Universal Phonetic Script Needed

I tweeted just a few days back (twitter:@hemant_sathe) about a Tamil minister changing spelling of his name by removing the zhagram and replacing it with l. Azhagiri to Alagiri. The primary reason for this is that there are three different pronunciations of L in Tamil and there is no way this can be represented in English. I should rather say Latin script. So the Tamilian people started using zh for the third pronunciation which is not so intuitive for a non-Tamil person to understand. This resulted in most of the country pronouncing the Tamil names with “zh” differently. It is an all together different matter that Tamil/ South Indian people spell most of their names differently than rest of India. I had a friend whose father’s name was spelled as Santhirasekaran which otherwise would have been spelled as Chandrashekharan. I have seen four different spelling of Tyagaraya (or the famous T. Nagar in Chennai) on the four nameplates of shops in same building. The zhagram problem is however quite genuine.

Are the people crazy or is the script crazy

I first was laughing at these crazy ways of spelling names but then I thought is it really Tamil people who are funny or is it the script in which they have to write their names? The answer is obvious. Despite being one of the most popular language in the world, English language and for that matter many European languages use the same old Latin script to express. This script has serious limitations. Though some languages like German are using it quite strictly and much like a phonetic script, you can not escape the fact that the script has limitations. Most Indian scripts on the other hand are almost fully phonetic. You speak what you write. In English on the other hand all these spellings have almost same pronunciation – red, raid, read, greyed – for the “red” part.

Non phonetic scripts are a big hurdle in mobile computing

Speech to text is still an emerging technology and is not as widely popular as it should have been by now primarily because most of the effort/ intelligence on scripts like Latin is wasted on finding the right context of the word and then use appropriate spelling. The tool needs a huge set of dictionary to parse through. By having a phonetic script for English and other languages with same problem can take today’s computing to new heights. Imagine – no more spellings. No more spelling bee contests. Just vacate a large portion of your brain to do something more important than remembering spellings. What is more that it will give a tremendous boost to manage all the computers across the world using verbal commands. This will remove the need for keyboards making the gadgets more portable than ever. It is not a simple journey but it is achievable. Despite all the attempts to popularize computers and internet access it was mobile phone and that too a voice call that made revolution in today’s India.

One universal script or multiple scripts

Are all phonetic scripts good enough for today’s computing needs? Not really. Scripts like Devnagari need to reverse order of glyphs for short “ee” and short “oo”. Some languages need the glyphs to be written one below the other. I would also go on to say that scripts like Chinese or Japanese are way too crammed. For today’s modern languages we need script which is as loose as Latin and as phonetic as possible. We need to come up with some new script or modify current ones. Is it possible to have a universal script? Yes it may be. But it is very difficult to implement a universal script because come what may, there will be a condition where in some part of the world a particular letter may have a variant not covered by the script or there are different directions in which the script is written e.g. L2R, R2L, vertical and we may also end up having thousands of sound glyphs. We can restrict the number of scripts and can ask multiple languages to start moving towards unified script. In history such attempts have been done successfully across the world. Some language fanatics may get hurt in this process but remember we are not discarding the language but just a script. We can also club scripts based on the style and satisfy egos. E.g. Devnagari, Gujrati, Bengali etc. are similar scripts. We can have a combined set of glyphs from these languages. Same can be done for all four south Indian scripts and we have have just two to three scripts across India but still retain all 20+ languages.

So I am eager to see this funny script I am using disappear from the world and replaced by a better script. How about you?