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This Digital Life: Minority languages set to get a happy face

Published 26/12/2015

Iconic plan: the team behind the ever-present emoji is digitising other less-used languages too
Iconic plan: the team behind the ever-present emoji is digitising other less-used languages too

The official body that regulates those cute little icons on your smartphone is giving people the opportunity to sponsor one, and save some of the world's smaller languages at the same time. Andrew Griffin reports.

Unicode, which is responsible for standardising how letters and other symbols show on computers, is running a mission to save some of the languages that are getting left behind and not put into digital letters.

But it needs money to fund that work, and it will do so through sponsored emoji.

"Do you want your company to be strongly associated with the (burger) emoji?" the Unicode Consortium asks in its announcement of the Adopt a Character Campaign.

"Do you feel like the poor semicolon and the equals sign never get any respect? Do you want to declare your love with a (ring) or (love heart) dedication for your spouse?"

Users can pick their character and then opt for a range of different sponsorship levels. Taking out a gold membership costs $5,000, for example, and gives the opportunity to be the only person with that level of sponsorship of any given character.

Taking out a bronze one costs $100 and comes with a certificate - and there is no limit on the number of sponsors.

The consortium will use all of the money generated to work through the over 100 systems of writing that it wants to put into computers.

It has around 130 scripts done already.

"We're getting to a point with scripts where it takes a lot of time and research to figure out what the characters are for a particular writing system," said Mark Davis, Unicode's president and co-founder.

"It's not as simple as handling Arabic, or Chinese."

Unicode refers to the left out languages as being "digitally disadvantaged".

Each of the languages have relatively few people using them, but Unicode says it is important to help out those disadvantaged languages so that people can communicate on phones in their natural script.

"If kids are texting on phones and they can only text in Latin characters, that changes how they feel about their native language," added Davis.

"That goes on all around the world. If people can't use computers for very simple things, it doesn't help keep their languages alive."

The funding will mostly be used for paying for travel expenses for the (mostly unpaid) staff.

That will allow them to go out into the field and meet with local researchers, helping to work to digitise the scripts that are used in their languages. Each of those scripts takes about two years.

Belfast Telegraph

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