*not* Tamil - changing scripts (long)

From: Curtis Clark (jcclark@mockfont.net)
Date: Fri Jul 26 2002 - 21:45:57 EDT

James Kass wrote:
> Isn't this kind of a Catch-22 for anyone contemplating script reform?
> Do we discourage people from altering their own scripts? Should we?
> 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.

This touches on some "Unicode vs. the world" issues I've been thinking
about, having to do with indigenous peoples developing orthographies for
their own languages.

My two examples are both languages of the Takic group in southern
California. The Luiseño language declined to a very few native speakers,
but has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. The Gabrieleno (Tongva)
language was effectively extinct—no native speakers, no recordings, some
amount of written documentation—but the Tongva are resurrecting it (it
is similar enough to the other Takic languages that it is possible to
reconstruct parts that are missing).

Anthropological accounts of both languages are of course in the phonetic
alphabets beloved by linguists in the days before IPA stabilization.
And, like many other native Americans, the Luiseño and Tongva have
wanted simpler orthographies that can be typed with US-English keyboards.

I don't have a lot of familiarity with Luiseño, but web pages have
included passages where non-letters (such as @) are used as letters.
This solves the keyboarding problem (since few people would try to
pronounce an email address as Luiseño), but I imagine all sorts of
issues with sorthing, searching, word selection, casing, and all the
other sorts of things that computers can do for "major" languages.

Where all this involves me is with Tongva. I have been working with a
Tongva ethnobotanist on a project that, among other things, involves
plant labels in Tongva, English, and Latin. Tongva spelling is currently
inconsistent, and my colleague has been regularizing it for this project
(because he is the primary language teacher for the nation, and few have
any fluency at all, he has this freedom). Somewhat like English, Tongva
represents both the "oo" and "uh" sounds both by "u". Unlike English,
the rest of the orthography provides no clues to which sound is meant.

/If/ my colleague were to ask (and the Tongva may be satisfied with the
existing orthography), I would suggest representing the "uh" sound with
a Latin-1 letter (possibly û), and explain several simple alternatives
for keyboarding it on Mac and Windows. I would *not* suggest overloading
@, or some similar approach.

I suppose that Unicode could add at some point "Luiseño letter @", with
appropriate properties, but that would circumvent the reason for picking
it: its presence in US-ASCII. In an ideal world, indigenous peoples
would hook up with folks like Michael Everson (or even me) and get some
guidance on how to have their orthography and eat it, too, but as things
now stand, overloading, font hacks, and the like are the path of least

Curtis Clark                  http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/
Mockingbird Font Works                  http://www.mockfont.com/

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