Mangalore Cracking the Konkani language code


The Hindu

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Mangalore 09 Jan 2011:The Konkani language is curious in many ways. Although interesting from a cultural perspective as it is spoken by a cross-section of people, creating online content in the language is challenging because it is written and read in multiple scripts.

Written in Kannada, Devanagari, Malayalam, Arabic and Roman scripts, the challenge for technologists is presenting the same content in multiple scripts.

Multiple script challenge: A group of people that includes Wikipedians are fine-tuning a transliteration tool that will enable users to read and edit Konkani online in the script of their choice.

Multiple script challenge: A group of people that includes Wikipedians are fine-tuning a transliteration tool that will enable users to read and edit Konkani online in the script of their choice.

Now, a group of people that includes Wikipedians are fine-tuning a transliteration tool straddling the multiple scripts of Konkani. If the tool succeeds, it can be used for other multiple-script languages such as Kashmiri, Santhali and Chinese. “Reviving the language is a challenge, but we can overcome the script barrier with the transliteration tool, said Santhosh Thottingal, Wikimedia Foundation engineering staff.

Wikipedian Hariprasad Nadig said the tool could be used beyond Wikipedia by any website to enable its readers to view Konkani in Kannada and Devanagari scripts. The tool uses a software module written for the Serbian Wiki. “The problem is the same…with Indian languages the problem is escalated as there are more complex scripts and phonetic differences,” Mr. Nadig said. The tool has two parts: one, to enable the reader to read in the script he prefers, and two, enabling the reader to add text in his preferred script. Currently, the tool enables reading Konkani content in Devanagari and Kannada, but it has to be perfected. The second part involves using a base script (Devanagari or Kannada) to change content into other reader-preferred scripts, which is yet to be done.

 

Mixed thoughts

 

U.K.-based software developer Roshan Pai Ramesh has mixed thoughts on whether the tool will help or obstruct the cause of Konkani in the long term. While it fosters inclusiveness of scripts, which is good, it will further add to the non-standardisation of the language.

“Devanagari as the single standard script is probably good for the Konkani language in the long term. Not having a single standardised script hurts a language’s development when one sees the bigger picture,” he said.

Amir Elisha Ahroni, Israel-based software developer, linguist, and participant at Wikimedia’s India Hackathon 2011 held in Mumbai in November, said Konkani was “particularly an interesting case” because no particular script dominates and all the scripts are used by a significant number of people.

“I strongly believe that all languages are equal and all languages must be supported equally in all software. English is the most frequently used language in software, but there’s no reason why it should have any exclusive privilege,” he said.

Besides a diaspora, Konkani has 3.6 million native speakers, said Mr. Thottingal. People along the western coast, across religions, and tribes, such as the Siddi, speak Konkani, said Gurudath Bantwalkar, Mangalorean Wikipedian and Assistant Director, World Konkani Centre, Mangalore.

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