Sunday, November 07, 2010

Tamil, Grantha, Unicode - The need to stop adding fuel to the fire to extinguish it

Friends,

This is a rare post in English. My apologies for mixing an English post in my Tamil blog.  But I thought it is important enough to post it as is rather than write it in Tamil, particularly when non Tamils are watching us and wondering how Tamils approach issues related to Tamil language.

Mr. Ramasami, a Tamil enthusiast was concerned about the recent activity on Grantha encoding and Tamil and wrote the following to the Tamil Ulagam mailing list among several others.  Since I am a member of Tamil Ulagam, I happened to read this in the thread http://groups.google.com/group/tamil_ulagam/browse_thread/thread/0c145414f1c4e515#

He wrote on November 7, 2010:
There can be a separate slot for grantha letters, not to called extended Tamil, in which they can do any thing. People like Dr.Ganesan & Dr. ManiManivannan & c, are trying to add unnecessay letters in the tamil slot, since they are encouraged by the silence of so called patrons, when U+0B82 &  U+0BB6 were inserted in the Tamil slot. The earlier the vacant positions are occuppied by real Tamil letters like the earlier nA, NA, RA, elephant trunk like ai vowel mark,  consonants with u vowel mark, consonants with U vowel mark and the like, Tamil slot will be safe from  fifth column intruders !!


This e-mail (and some others along similar lines) prompted me to respond with the following e-mail to him at the Tamil Ulagam list.

Dear Mr. Ramasami,

I would like to make at least two corrections to your post and if you don't mind I would like you to forward my post to all the other mailing lists where I am not a subscriber.

One, I don't have a doctorate degree.  So, I am comfortable with a Thiru Mani Manivannan or Mr. Mani Manivannan and please don't address me with a Dr. title.  That would be misleading.  Please.

Two. You have made a statement that I along with Dr. Ganesan is trying to add unnecessary letters in the Tamil slot.  That is wrong.  Please verify your data before posting such mails.  These things take on lives of their own and inflammatory discussions erupt.

I have spent enormous hours in the past few days working with several equally hardworking people all over the world in trying to understand what is going on and trying to persuade the Tamil Nadu government, India government and the Unicode Technical committee and even INFITT working group members that the proposals to add Tamil letters to grantha need further review and a decision to accept it must be deferred.  I have, as a member of the INFITT WG02, before taking over as its chair this month, wrote a technical note recording my concern about adding new characters to Extended Tamil in the SMP space.  It is a matter of public record.

I would like to appeal to all those who want to comment on such emotional issues to first ascertain facts before accusing people of evil designs.  Most of the proposals are matter of public record and there is a lot of hard work that go behind these.

I have strong difference of opinion with Dr. Ganesan and his effort to add five uniquely Tamil characters as "Dravidian characters" in the Grantha proposal.  His stated reasons vary all over the place.  In the mailing list MinTamil he imagines that Grantha character set, with the addition of Tamil characters, will become popular with Tamils all over the world for writing anything with foreign sound.  Though that will have a major effect on Tamils, he has been insisting that INFITT has no locus standi in commenting on Grantha proposal as it has nothing to with Tamil.

If there is anyone "scheming" to create a trojan horse to "invade" Tamil, rather than color it with caste, race and linguistic politics, I'd suggest that one look at the various proposals.  It appears that Dr. N. Ganesan initiate this proposal and he asserts that he has solid support from several Tamil and international linguists.  It would be best to  ask Dr. Ganesan to justify the addition of the five Tamil characters (plus two Tamil vowel modifiers) in light of his contradictory statements all over the place.  I wish he would write a separate white paper with reasoned arguments, particularly in light of the strong opposition filed with the UTC by several scholars.

Unicode consortium and INFITT are technical bodies and if one were to have these technical bodies accept or reject proposals one needs to make sound technical arguments.  Emotional statements, accusations against "fifth column intruders" etc., don't impress the technical bodies.

In preparing for the arguments against these proposals, some of us recognized that we were in dire need of scholars with expertise in Grantha and Tamil, Linguistics, Grantha/Tamil epigraphy, solid knowledge of Grantha/Tamil inscriptional records, understanding of Sanskrit and Grantha etc.  While it is easy to caricature it as the neo-Aryan invasion of the pristine Tamil country, and unfortunately only such dire characterizations move the government machinery to action, these proposals require some rational minds sit and review the proposals carefully and judge them on technical merits.  The political and emotional attributes of these will not go away now that politicians are involved.  But since the Unicode Technical Committee has deferred its decision until its next meeting on February 26th or so, we have about 3 months to investigate this and make facts known.

Whoever gets appointed to these committees cannot do their job in a highly charged atmosphere if they worry that everyone of their scholarly decision is going to be judged and they may face hostile crowds baying for their heads for being a traitor to their cause.

I am fairly surprised that the process that the Government machinery in Tamil Nadu followed to investigate these proposals were fairly balanced and even the politicians involved in this have been far more open minded than some of the emotional outbursts that I have seen in the mailing lists.  I concede that the emotional outbursts were the reason why the authorities even got involved in such an arcane activity as a Unicode proposal to encode Grantha script.  Without that I doubt if an octogenarian CM would spend several hours on the eve of a major public holiday reviewing the impact of this proposal and bothering to send a note to the central ministry for urgent action.

But that is done.  Now, I hope that all the people that demanded government action would push for swift appointment of this high level committee and give scholarly space to this committee to make its recommendations in relative academic freedom.

Tamils belong to a great civilization.  We should have enough faith in the strength of the great Tamil language and the wisdom of Tamil people to handle any challenges.

We should also have the magnanimity to let others equally passionate about their language and culture to define their space in the world.

I hope that all these heightened attention and energy on Tamil unicode and unicode space can be harnessed for positive actions and promote Tamil computing in public spheres including that of eGovernance and archival of Tamil heritage records.

However, if the atmosphere is so charged, I am concerned that people who possess the knowledge to help us understand the issues better may not participate in the deliberations and we will all suffer as a result.

Please, I appeal to you, please don't make it so difficult to do this.  If you really want to help, read up the various proposals and the public comments from various players and judge for yourselves.

Until then, please don't add fuel to the fire.

Thank you,

Regards,

Mani M. Manivannan
(presently at) Singapore

P.S. If I don't respond to your e-mails in a timely manner, please bear with me.  I have other things to do to earn a living and sometimes I have to prioritize those.  While I am traveling on business, my access to the internet and my time to read and respond to your comments are limited.  And I need time to think before responding to your e-mails rather than react rashly.  And I hope that you would give me the same respect and think about what I have written here before reacting to it within minutes.  நன்றி.

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