Thursday, March 8, 2012

Why choose INSCRIPT over Roman phonetic for writing Indian Languages.

Why choose INSCRIPT over Roman phonetic for writing Indian Languages.

It is generally understood that civilizations are sustained by the language, the script, and the traditions which, over the decades and centuries, become the culture of people. Indian Civilisation has survived on the strength of these factors when Greek or Roman or Maya Civilisations have long since gone behind the curtain of Time. Today India can be proud of its nearly 25 Main Indian Languages, nearly 15 scripts, and near 7000 dialects. It is however, within our hands whether we use such rich and expansive heritage for differentiation leading to disintegration or we use it as a diverse but common heritage and thus as a symbol of national integration.

In the last three decades the advent of computers in daily live has brougt us on the door steps of a questionas as to whether our scripts would survive. The computer environment has taken over many other forms of Intelligent Communication and it largly utilises English as the base language. Looking at other European countries which use different languages but have similar scripts and a more similar Vernamala (Alphabetic order), we can say that ther are doing well in the field of computer communication through their languages. The JCK Trio (Japan, China and Korea) who have different languages but a common Vernamala and similarity of scripts are also doing well by insisting on computers that are based on this common Vernamala. The Arabic countries who also share a common Vernamala, though starting late, are doing reasonably well in these matters. That leaves only the South Asean countries such as India, Srilanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Thailand, Indonasia. They share the 4th Vernamala of the world which is derived from Brahmi and has the most scientific formation that goes in the sequence ka-kha-ga-gha...... etc. Their scripts can all be considered as offsprings of Brahmi or Nagari scripts and their languages have largely emanated from Sanscrit Language. Among these countries India stands out as the largest repository of texts and hence carries the onus of making the necessary progress in Computer Communication, but appears to have failed so far.

It is clear that the need and importance of creating, adopting and cultivating a common base for all Nagari scripts on computers is essential. Unfortunately during the two earlier decades from 1980 to 2000 the philosophy of commercial secrecy prevailed leading to the use of non-standard codification. The language computation requires 3 kinds of standards -- for input (ie the key-board), output ( ie the font-design) and storage (ie the code or the formula to decide what alphabet will be represented by what binary-string inside the processor chip of the computer). The language tool designers readily accepted common standards for input and output. They created many font-standards for output thus giving beauty and readability to the printed text. Most of them adopted Type-writer-layout as the standard for key-board but some designed 2 more standards of layout -- one based on Roman Varnamala -- called Roman phonetic and other based on NAGARI Varrnamala called INSCRIPT.

They were all, however unanimous in their insistance for having non-standard codes for the storage, thus ensuring dedicated customers for themselves but created huge problems of incompatibility among various users of computers in the Regional languages. This created and strengthened the feeling that English Language and more so, the Roman Script was the only possible linking script which could be common for all users all over the country and any Language software not based on Roman had a limited use.

Fortunately the standard input coding developed by the name “INSCRIPT”, being based on NAGARI varnamala had the key-lay-out for all Indian Languages and with this feature it could have competed with Roman keyboard which was also common for all Indian Scripts. Moreover, it did not require much of practice to memorise Keyboard. All that was needed was to remember the Vernamala lesson learnt in Standard I. A picture of key-board design is attached herewith, from where it can be seen that the letters KA, KHA, GA, GHA are in close proximity to each other. Similarly, the letters in the next group CHA, CHHA, JA, JHA, are in proximity and so on. This would make the understanding of the Keyboard lay-out very easy and all that would then be needed is a little practice for the fingers to get the hang of the Keyboard lay out. Pertinent to note that this standard key-board was developed by Govt company CDAC.

In their enthusiasm CDAC also prepared and got approved by the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) a standard code for storage
which is the most important factor in Language computation. This standard although extremely simplistic and hence most effective in terms of saving the computers memory, was unfortunately discarded by CDAC themselves so as to commercialise their software. Thus in 1991, though India had developed all 3 kinds of standards needed in Language Computation, in practice, it remained in cold storage. And the language softwares remained incompatible with each other.

After the internet further developed as world wide web (www), in 1995, the internet compatible codification became the key issue. Fortunately the Unicode Consortium adopted the BIS standards for the Keyboard lay-out as well as for storage as was earlier developed for inscript. Thus, between 1996 to 2002 we were faced with a strange situation in which on one hand we could use the Inscript Keyboard of the marketted software of CDAC but it had a non-standard storage code and hence incompatibile with internet. On the other hand, the Storage Code adopted by Unicode would ensure internet compatibility but there was no sofrtware develped which had the standard inscript lay-out with BIS Storage Code. The Inscript Software sold by Govt. of India was incompatibile with internet because of its non-standared storage coding. Most of the Indian Computers used the microsoft environment which did not offer any solution. Only a tiny percentage adopted the linux operating system and open office environment, which allowed the user to have the Inscript Keyboard lay-out along with a Unicode compatible Storage Standard. This however, remain confined to a very few computer users who could see the advantage of linux and open office. To a vast majority of Computer Users, it still remained
problem to have some easy keyboard lay out which also conformed to the unicode storage standard. The situation continued till in 2003 the microsoft decided to market the Inscript by providing one-font-per-Indian-Language which was unicode compatibile, thus for Hindi it was Mangal font, for Kannad it was Tunga for Gujrati it was Shruti and so on. However during 1995 (when www came) to 2003 and also subsequent to 2003 a large majority of computer users who wanted to work with the Regional Languages shifted to the Roman Phonetic Method thus weakening the base for a good development of Indian Scripts on computers.

Now in 2012, we seem to be getting out of the problem of non-standardised language software packages which we faced during the 80s and 90s. However, we are still faced with two alternatives for Indian Languages on computer viz the Nagari based (ie inscript) or Roman Phonetic based.

It is therefore, necessary to bring an awareness amongst people and the Govt. to make better efforts for adoption and popularisation of the Inscript method which being based on the Nagri Vernamala, is readily accessible and practiciable for nearly 70% Indian Population who are unable to continue their study beyond 8th Standard. Giving them training for typing Regional Language on computers by using the Inscript method is the key to build up their confidence in handling computers and thus, ensuring their effective participation in increasing the productivity of the country.