अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

September 29, 2007

When Encoded Convenience Gets Decoded as Frustration

Filed under: Linguistics et al.,Things As They Are,Work — anileklavya @ 8:32 am

Almost since the first time I got long time access to a computer (that would be around one and half decade ago), I have been struggling to use computers for Indian languages. That was much before I managed to reach a place where I could do research in language+computers. There are many who say that India is an ‘IT super power’ and I am living in a city which has almost become the IT capital of this ‘super power’. But I still can’t use computers easily for Indian languages for all the purposes for which I can use computers for English. Very easily.

Much of this has to do with the way language and encoding support is provided on computers. A lot also has to do with the simple fact that somewhere, someone (should I say manywhere, manyone?) preferred a convenient method over a much much better one. That convenience got encoded into something which was to be a solution to some problem or some information which I needed. When I tried to decode that, I got enough frustration to make me think about doing something.

Yes, this post is provoked by a fresh downpour of decoded frustration.

So I have been trying to do something to reduce the amount of such encoded convenience in the Universe, but I have trouble even in convincing others that there is a problem. (Digression: You could say that one of the ways I am using to prolong the heat life of the Universe is entropy itself. Food for thought. But the Second Law of Thermodynamics ensures that even as I try this, I add my own share of, what else, entropy.)

If there is in fact a problem, many others might also be facing the same problem, right? Then why am I unable to convince others that there is a problem? Simply because the size of intersection of the sets of people who I have to convince to address this problem and of those who face this problem is very small. These are different people. Those who can address the problem don’t face the problem because they don’t really want (or need?) to be able to use computers for Indian languages with the same ease with which they can use computers for English. They, at most, use computer for Indian languages for very limited purposes and are quite content with ad-hoc solutions. On the other hand, those who want the Indian languages* to be equally privileged with some other languages spoken by the same number of people, are usually not the ones who can address this problem.

* I will repeat here for the Nth time that MANY of these languages are natively spoken by HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people. They may be less privileged languages, but it is not quite appropriate to call them ‘minority languages’. Of course, there are also real minority languages in India…

More coming…

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