In Depth | Assamese and Unicode

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Social media has recently been flooded with posts about Unicode and the Assamese script; some positive and some negative. News have been making round about providing a new range for Assamese in Unicode. However, it has also come to light that certain confusions have been pertaining with the issue.

Firstly, one has to overcome the confusion between a language and a script. Unicode Consortium’s codes are assigned based on script and not the language. And a single script can be used to write more than one language. For instance, English language is written in Roman script or Latin script. There is no such thing as an English script.

Similarly, in India, the Devanagari script is used to write most of the languages, including Hindi; but the name of the script is not ‘Hindi’. On the other hand, there are languages which use more than one script. Example may be given of Punjabi language which is written in ‘Gurmukhi’ script in India and in ‘Shahmukhi’ script in Pakistan. As both Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi are different scripts, Unicode Consortium has provided ranges for both scripts despite being used for the same language.

It may be mentioned here that the Indian government, while sending various scripts to the Unicode consortium, had sent the script of our language as “Bangla Script”; and during that time, the Assamese people had no clue whatsoever on the matter. This Bangla Script, with slight variations, is used for Assamese and Bishnupuriya Manipuri language among a few others.

Difference now:

Our script now shares the same name as another language. The Assamese people do not want their script to be named after another language – Bangla.

Unicode consortium had heard the matter a few years back and said that the Indian government had sent it as “Bangla Script” and as such the consortium has no fault in the matter. The consortium also added that Assamese and Bangla letters are 90% similar and as such, because difference of 50 letters and name of the language, the question of providing a different range does not arise. “Due to slight differences in the two languages, the consortium cannot provide a separate range. If that is done, all languages using Roman script with slight differences will also have to be provided a range” Unicode Consortium added.

Due to disputes arising on the script, the consortium had renamed the script as “Bangla-Assamese Script” around three years back (AND NOT IN THE RECENTLY HELD MEETING).

Now, if one really loves his/her language, he/she needs to urge the consortium to rename scripts across the world, including third party devices such as mobile phones and computers. If one is not satisfied with “Bangla-Assamese Script”, a new name has to be suggested; however, history is witness to the fact that it is near impossible. After the name is changed, people need to extensively use this script as 90% content of the script in the internet is of Bengali language. E-papers and e-magazines too have to be uploaded in the script and not images, as an image is recognised as an image only irrespective of the letters and script used in it.

If one knows how to write in the particular script, it is necessary that the same is taught to others in order to propagate the script.

If the consortium declares an Assamese script tomorrow, without the above quoted steps being taken, we shall lose all content in Assamese language on the internet; the content shall be considered a part of Bangla script. One may ask “Why not use a script converter and convert all sites to the new Assamese script?” But is it that simple? Will all work with the same sincerity? One may take a look at Assamese Wikipedia and shall come to know that the above mentioned task is near impossible.

The Bangla and Assamese script shall be similar and nobody can ensure that there shall be no mix-up while writing both.

What is shocking is that the renamed “Bangla-Assamese Script” has not yet been adopted by third party devices; hence, nobody knows when the new “Assamese Script” will be adopted after recognition. So, how feasible is it to start a new script from the scratch when attaining the present status consumed so much of time. One also has to understand the technical side of the issue.

The ones who had flooded social media with posts of Unicode and Assamese; did they know these things?

If you understand, explain to those who don’t; if you know, teach them who doesn’t!

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