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Multilingual Computing Requirements
(for India)
  The multilingual multicultural environment in India calls for new approaches to computing with Indian languages. There is a need for applications across the country which deal with information common to all the regions. Individually within each region, where there is homogeneity in terms of the language spoken, applications need to address local requirements.

  Government and public institutions in the country have traditionally resorted to Bilingual documentation with English as the base and the regional language as the means to communicating with the people.

Today we need to cater to the following requirements.

  • Dissemination of centralized information to different regions of the country, both in English and the regional language. Information flows back from the region to the center as well and this is invariably done in English.
  • Exchange of information across the states. This is accomplished through English though the use of the National Language has been encouraged.
  • Dissemination of information within a region. This is done primarily in the local language and to some extent in English. In the rural setup, the regional language is always used.
  • Exchange of information between institutions (public and private) which have offices distributed throughout India.
  In almost all cases, information originates in the regional languages even if it is subsequently transmitted in English. Often bilingual documents are exchanged between Government institutions in different regions.

  Data shared across the country is usually independent of a specific language since the nature of the shared information usually relates to demographic details, schedules of national events, prices of agricultural products etc.

Types of applications

Applications catering to bilingual document preparation. Though only two languages may be involved at a time, the regional language can be any one of the national languages. These are covered by nine scripts. Urdu should also be supported since it is a national language.

Applications catering to multilingual documents. Such applications are called for in the study of scriptures and old manuscripts preserved in india. Such documents are also required to be generated when data has to be displayed in public places attended by people from different regions of the country. Typically, signs and posters in railway stations display information in three or four different scripts.

Applications used in the teaching of languages. Introducing one language through another is useful and is also effective when the cultural background of the people speaking the different languages is common or similar. The language is easier to understand since many words would be common.

Creation of centralized data bases where the stored information is common to all the regions. While English may be suited well for such applications, what is desirable is an approach to storing information in a language/script independent fashion. Postal information remains essentially the same across the country and this could be an example. All the rules and regulations in effect throughout the country will also qualify here.

Applications catering to linguistic analysis. machine translation programs, user interfaces based on natural language queries, generation of linguistic corpora are examples of these applications.

Internet based applications such a email, chat, search engines also qualify as multilingual applications. It will be important to permit localized versions of these applications where knowledge of English will not be required on the part of the user to run the applications.

The different applications mentioned above may be grouped into

  • Document preparation and data entry
  • Creating conventional data bases and access the data through a web interface or client applications running on standard systems.
  • Create and manage text data bases which include indexing.
  • Command processors similar to a shell where text based applications may be run with ease. The commands may include standard shell commands to manipulate files, invoke applications, manage files and directories etc.
  While it is entirely conceivable that any application currently supported through English will qualify for localization, there are still many questions to be answered about items of information which need to be identified on a global basis. It is unlikely that in the near future totally localized applications will be available matching corresponding applications running in English. Basically one is looking for applications that can be handled comfortably in the mother tongue so that a large population in the country may use computers in a meaningful manner.

Requirements to be met

1. Ease of data entry in the regional script as well as in English. Keyboard mapping must be flexible enough to support all the aksharas, traditional symbols and punctuation. The use of the keyboard should be uniform across the scripts.

2. Ease of transliteration across the scripts. This is important to disseminate common information, set up centralized data bases etc. There is also the need to transliterate between English and the regional script to help people learn the language.

3. User interfaces should be uniform across the languages, platforms or operating systems so that training will be easy both for the person learning computers and the trainer himself/herself. Training programs in different regions may be easily handled by experts who may not speak the language but can communicate through a common language other than English. The phonetic nature of India's languages is indeed  very useful for this.

4. Applications should cater to a large population of children and adults with serious disabilities, specifically visual impairments.

Multilingual Computing- A view from SDL

Writing systems
Linguistic requirements
Dealing with Text
Computing requirements

Unicode for Indian Languages

The conceptual basis for Unicode

Unicode for Indian scripts
Data entry
Issues in rendering Unicode
Using a shaping engine
Discussion on sorting
Open type fonts

Unicode support in Microsoft applications

Limitations of Uniscribe

A review of some MS applications supporting Unicode

Recommendations for Developers of Indian language Applications

Using True type fonts to render Unicode Text

Can we simplify handling Unicode text?

Guidelines for development under Linux

Summary of SDL's observations

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