Tamil

Indian Government, Tamil Unicode and Devanagari Script

(How the Indian Government "Down-Graded" Tamil Unicode?)

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 2017 (ID. 2017-01-01)
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OUTLINE

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

1. What is Unicode?
2. Indian Government Makes Tamil Script a Subset of Devanagari
3. How Tamil Unicode was "Degraded"?
4. An Un-needed Crutch for Tamil
5. Indian government promoting Devanagari Script
    5.1. The Case of Konkani Language
    5.2. The Case of Kashmiri Language
    5.3. The Case of Indian Posts and Telegraph
6. A Request to Computer Standards Organizations

ABBREVIATIONS

ISO - International Standardization Organization (International Organization for Standardization)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Tamil script is better suited for computer rendering than Devanagai script because Tamil does not have conjunct consonants. Because of Indian government's incorrect recommendation that Tamil script be treated as a subset of Devanagari script, Tamil is brought down a notch to the same level as Devanagari. Intentional or not, it is unfortunate. We request that computer standards organizations consult the state governments (organized on linguistic basis) on matters relating to Indian languages. 

1. What is Unicode?

Unicode is a standard system adopted by major computer software developers to create documents in different languages using computers. For those who want a more technical definition: Unicode is an international encoding standard to support the processing and display of written texts of diverse languages across different platforms and programs.

2. Indian Government Makes Tamil Script a Subset of Devanagari

The Unicode consortium approached Indian government for its recommendations for the various "Indian languages". (We want to point that there is no linguistic family called "Indian languages". The phrase "Indian languages" refers to the languages spoken within the country of India that was formed in 1947 following the end of British rule over South Asia. There are many languages in this country, some dating back to thousands of years and some hundreds of years. There is no common script for all these languages; neither do all the scripts fall under some "script family".)

Indian government asked the Unicode consortium to treat all Indian language scripts as subsets of Devanagari script although linguistically Devanagari is not a superset nor super-script for Tamil script (and may be some other Indian languages too). 

3. How Tamil Unicode was "Degraded"?

Because the Indian government asked the Unicode consortium to treat all Indian language scripts as subsets of Devanagari script although linguistically (scientifically) Devanagari is not a superset nor super-script for Tamil script, writing and displaying Tamil script on computers less efficient and less optimal (sub-optimal). [Author borrowed the terms superscript and sub-optimal from Mani Manivannan's posts in Facebook in October 2014.] The following paragraph is based on Mr. Manivannan's 2014 interview to a Tamil magazine [Reference 1] and his Facebook posts in October 2014.

"A major difference between Tamil and Devanagari scripts is that Tamil script does not have conjunct consonants like Devanagari. Because Unicode Tamil script does not have conjunct consonants, Unicode could have used a linear arrangement of Tamil consonants. This would have made it unnecessary for the use of "complex rendering engine" (Davanagari requires it. If properly done Tamil would not have.) But because the Indian government asked Unicode consortium to make Tamil script a subset of Devanagari script, Tamil also now requires complex rendering engine. This makes display of Tamil text in some word processing software incorrect and searching Tamil text in Adobe PDF software Acrobat difficult, until these software implement complex script support." A more detailed discussion may be found in Reference 1; we suggest that those who know Tamil read that reference for more information. [Mani M. Manivannan was chairman of Tamil Unicode Working Group of the International Forum for Information Technology in Tamil (INFITT)]

4. An Un-needed Crutch for Tamil

By asking the Unicode to treat Tamil script as a subset of Devanagari script, Indian government made Tamil wear a crutch it does not need. Let me explain. Tamil script is better suited for computers than Devanagari because it does not have conjunct consonants. Scripts that have conjunct consonants (for example, Devanagati) need complex rendering engine (an additional software) to display the letters properly on screen and in searching text. By making Tamil script a subset of Devanagari, Indian government had made it necessary for Tamil also to require complex rendering engine (a necessary "crutch" for Devanagari but an unnecessary crutch for Tamil).

5. Indian government promoting Devanagari Script

Indian government asking the consortium to treat Devanagari script as the superscript for all Indian languages seems to be an intentional effort to set Devanagari script above all else. Devanagari script is used to write Sanskrit and Hindi, the two languages favoured by Indian government. Indian government pushing Devanagari script over and above other Indian language scripts is not new.

5.1. The Case of Konkani Language

Konkani language is spoken mostly in southern India. Majority of Konkani speakers live in Karnataka State (Kannada is the primary state language). Konkani does not have its own script. Most Konkani literature is written in Kannada script, with some literature in Malayalam, Roman (English), Arabic and Devanagari. In 2016, Indian Government's Sahitya Academy made it mandatory for Konkani submissions for the prestigious Sahitya Academy Awards be in the Devanagari script (Bangalore Mirror; May 2, 2016). Sahitya Academy's order is like imposing Devanagari script on the Konkani language. Some Konkani scholars sued the academy and it is still pending in court.

5.2. The Case of Kashmiri Language

Indian government proposed in 2005 that Devanagari be used as an alternative script for Kashmiri language although there is a distinct Kashmiri script for over five centuries. The proposal was dropped because of opposition among Kashmiri speakers. Indian government again brought out the same proposal in 2016. Kashmiri writers and poets opposed the idea again (Kashmir Reader; May 24, 2016).

5.3. The Case of Indian Posts and Telegraph

When telegraph was a popular form of long-distance communication (before the days of fax and e-mail), Indian government allowed only English and Hindi. When other language groups wanted telegraph in their languages too, Indian government told them that they may telegraph in their language if they write the message in Devanagari script; another attempt to force people to use Devanagari script. Indian government yielded after much protests from Tamil Nadu and Tamil was also made available in some telegraph offices.

Thus asking Unicode consortium to use Indian language scripts as subsets of Devanagari seems to be yet another attempt to thrust this script into other languages.

6. A Request to Computer Standards Organizations

Indian government is not the guardian of all Indian languages. Guardians of Indian languages are the state governments where the respective languages are spoken. Karnataka for Kannada, Kerala for Malayalam, Maharashtra for Marathi, Tamil Nadu for Tamil, Andhra and Telengana for Telugu, etc. So international standardization organizations like ISO should consult state governments (if necessary, through the Indian government) and take their recommendations into account. This is the only way to protect the uniqueness and integrity of Indian languages.

Thanjai Nalangkilli



REFERENCES

1. http://www.yarl.com/forum3/index.php?showtopic=144938

RELATED ARTICLES (updated in ---------------)

1. Hindi-centric Automated Computer Translation of Indian Languages (Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu ...) (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2016 (16 KB) (h)

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