Dispur moves Delhi for Unicode - Assam wants separate slot for Assamese script in the consortium

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  • Published 24.02.12

Guwahati, Feb. 23: Dispur has moved the Centre requesting it to approach the Unicode Consortium for a separate slot for the Assamese script.

According to CMO sources, Amtron, the state electronics department, has worked out a “layout” that Unicode could use as a base to create a separate slot for Assamese.

Dispur is convinced that a separate slot for Assamese is vital as the language has phonetically a completely different pronunciation system compared to Bengali.

Having a separate slot under Unicode would also be important for research purposes for Assamese, the sources said.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi had approved the move for a separate slot.

Based in the US, the Unicode Consortium enables people around the world to use computers in any language. The latest version of Unicode comprises a collection of, among others, more than 110,000 characters covering 100 scripts, a set of code charts for visual reference, an encoding methodology and set of standard character encodings for languages around the world.

CMO sources told The Telegraph that the Union ministry of communication and information technology, in a letter in August last year, had asked the state government to take necessary steps to sort out the issue.

The Centre’s move came following a letter it received from the Unicode Consortium. The consortium, in its letter to the Centre, had said it had received several letters from the “Assamese community” protesting against the slotting of Assamese as a subclass of the Bengali language on their website.

Earlier, some sections of the Assamese community had demanded that Unicode either work out a separate slot for the Assamese language or rename the existing script (in Unicode Consortium’s website) as Kamrupi or AMBM (Assamese Maithili Bengali Manipuri).

Besides Assam, the Centre had also sent letters to West Bengal, Manipur and Bihar, the other states connected to the issue.

The issue was initially raised by Guwahati-based researcher and writer Satyakam Phukan, along with researcher Pastor Azizul Haque of the Guwahati Baptist Church.

“We are in receipt of your email regarding the nomenclature of Assamese writing system in the Unicode Standard. Language is a state subject. As several states are involved in the issue raised by you, it is essential that the views of all the concerned state governments are taken before communicating any feedback/input to Unicode Consortium,” said a letter from the Union ministry of communications and information technology to Phukan, who had sent a mail to Unicode Consortium regarding the controversy. The consortium had in turn written to the Centre.

According to Phukan and Haque, there is no alternative but to allot a separate slot for the Assamese language in the Unicode system.

“Merely renaming the script will not solve the problem,” they said.

With documents, historical references as well as “other relevant information”, Phukan and Haque had sent two separate memoranda to the Unicode Consortium explaining details of how Assamese and Bengali were two distinct languages and why the former needs to be given a separate slot.

The controversy was triggered by reports that the Asam Sahitya Sabha, the apex literary body of Assam, had decided to approach the Unicode Consortium with a proposal of renaming the slot where the Assamese and Bengali scripts were included on the webpage as Pub or Eastern Nagari. Phukan and Haque, among others, had opposed the idea saying that the slot should be renamed either as Kamrupi or AMBM (Assamese Maithili Bengali Manipuri) but not as Pub Nagari.

“That was our third demand. We had said that Assamese first and foremost required a separate slot. Either that or that the slot be renamed Kamrupi or, third, that it be called AMBM,” Phukan and Haque had said in their memoranda sent to Unicode in July 2011.

Both of Unicode’s letter to the Centre and that of the Union government to the state had Haque and Phukan’s memoranda attached, they said.

“I had also sent a technical report to Unicode with copies to the Union government and the chief secretaries of Assam and West Bengal explaining how and why Assamese should be given a separate slot,” Phukan said.

Asked about the present stand of the sabha on the issue, general secretary Paramananda Rajbongshi said they would discuss the issue with other organisations.

The Unicode Consortium has allotted separate slots for Meitei Mayek, the indigenous script of Manipur for the Manipuri language, and for Chakma.