The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, May 28, 2004

SURFING THE WEB IN ARABIC
Since the Internet was born in the U.S., it's not surprising that morphing it into a truly World Wide Web has been a rocky road. The challenge of making it relevant to the developing world has been ongoing; now, infrastructure changes that would allow Arabic alphabet input for URLs are being planned, but hampered by differing standards in different countries.
"What Khaled [Fattal, chairman of the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium] says is true, because if you only speak Arabic, why would you be interested in the Internet?" said Paul Verhoef, a vice president at the International Corporation for Internet Names and Numbers (ICANN), which runs the .com register.

But in the case of Arabic, an alphabetic script which conveys at least four major languages and is widely used in more than 30 countries, a long-term solution could take another five years to implement, according to Charles Sha'ban, a member of the MINC board and an expert on the subject.
The root of it is that, just as multiple European (and other) languages use the Roman alphabet, languages other than Arabic use Arabic script:
Sha'ban agreed that coordination between so many players has been a problem and that commercial companies with a stake in pushing their own systems have complicated the process.

"You have 22 Arab countries, all of which would like a say. At the same time there are other countries who use the same Arabic script--Farsi, Urdu and Pashtun. So it does need more cooperation between them," he said.
I'm somewhat surprised this hasn't already come up, and been dealt with, especially in Asia. Japan and Korea are heavily into the Web, and their native alphabets are non-Roman. However, Roman script is familiar in both countries, and has been incorporated into the languages offline for years; so I guess the issue hasn't come up seriously there.

Where else? Greek, my second language, uses the Greek alphabet. But it's a small user base, and I'm sure, as with most pan-European things, they've adapted to using Roman. Cyrillic type is the norm for Russia and several other Slavic countries; again, as with the Greeks, they've probably made do with using the dominant Roman (although if this issue gets addressed, Cyrillic will probably be the first alphabets addressed).

Ultimately, it's all about accessibility: The more comfortable people are with an interface, the more likely they are to use it. That includes alphabets.