Can Urdu become the language of the internet?
June 2008: Way back in the early 1990s when I became sick and tired of the question 'Are
you computer literate?', I began to tinker with the dumb machine known as the
computer. Back then I was told that in the 21st century people won't be asking
that question any more and there would be only one kind of literacy. In the
future, the computer buffs threatened, no one would be considered literate if he
were not computer literate, even if he had a doctorate.
Since I had done
a doctorate, albeit in Urdu, I took it on face value and in order that I was not
considered illiterate, I began teaching myself how to – or rather how not to –
use a computer. After 16 cheerless years and several crashed computers, I have
taught myself to the extent that I have to call my son, hardly 10, for help only
once or twice while composing these literary notes. For e-mailing them I need
the help of only two or three persons that are computer savvy. Well, maybe I am
not good at these electronic monsters after all, but what fascinates me most
about computers and has hooked me since then is (apart from becoming literate
again) that the computer does know Urdu.
I don't want to bore you with
the long history of Urdu software and Urdu word processing development. But ever
since I read that most of the world's languages – save for a few – were fast on
their way to becoming extinct and the first ones to go would be the ones not
used in computers, I felt as though Urdu's life and mine too hung by a thin
chord – connected to a computer.
And ever since I found out that some
people who loved Urdu were working on Urdu software and Urdu word processing and
trying to make it a language for internet usage as well, I knew Urdu would
survive beyond the 21st century.
Now who are these people anyway? Don't
they have other interesting things to do, like writing Urdu in Roman script and
helping Urdu towards extinction? Well these Urdu 'deevane' have been hired to do
exactly what they are doing: making Urdu survive in these maddening times. They
are from the Muqtadira Qaumi Zuban or National Language Authority. Established
in 1979 to promote Urdu and to enable it to take over as the official language
of Pakistan, the National Language Authority has done tremendous work through
all these years and enabled Urdu to take over as the official language, though
no government has ever been willing to implement its recommendations. Aside from
compiling and publishing books that have enriched Urdu, the NLA has been working
hard for the development of Urdu software and making Urdu the language of
Joining hands with Microsoft, the NLA developed the
international standards for Urdu characters used for computers, known as
UNICODE, not only making Urdu appear on the world computer map but also saving
Urdu from unwarranted and unwanted interferences of Indian authorities who were
trying to develop their own standards for Urdu.
With the introduction of
UNICODE, standardization of many tables and plates was made possible, which are
now being used by Nadra, Microsoft, Google and many other international firms,
including mobile phone companies for Urdu messaging and other
The launching of Microsoft Urdu Office 2003, Microsoft Urdu
Windows XP and Windows XP Starter Edition, in collaboration with the NLA, of
course, has made it possible for the man in the street to use computers as a
whopping majority of Pakistanis does not understand English. The language of the
computer screen now can be converted into Urdu and Urdu e-mail is not something
unheard of. The role of the NLA has been instrumental in this regard.
introduction of the ghost character theory by the NLA for computerized
orthographic representation of the languages written in Perso-Arabic script has
given a new lease of life to the other Pakistani languages too (such as Sindhi,
Punjabi, Pashto and Balochi etc) as the new theory gives the users numerous
options to compose in the script of their own choice by just changing the
preferences with a click.
Lately I had a chance to attend a workshop at
the NLA's office at Islamabad and was thrilled to know that the authority was
trying to make a dream come true: the creation of a truly huge Urdu database for
research and development and using Urdu on the internet. Though this project is
still in a take-off stage and still a lot of homework needs to be done before we
are able to see this dream fulfilled, the experts coming from all over Pakistan
to attend the workshop were of the view that the NLA was on the right path and
congratulated its chairman Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik and the Head of the Urdu
Informatics department Dr Atash Durrani for their vision and relentless
By Rauf Parekh (Dawn)
"Another great effort of developing free Urdu Word Processor using latest technologies (Unicode) that can be downloaded from http://naseem.amjad.googlepages.com/urdunigarunicode.html "
City, Country: Pakistan
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