Re: Tamil Text Messaging in Mobile Phones

From: James Kass (
Date: Fri Jul 26 2002 - 01:33:51 EDT

Michael Kaplan wrote (2002-07-22),

> Sinnathurai Srivas is a member of INFITT's WG02 (Working Group 02, Unicode
> Tamil) who has been long advocating changes to Unicode Tamil that would be
> done in a "linear" manner that would remove the requirement of complex
> rendering. It would of course require many changes to rendering rules and
> character properties.

The changes advocated seem to be more related to the Tamil script
itself rather than the way that it is encoded.

Tamil's encoding is called logical encoding, as opposed to visual encoding.
The reform proposals seem to point towards writing Tamil logically,
in this sense meaning in the same order that it's encoded.

(This is not to imply that Tamil is presently written illogically. or
anything like that. Perhaps the choice of 'logical' to refer to an
encoding which does not match the order in which type is set was
unfortunate. Maybe something like "natural" (visual) and
"artificial" (logical)?)

Problems with displaying reformed Tamil text encoded in Unicode
aren't related to the encoding itself; the encoding is fine. Problems
arise when default operating system handling re-orders certain
combinations, which is expected behaviour in traditional Tamil text,
but is completely unwanted under the reform.

> At this point you might wonder how it would be possible to do this without
> breaking compatibility -- well, no need to wondeer, it would not be
> possible. Compatibility would have to be sacrificed.

This was discussed a while ago on the OpenType list. If an approach
were taken similar to that taken for Malayalam, which has traditional
and reformed orthographies, then there shouldn't be any sacrifice of
compatibility. With one script tag for traditional and a different
script tag for reformed, a Unicode-engine could apply default
complex rendering where it is required and only where it is required.

What this would mean is that it should be possible to display the same
file both ways, depending upon a font's internal tables and possibly

Reform means change, though, and change implies that updates
will be necessary. If a property of a character changes through
popular use, then it's up to standards organizations to accomodate
the change.

> Several members of the committee pointed out that these reforms would not be
> possible without invalidating existing implementations. After some
> discussion, the chairman noted that he saw no way that such a proposal could
> actually be accomplished.

Where there's a will, there's a way. (As the old saw goes...)

Acceptance of any script reform is up to its users.

Best regards,

James Kass.

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