MIT research scholar debunks Assamese losing out as a language

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Slot in Unicode: ‘Demand for a separate slot for Assamese is based on emotions’

By: Smita Bhattacharyya

JORHAT, Oct 4: Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Kishori Mohan Konwar said here that it was irrelevant whether the Unicode Consortium had put the letters of the alphabet under the heading of Bengali or Assamese.

Delivering a talk on Unicode and the future of Assamese language at the Press Club here on Thursday, Konwar attempted to decrease the angst over the Bengali tag given to letters of the alphabet which represent both the Assamese and the Bengali languages by stating that what was required was more Assamese content and visibility in the Internet of the Assamese language and literature instead of quibbling over what was in his opinion a non issue.

It may be mentioned that the Unicode Consortium has recently entitled the said script as Bengali /Assamese after receiving several representations from individuals of Assam, the Asam Sahitya Sabha and the state government.

“The demand for a separate slot for Assamese is based on emotions and does not make any difference how it is named.  Several languages all over the world use the letters of the English alphabet but no one is quibbling over wanting different slots. All of them have been bunched under the Roman alphabet,” he said.

Elaborating on this Konwar said that the meaning of “Bengali script” in the Unicode Standard included all the letters used both for the Bangla language of Bangladesh and of West Bengal state in India but also for the Assamese language and other languages of Assam and some other communities like Bishnupuriya Manipuris in the Northeast.

“There are some letters used in Bangla that are not used in Assamese and some letters in Assamese that are not in Bangla, but in the Unicode Standard,  the Bengali script refers to the whole set of letters needed for both,” he said.

The Unicode Consortium, an international non government body set up in 1991 has standardised a universal character set for encoding the different languages in the computer systems universally.

Konwar said that as a result Unicode points had been assigned to the glyphs or characters in the loose sense used in most Indian languages.

“The Consortium has not assigned the Assamese script under the Universal Character script but has considered the Assamese alphabets as part of the Bengali alphabets through inclusion of a few Assamese characters such as ra and wa ba,  which are different,” he said.

In an in depth lecture Konwar explained the difference between glyphs, characters and fonts, other aspects like conjuncts, kerning and ligatures, and what the computer only recognised: that is a combination of binary numerals 1 and 0

Konwar who is a PhD graduate in Computer Science from the University of Connecticut has created the Luitpad which is a stand alone fully Unicode compliant software designed for rapid typing of Assamese words and characters and is compatible with Windows, Max and Linux. Luitpad which can be downloaded from www.luitpad.in has two typing options, one which is based on approximate sounds of words and the other on the sound of characters.

Supporting him was his friend Neil Baruwati, a computer science engineer here who had once worked with him on a project.

Baruwati made it clear that if the Assamese wanted to have a separate slot they would have to come up with a set of letters which showed up the difference with the already encoded ones in the Unicode Standard and that this would entail time, money and expertise.

Konwar stressed on more content generation in Assamese like uploading of novels, stories, debates, chats, viewpoints, like those found in English and Chinese.

He suggested that an Assamese dictionary of words, thesaurus, spellcheck should be uploaded and enabling emails. He further sought the Input Retrieval Method, Assamese to English and English to Assamese words, Assamese OCR, etc. should be also be there to gain visibility in the Internet and be accessible to people all over the world.

The talk was organised by the Mass Communication department of Assam Women’s University here and the Assamese Society for International Cooperation and attended by representatives of the Asam Sahitya Sabha, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad and artists’ fraternity among others.

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