June 2, 2008
Regarding ‘Teachers back ‘personal adoptive language proposal’:
I am writing to you (in English as the lingua franca) because you attended the public hearing on multilingualism in Brussels on 15 April.
I would like to point to the fact that in the whole discussion, there is a widely neglected aspect: character sets.
Our modern society is increasingly dependent on written sources of language, like newspapers, books, databases, internet pages and e-mail. But without the appropriate set of characters, it is impossible to type, print, subtitle or e-mail text correctly in a given language.
This affects mainly the languages of the ‘new’ EU countries, regional or minority languages and immigrant languages, especially those with non-Latin alphabets (like Arabic and Cyrillic).
Currently, the European IT market is fragmented into a dozen or so different character sets (US-ASCII, EBCDIC, ISO 8859-1, Latin-2, Windows-1252, etc.) that are too limited for pan-European use and also mutually incompatible.
In your own lives, you will certainly recall strange things happening to your e-mails. For example, as I am of German mother tongue, I frequently encounter my greetings being turned from ‘Schöne Grüße’ into ‘SchÃne GrÃ¼ÃŸe’ when I send them to a Yahoo! account. This is a direct result of non-matching character sets.
This incompatibility is having detrimental effects on linguistic identity and cultural awareness in Europe. Some examples:
* People tend to write e-mail messages without the orthographically required special characters (hooks, accents, umlauts etc.) or even without using their native alphabet “in order to avoid problems”. This has a proven negative effect on their writing abilities and compromises all efforts of language learning.
* Ethnic Slovenians in Austria (a recognised minority) are denied the legally correct spelling of their family names because the administration software does not support the necessary characters. Similar cases are reported from Germany and the Netherlands.
* The official German codification for Czech words (Dvo?ák, ?SSR) in the Duden orthographical handbook is de-facto overridden by the old IT standard ISO 8859-15 which allows only for Dvorák and CSSR. As this standard is still used by German news agencies, the wrong spelling is transported via print and online media to the broad German public and thus prevents awareness of the linguistic peculiarities of their neighbouring country.
But what can we do to stop this development and support Multilingualism?
In fact, Europe already has a common character set. It is called Unicode (also known as ISO/IEC 10646) and contains every character and alphabet that is necessary for European use.
Global IT companies and standardisation bodies delivered this tool for the preservation of European linguistic and cultural heritage as early as 1992. It was quickly implemented into the EU web pages and databases (how else could 23 official languages in three alphabets be managed?) but until today, it lacks implementation at member-state level.
Now it is our task to demand its use in public administration, in the media and in webmail applications. In this context, it would be very helpful if the Commission’s Communication on Multilingualism in September would contain these demands.Author : sylvane_casademont