Re: Tamil Text Messaging in Mobile Phones

Date: Fri Jul 26 2002 - 10:19:19 EDT

On 07/26/2002 12:29:53 AM "James Kass" wrote:

>> Your proposed characters must first achieve popular usage before they
>> will be encoded.
>Isn't this kind of a Catch-22 for anyone contemplating script reform?

Of course. Part of the problem is what the status of the proposed script
reform. Is it a single company or perhaps an individual suggesting that the
country should change? Then the likelihood of success is (all other things
being equal) low. Is it a government mandate? Then the likelihood of
success is high. It may be anywhere in between.

I'd suggest that the IT industry probably is not the appropriate forum
within which to introduce writing system reforms. Probably, that should
happen in government-related bodies, in schools and various other contexts
before it reaches IT. If a government is backing it, then they can make
proposals to relevant IT standards bodies, and those proposal could be
weighed by the standards bodies by how committed the government in question
is to the change. But there is too much risk involved if someone attempts
to use technology or a technology product as the vehicle by which to
introduce proposed changes.

>Do we discourage people from altering their own scripts? Should we?

No to both questions, I think. But neither should we change the course of
an international standard over something that may be a passing fancy. (This
is a general statement; I don't know enough about the Tamil case to know
what the status of that is.)

>It is suggested that scripts can be "alive" in the same sense that
>languages are "alive"; changes (which are part of life) just occur
>much more slowly in scripts.

I generally agree. And that slowness can be significant. For instance, it
has been hard enough for people in German-speaking nations of Europe to
adapt to spelling reforms, and that just involves different sequencing of
characters without changing the inventory of characters or the way they're
written. Throw the latter into the mix, and the inertia to overcome is
going to be rather greater.

There can be exceptions, of course, as in the case of Turkish, but in that
case the pre-reform conventions had many strikes against them since
literacy levels were very low, and the Arabic script was very poorly suited
to represent Turkish phonology.

Because of complexity, there may be factors weighing in favour of the
viability of writing reform for Tamil. I have heard that there is some
interest (still limited) among Bengalis in the UK to adopting Siloti Nagri
script for writing Bengali because it is so much simpler. Having heard of
that, I can find it believable that there may be interest within
communities using other Indic scripts to pursue simplifications in writing.

Even so, we probably don't want to expend a lot of resources within the IT
industry supporting changes without having first convinced ourselves that
the changes are going to be viable. I don't know enough about the Tamil
case to know how far away we are from that.

- Peter

Peter Constable

Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
Tel: +1 972 708 7485
E-mail: <>

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