Sustainable transcription of African Languages
Christian Chanard (Panelist) - CNRS

Intended Audience: Every specialist involved in scientific African languages studies

Session Level: Intermediate

Modern word processors management of Unicode is on the way to provide a solution to the encoding of African languages. Though, diacritics management remains a problem, for it is the cause of an important gap betweeen the recommandations of descriptive linguistics specialists and the need of a simple way to produce readable documents.

Unicode seems to hesitate between composite and non-composite characters. For the end user, the advantage of composition is a correct typography, while the stacking of several diacritics leads to the complexification of the fonts and demands the implementation of text rendering engine in the system. These complications tend to slow down the effective use of the Unicode standards and could compromise the future. One can't argue for the general use of an universal encoding system and neglect the importance of correct display and printing.

I propose the creation of a commission composed of specialists of the description of African languages whose task would be to collect the phonological systems and orthographical standards of these languages. This commission would be an acknowledged interlocutor of the Unicode Consortium, and as such could propose the introduction of the additional characters prooven to be necessary to the transcription of these languages.

This could be the place to discuss the opportunity of the integration of each character containing one (or more) diacritic(s) as a single Unicode composite character. A few blocks could be reserved for this purpose. This would be an acknowledgement for the scientific importance of these languages which, in spite of their lack of writing traditions, are part of the universal patrimony.

Making the scientific transcription of these languages sustainable (font independant) will help to preserve this patrimony.