Linked by Eisel Mazard on Thu 14th Jun 2012 22:01 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes The average computer user might think that the number of languages their operating system supports is pretty long. OSX supports 22 languages, and Microsoft claims to support 96, but they're counting different regional dialects multiple times. But there are over 6000 languages, and though many of them are spoken by a dwindling few, there are some languages that are spoken by millions of people that are supported very poorly, if at all, by computer operating systems. The reason for the support being poor is that the people who speak those languages are poor, and are not good "markets." It's only because of the efforts of a few dedicated people that computing support for languages such as Burmese, Sinhalese, Pali, Cambodian, and Lao have been as good as they are, but the trends for the future are not good.
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International Phonetic Alphabet
by ozonehole on Fri 15th Jun 2012 02:38 UTC
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If all you want is write a language phonetically correct, there is no problem. You can use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA):

You can write English with the IPA, and ditto for Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, indeed every single language. It is far more phonetically accurate than the Roman alphabet, or Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.

Of course, it is not traditional, and thus may offend the sensibilities of those who think that their traditions are being trampled by modern society. Another disadvantage is that only a small percentage of the world's population has even heard of the IPA, much less knows how to read it. Yet it is not difficult to learn. Study it for a few days or a week, and you've got it.

The vast majority of the world's 6000 or so languages have no written script, so the IPA is ideal for those. However, Christian missionaries and language committees from the UN and elsewhere do not seem to be interested in spreading the IPA - they push Romanization if no ready traditional script is available.

The main problem with Romanization is that with only 26 letters available, it cannot represent every sound in every language. Indeed, the Roman alphabet isn't well suited to English, because it only has five vowels. Thus, we are told in elementary school that English has five "short vowels" and five "long vowels" for a total of 10. In fact, there are 10 vowels in spoken English, and there is no such thing as a "short" or "long" vowel - it's a band-aid approach to the problem that Latin had five spoken vowels and English has 10. In the IPA, the 10 vowels have 10 different symbols.

I understand that people like their traditions, but I don't actually see much value in creating fonts for a traditional script that only 10 people in the world can read. If somebody wants to volunteer to do the work, then great, but don't be surprised if software developers don't jump in to enthusiastically support such efforts. Also don't be surprised if Third World governments don't come up with the funding for this - their scarce funds can probably be put to better use.

Edited 2012-06-15 02:45 UTC

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