin transcriptions.

> "Besides these, there is ISO 233, DIN 31635 and even a British
> standard, BS 4280, which people are actively discouraged from
> finding out about or using. The copyright of BS 4280 is closely
> guarded by the British Standards Institute which charges £28 ($39)
> for an eight-page booklet explaining the system."

I assume the £28 fee is what causes Whitaker to claim the standard is
"discouraged." Sadly, this is absolutely typical for national and
international standards. Governments don't tend to subsidize standards
bodies, which require significant amounts of time to analyze, discuss,
and codify standards. Since these activities are not subsidized, the
user of the finished product must pay the price of R&D.

Upon checking the price of other standards published by BSI, ANSI, ISO,
etc., Whitaker may find that they are just as oppressively priced as BS

The high cost of developing standards also means very little money is
left for advertising or promoting them. The ISO 3166 maintenance agency
has recently revamped their Web site to include some public relations
material, which is nice, but if you're at their site you probably
already know about the standard. Likewise, it's hard for BSI to promote
BS 4280 or any other standard unless the cost of promotion is passed on
to the user.

I often use information about standards that has been "bootlegged" or
"pirated" off the Web. I'm not proud of that, but I'm not wealthy
either, and I'd rather follow standards than make up my own.

ObUnicode: What is the likelihood that Unicode would have half the
public awareness it now has if the public had only heard of "ISO 10646"?

-Doug Ewell
 Fullerton, California

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