QOTD: Aditya Mukerjee on the second-class languages of Unicode

At Model View Culture, an article hilariously/depressingly entitled “I Can Text You a Pile of Poo, But I Can’t Write My Name“:

The very first version of the Unicode standard did include Bengali. However, it left out a number of important characters. Until 2005, Unicode did not have one of the characters in the Bengali word for “suddenly”. Instead, people who wanted to write this everyday word had to combine three separate, unrelated characters. For English-speaking teenagers, combining characters in unexpected ways, like writing ‘w’ as ‘\/\/’, used to be a way of asserting technical literacy through “l33tspeak” – a shibboleth for nerds that derives its name from the word “elite”. But Bengalis were forced to make similar orthographic contortions just to write a simple email: ত + ্ + ‍ = ‍ৎ (the third character is the invisible “zero width joiner”).

Even today, I am forced to do this when writing my own name. My name is not only a common Indian name, but one of the top 1,000 names in the United States as well. But the final letter has still not been given its own Unicode character, so I have to use a substitute.

I’m a monolingual Anglo person whose worst name issue is “it was too long for a Twitter handle”, so the whole article was mind-blowing.

Having privilege means not really noticing you have it; you’re just living life on an easier difficulty setting than everyone else. When it comes to typing in my language on a computer, I don’t have to find workarounds just to write my name, because it’s already been designed with my needs in mind.

Unless, of course, I ever get a doctorate …


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