Re: Breaking free from UNICODE

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Tue Aug 19 2003 - 17:42:46 EDT

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    Don Osborn wondered:

    > Such opinions - and they are not necessarily isolated cranks - make one
    > wonder if there is not a huge "outreach" gap in Unicode's longterm strategy.

    Perhaps. Although I don't think I would characterize it as a "huge" gap.

    > A session on internet & African languages that was part of the WSIS prepcom
    > in Bamako last year was critical of Unicode as it is. An individual on the
    > newsgroup fr.comp.normes.unicode denounced Unicode as an American scheme.

    The problem is, like much else, Unicode has gotten caught up in
    the much larger political, social, and economic currents regarding
    globalization. There are plenty of people who come into the discussion
    with preconceived notions (many of which are at least partially
    accurate) regarding the intent of American driven information
    technology, and more generally, global corporations, to control the

    No amount of well-intended outreach, education, PR, or spinning
    by the Unicode Consortium is likely to have much of a direct impact
    on that larger tidal wave of the Zeitgeist, IMO. Particularly
    with the American government behaving the way it has recently. :-(

    If people want to believe the worst of Unicode, they will do so
    and manage to find reasons in the standard or on the website to
    support their opinions, no matter what we say.

    > And the posting below...
    > Or more benignly, an eminent linguist who seriously questions how one can
    > treat several scripts on a single computer.

    As a trained linguist myself, I find this kind of learned opposition
    from linguists who ought to know better particularly disturbing,
    though not surprising, actually. As in any field of endeavor, there
    are many eminent linguists who are computer-averse or who fail
    to apply the same standards of analytic rigor that they might
    apply to linguistic data, to the problem of computational representation
    of text. Some seem to expect too little of computers, while others
    set impossible goals inappropriate for the scope of Unicode.

    > Or computer trainers (in a
    > multilingual society) who have heard the name "unicode," but have no clear
    > idea what it means.
    > Am I the only one wondering, or is there more that the Consortium could do
    > for public education in its own cause? Perhaps there are good explanations
    > and I should hasten to add I'm not criticizing anyone. But the need seems
    > evident, at least from out here in the cloudy Sahel.

    If anyone happens to know of a Carl Sagan
    sitting around with nothing to do and with a hankering to put on
    a television spectacular extolling the glory of billions and
    billions of characters, I'm sure the Unicode Consortium
    would be pleased to cooperate in providing source material
    and interviews for the TV script. ;-)


    > Don Osborn

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