Thursday January 18, 2018

Assamese want recognition for their script in computer coding

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Guwahati: The rich history of Assam from the times of Brahmi script in Guptan times to the rock inscriptions and copper plates of fourth and fifth centuries has the ability to convince the US-based Unicode Consortium to give it a sperate slot for its script and remove computational intricacies in using it in the digital age.

The Unicode Consortium, that gives languages a set of universal characters for use in computers, identifies Assamese as another form of Bengali script, making its use difficult in the digital world.

The Assam government recently submitted to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) that it is a historically evolved script with its own set of characters and symbols representing written texts. But the non-inclusion of this in Unicode and ISO standards has triggered problems in using the language in computers.

During the initial days of digital standards for the Indian Languages in the first Indian Script Code for Information Interchange (ISCII) released by BIS in December 1991, a clear mention was made of the Assamese script. The ISCII document released by BIS clearly mentioned that the northern scripts are Devnagari, Punjabi, Gujarati, Oriya, Bengali, and Assamese, while the southern scripts are Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil, an official said.

“However, in all subsequent standards like ISO and Unicode, Assamese script has not been included,” said the official, who is on the panel constituted by the Assam government to push its case for a separate slot on the Unicode, but who did not wish to be identified.

Literary bodies, academicians, and researchers in Assam had objected to the Unicode Consortium move and written to the union government. The Assam government was then asked to submit a detailed proposal that would subsequently be referred to the US body.

While literary bodies such as Asom Sahitya Sabha (ASS) had maintained that the Assamese language was being neglected, Satyakam Phukan, a surgeon who has researched the origin of the Assamese script, said it could be due to lack of knowledge of the US-body about the uniqueness of the script.

“The Assamese alphabets were not separately encoded by Unicode. Following their policy of unification, the Assamese script was eclipsed into Bengali. The uniqueness of the Assamese script was perhaps unknown to the mainly American experts of Unicode,” Phukan told IANS.

The Assam government’s proposal to BIS went deeper into the origin of the script to push for a separate slot for the local language.

“The Assamese script is one of the important scripts of Eastern India. Assamese script is originated from the Brahmi script of the Gupta age. Studies of the rock inscriptions and copper plate inscriptions of the 4th, 5th and later centuries, discovered in different parts of Assam, clearly indicate that the Assamese script is the evolutionary resultant of the scripts used in rock and copper plate inscriptions and other objects like coins and clay seals of Nalanda,” the Assam government’s proposal to the BIS said.

“The evolution of this Assamese script can be divided into three different stages: Old Assamese script or the Kamrupi script (4th/5th to 13th century); Medieval Assamese script (13th to early part of 19th century) and Modern script from the early part of the nineteenth century,” the proposal said.

It further said that the Assamese script started to take its modern form in the early part of the 13th century as evident from the Kanai-Barashibowa rock inscriptions in north Guwahati.

The script received its modern form when the missionaries started printed books and magazines in the early 19th century. The first printed book in Assamese was “Dharmapustak”, a translation of the Bible by Atmaram Sarma from Kaliabar in Assam, published in 1813.

“In the digital world, to use a language as the medium of information, we must have all the characters and symbols with proper codes. The Assamese script has got its own set of characters and symbols, and these are required to have assigned codes for proper usage in terms of computational tasks, application development etc. The language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

The Assamese language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Assamese Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

Ranjan Kumar Baruah, a Guwahati-based social entrepreneur, said a separate slot for its script was necessary for promoting the language in the digital age.

“This is necessary at a time when our state government asked all business establishments, government and non-government organizations to use the local language in hoardings and banners and for other official purposes,” Baruah said.(IANS)

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Western intellectuals’ overwhelming love for Sanskrit literature

Many famous scholars and scientists learnt Sanskrit or studied Sanskrit literature to strengthen their intellectual prowess and acknowledged the need to develop the Sanskrit language.

