Battles lost before they begin?

From: Don Osborn (
Date: Sat Mar 13 2004 - 01:19:45 EST

  • Next message: "Re: Battles lost before they begin?"

    In any campaign there are always setbacks but you hope not to be losing winnable battles before they even start. This analogy comes to mind in reflecting on a really nice Yoruba online dictionary, Edeyede, that uses a very un-Unicode font. See

    The project came to my attention in late December 2002 but was apparently well enough committed already to designing its own font. My suggestion to consider Unicode didn't change anything. The result is something that you need to download a special font for and that is incompatible with documents in Unicode (so that, for instance, a Yoruba word in a Unicode document couldn't be copied & pasted into the search window). There is some more discussion on this at .

    Using Yoruba on computers & the internet presents some issues, not least of which is that one key aspect of the style of diacritics (mark under certain letters) is an option that has 2 different solutions in Unicode (one is a dot under, for which precomposeds exist) and the other of which is the small vertical line under. In addition the use of tone marks is advisable, raising the question as to whether to use precomposed characters where available (accent marks over simple vowels are available as precomposeds, but this is not the case with dot-under vowels). Basically there are some issues, 1 specific to the language's orthography and the others relating to how Unicode provides for the orthography, that present some complexity to a project such as this dictionary one.

    Looking for reasons for this "defeat," I think it's necessary to look at the larger issues than just the choice of the dictionary project principals. It may be that people working on the ICT side of this need to take the initiative in bringing the attention of language experts to these kinds of issues and talking about what to do (what choices make most sense to Yoruba language experts in Nigeria and abroad?).

    This is not a unique case. There are people who feel they have a very legitimate case for something other than Unicode. Not long ago, for instance, someone on U-A was proposing a new ISO-8859 for the Latin transcription of Tamazight (this was discussed out and I think laid to rest). Good cases or not, they will carry the day - with all the longer term costs that implies - unless there is more proactivity on the part of those working for a common standard for world scripts (Unicode).

    At one point the possibility of workshops or a "road show" on Unicode was discussed. Such a thing, if it can be funded, would need to look beyond awareness-raising to engaging linguistics experts on the topic of Unicode (the latter is being done on a small scale by RIFAL in some countries like Niger). Is there still interest in that idea?

    Don Osborn

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat Mar 13 2004 - 02:01:17 EST