Yesterday, Google announced the launch of Script Converter, a transliteration tool, which allows users to change the script of/to any of 17 languages, most of them Indic: Bengali, English, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit, Serbian, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.
Who needs it? Well, probably many of us on the Internet and Mobile space in India, since our exposure to Indic scripts is still very limited, despite the best effort of several media and tools companies. I, for one, feel much more comfortable reading Hindi in an English script: it’s just too tedious for me to focus on long passages in a script (Devanagari) that I learned in school for eleven years, because my experience with the script has been rather limited since. I can read it, write it (without much confidence), but it irks me that it requires a concentrated effort. Perhaps, this is also why I feel that the Indic language efforts need all the support they can get. We were taught in school about Sanskrit, and how as the rigid language of the state, it didn’t evolve; eventually Hindi became the norm. Languages die, and usually, the script goes first.
If there’s one presentation from TedX Mumbai (disclosure below) that haunts me, it is Ganesh Devy’s moving presentation on languages in India:
“In 1961 census, there were 1652 mother tongues claimed in India. After 1971, the number of official languages was brought down to 108, officially making 1400 languages without any citizenship.”…”If we did not have the word, we would not have the world.”
What has been troubling me since, perhaps, is the thought that I’d like to leave you with: are we in the Indian digital space being short sighted? How democratic is the greatest of all democracies – the Internet? Is the audience for Indic languages just not there online or mobile, or is that because of the barriers to entry for a large part of our population are just too high? By not breaking down these barriers, are we conspirators?
And are we creating – to paraphrase Devy – a monolingual digital cut-off? Think about it.
Disclosure: My trip to and stay in Mumbai, and the attendance of the event was sponsored by TedXMumbai sponsors Cleartrip, though, in my personal capacity)