Re: Greek characters in IPA usage

From: verdy_p (
Date: Tue Aug 18 2009 - 16:45:49 CDT

  • Next message: Roozbeh Pournader: "Re: Greek characters in IPA usage"

    "Roozbeh Pournader" wrote:
    > Honestly, who wants to fund it, except a government who may wish to test
    > script reform? And if they want to do such a huge script reform, why
    > shouldn't they just fix all the troubles at the same time (bidi, local
    > digits, ...) and switch to something like Latin?

    Languages and scripts in which they are written, are a strong part of the national identity of many people and
    countries. You cannot reform them without lots of resistance, even if you have lots of supporters for this change.
    So governments have to take into account their legacy inheritage that they don't want to loose, or that they don't
    want to make inaccessible to most people after the switch, if people are trained only to the new system

    In addition, this transition has a significant cost, that may not be ignored in countries where education for the
    mass is already a huge problem that already requires lots of efforts.

    Before making the switch, they have to consider what they will gain in terms of economy for educating the mass, and
    if the additional cost for training those that want access to documents using the older systems can be overriden by
    the ease of training them starting by the new system before the older system (a supplementary cost would be
    considered if the gains that were obtained with the new system could be reused to convert the older documents in
    order to make them accessible to the mass trained to the new system): a transition is likely to occur most often
    only if the old system has failed to gain significant success for training the mass for better litteracy.

    In a country where only a small minority is educated, and already has enough economic power to be able to pay the
    transition to a new system without lots of difficulties, this is not a problem: the switch is probably desirable
    (but this does not mean that they must adopt Latin only: any widely used script can be as convenient, and culturally
    more acceptable, notably if there already exists significant corpus in that script, including historic texts).

    For this transition, it will generally be a good idea to create and use a translitteration system that is
    unambiguous, and keeps most of the distinctions that were present in the older system. This system should be simple
    to train, and preferably automatable by computing tools, supported by a national standard for the languages
    considered, so that the conversion cost can be minimized: it will also ease the transition for those that are only
    accustomed to the older system and will have difficulties to make the transition (notably aged people).

    But such transliteration tool will not always be usable in every situation: we don't always need to read texts on
    computers (people read books and newspapers, have to fill administrative forms, new books are expensive to buy for
    many schools and public libraries, publishers can't always support the costs of double printing in the same edition,
    or of selling multiple editions), and even some automated devices are unable to support the new transliteration
    tools and are not replacable before long or cannot display multiple scripts or languages simultaneously without a
    significant cost (e.g. TV sets, even when using digital technologies, road traffic indicators, ...)

    Just consider the huge costs that was supported when changing just a currency unit and training people to the new
    prices in the European Union. It took years for people to be used (partly) to the new system, and a transition
    period with dual systems had to be initiated. The change was not significant only in the countries where the switch
    occured, but also internationally, in order to have them support and accept the new currency, and being able to
    process it.

    You can also compare this situation to the currently ongoing costs (and complications) of transition from analog to
    digital TV: many people do not understand the need for this costly transition if this does not give them extra
    benefits (that must then be provided for free by the initiators of the new system, as well as by the all existing
    channels and program producers).

    You can translate these cases to the costs for importers of products (designed years before) and that need to be
    readapted to add/change the instruction guides, security notices, and possibly register again their new trademarks,
    domain names, and so on to the new script, or to sellers or keepers of books, whose stocks will become unusable or
    mostly unsellable if the switch-over is too brutal...

    Now, if the switch takes too long, it could fail completely as the cost for maintaining the dual system will be even
    worse than the cost of not performing the transition for the same time (or the projected financial needs may become
    worse than expected), people will not adopt it, and all this spent money will have been thrown away.

    Given that switching a script can effectively force people to loose their precious existing assets (and becoming
    "stupid" if they don't understand the new system), the resistances are very strong: even a much simpler orthographic
    reform that wants to make it more regular or more matching with the most frequent usage (as perceived from somewhere
    in a given period) is known to have strong resistances and to create confusions:

    Such reforms rarely follow the fast but unstable evolutions of actual languages, and people need a long enough "test
    period" where dual systems will coexist and will compete with each other, before accepting one of the competitors...
    or even another one. This is also very risky because it can split a previously unified community into two separate
    communities not discussing very well with each other, or possibly generate severe cultural conflicts.

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