The death of the Urdu script

Way back in 2009, I wrote about a few specific cases in which computers led to (subtle) changes in the Dutch language. While the changes highlighted in that article were subtle and not particularly substantial, there are cases around the world where computing threatens much more than a few subtle, barely noticeable features of a language.

This article is a bit too politicised for my taste, but if you set that aside and focus on its linguistic and technological aspects, it’s quite, quite fascinating.

Urdu is traditionally written in a Perso-Arabic script called nastaliq, a flowy and ornate and hanging script. But when rendered on the web and on smartphones and the entire gamut of digital devices at our disposal, Urdu is getting depicted in naskh, an angular and rather stodgy script that comes from Arabic. And those that don’t like it can go write in Western letters.

It’d be fantastic if Microsoft, Google, and Apple could include proper support for nastaliq into their products. It’s one thing to see Dutch embrace a new method of displaying direct quotes under the influences of computers, but to see an entire form of script threatened is another.

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