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Sean O’Callaghan, a westerner, is seen doing a play
Sean O’Callaghan, a westerner, is seen doing a play "Battlefield" in Sanskrit in the western world. VOA

-By Salil Gewali

 It is for the astounding richness of the Sanskrit language a renowned linguist Sir William Jones first translated Kalidasa’s Shakuntala from the original Sanskrit into English in 1789. This stirred the minds and hearts of the top European intellectuals that include Johann Goethe, Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller, August Schlegel, Wilhelm von Humboldt, et al. Very impressed by the language and its philosophical plot the father of the German literature (J. Goethe) learnt Sanskrit on his own. And, he plunged into this ancient play Shakuntala for the whole thirty years. He even wrote an insightful poem eulogizing this play. Again, George Forster translated this Kalidas’s work into German in 1791. In a span of some decades sprouted 46 translations into fourteen European languages.  On the other hand, the translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Charles Wilkin in 1784 and Upanishads by Anquetil Duperron in 1801 opened up unprecedented vistas for the philosophical regeneration hitherto unknown in the European literature. The doctrines of Vedanta such as ‘Oneness of the universe’, interdependence and interconnection of all entities and all particles seemed very plausible to the philosophically rational psyche of the western scholars.

Robert O. Johann was a western scholar.
Robert O. Johann was a western scholar. wikipedia

Again, one of the fathers of Modern linguistic Franz Bopp and a great philosopher Friedrich Schlegel, both from Germany, laid the revolutionary foundation of the comparative linguistic by freely borrowing from Panini’s “Ashtadhyayi ” which was later further developed by the language giants like Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, and Noam Chomsky. Panini, who was an enlightened sage of 4th BC India, was the first to systematically put down the comprehensive Grammar of Sanskrit language. This treatise consists of about 3959 sutras which can handle the nuances and intricacies of any languages in the universe, empirically and anatomically.

Having been too bewitched by the Sanskrit language a most renowned American linguist Leonard Bloomfield exclaims — “It was in India, however, that there arose a body of knowledge which was destined to revolutionize European ideas about language. Panini Grammar taught Europeans to analyze speech forms; when one compared the constituent parts, the resemblances, which hitherto had been vaguely recognized, could be set forth with certainty and precision.”  Yes, here at home we prefer to call Sanskrit a dead language, and instead, with enthusiasm and hubris choose to learn German.

Erwin Wilhelm Müller, a western scholar who acknowledged Sanskrit.
Erwin Wilhelm Müller, a western scholar who acknowledged Sanskrit. wikipedia

There are countless western scholars and scientists who have overwhelmingly acknowledged the exceptional richness of Sanskrit language wherein they saw an immense scope in the development of any area of studies. Voltaire, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, TS Eliot, Neils Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer, Mark Twain, Car Jung, J. D. Salinger and others learnt Sanskrit or studied Sanskrit literature to strengthen their intellectual prowess.

John Archibald Wheeler –a famous modern physicist who first coined Black Hole and Warm Hole and occupied the chair that had previously been held by Albert Einstein, enthuses –‘One has the feeling that the thinkers of the East (INDIA) knew it all, and if we could only translate their answers into our language we would have the answers to all our questions.’  With the same vigor bursts out another physicist Erwin Schrodinger, known as the father of Quantum Mechanics — “Some blood transfusion from INDIA to the West is a must to save Western science from spiritual anemia.”

Here are my few earnest questions — had all these rational thinkers, scientists, writers — whose theories, whose principles, whose literature, whose formulae and equations we study in schools and colleges and thus claim ourselves as academically qualified, gone crazy to heap high praise on Sanskrit and its literary treasure troves?  How can we claim to be INDIAN when we joyfully belittle and undermine our own heritage?  What is it that makes us to see only flaws in our Mother even without ever making a bit of genuine effort to know and realize her uncanny virtues?

François-Marie Arouet is a French writer who was also known as Voltaire.
François-Marie Arouet is a French writer who was also known as Voltaire. wikipedia

I don’t think we have ever seen any country in the world that its citizens speak ill of their heritage, their tradition and values — however archaic, rustic and crude they may be. Why does it touch our raw nerves when someone appreciates the values and culture of the native land? Sanskrit and the myriad scriptures produced in this grand language is as resplendent as the Sun ball over our head. Can you ignore the Sun? I don’t think François Voltaire was a big fool to announce with vehemence about 300 years ago  —- ‘Everything has come down to us from the bank of GANGA’ , ‘The first Greeks traveled to India to instruct themselves’, ‘India, whom whole Earth needs, who needs no one, must by that very fact the most civilized land’.  Should it not call for a dispassionate introspection and thus our self-correction and reawakening?

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter @SGewali.