Monday, August 9, 2010

How important is encoding?

Here's some non-random stream of consciousness for you as far as language goes. How important is encoding to you? Does encoding really matter? What do I mean by encoding? The alphabet you use, whether you represent words as syllables, as characters, as letters, and how you put all that together.

The impetus for this though process comes from a (pretty silly in my opinion) facebook group that I was invited to a while back. The group is called "save the Greek language," kinda funny if you ask me because I don't think that the Greek language is in any danger of being lost. The details of the group say the following (for the original look at the end of the blog post).

Greek is one of the most beautiful languages. English has a far reach and is...a requirement. Greeklish [emphasis added] on the other hand is nothing. Mixed up, messed up [words] that are convenient. We will forget the Greek we know. Prefer to write in Greek [script]. You will be expressing yourself in a better manner with the most beautiful words, and you will be learning new [words] and not forgetting the ones you already know. Support the Greek language, there is no reason renounce it. At the end of the day it's our own [language]. Select Greek as your facebook language -hey even for a change select English, Italian or French, but [for heaven's sake] pick a pure language.

OK, so this is one large, jumbled mess of a mission statement. In the beginning this group seems to be anti-hegemony of English. Let's pick our language to communicate in as opposed to the lingua franca of trade which has become a behemoth of a language around the globe. OK, no problem, I agree with you. Then the issue seems to shift from language to encoding - how that language is represented, in this case Greeklish - which is using Latin based characters to represent Greek letters, or Greek sounds.

For example Greeklish came out of an era of computing, network computing, when manufacturers did not have an agreed upon standard as to how to represent Greek text on a screen. As a result Apples, IBMs, Windows, and other PC and mainframe manufacturers produced text which was not mutually intelligible. I'm sure you've seen this on the internet every now and again. You type Εμπρός! and the received of the message sees ƒe®,,.!

In those days Greeklish came up as a solution, people were able to communicate again by using a different encoding - instead of Greek characters which were problematic, you used latin ANSI based characters which were not. There is considerable variation in Greeklish. For instance: η, ι, υ, ει and οι are all pronounced as "ee" -, therefore users have the option of typing h, i, u, ei, or oi as visual representations of letters or they can just type i as a phonetic representation. There are many more examples where that came from :-) When I first started reading Greeklish I had a problem, just like anyone learning a new alphabet's rules, but eventually I got the hand of it.

Having read a number of wall posts on this group (sorry, I won't be joining), it seems to be that these are a bunch of zealots that fall in the same camp of people who claim that texting/SMS is ruining our ability to spell or construct coherent thoughts. Give me a break! It's quite obvious where I stand on the issue. What do YOU think? Does it matter if I type:

The Quick Brown Fox

or if I type any one of these variations:

Δε κουικ μπραουν φοξ

де куик браун фох

でくいくぶらうぬふぉぅ
تحعقويصكبرهشنفهخ
تهعقہئثکبرظونفظخ

ཏཧེཨིུཅཀབརོཝན྄ོཛ
ðe kuik braun ƒox

Does the encoding of a language matter if people are able to read (i.e. decode what's on paper) despite the encoding?


Original text
Τα ελληνικά είναι από τις ωραιότερες γλώσσες. Τα αγγλικά είναι πολύ διαδεδομένα και ... απαραίτητα. Τα greeκlish όμως δεν είναι τίποτα. Ανακατέματα, μπερδέματα που μας βολεύουν. Θα ξεχάσουμε κι αυτά που ξέρουμε. Προτιμήστε να γράφετε στα ελληνικά. Εκφράζεστε καλύτερα, με τις πιο ωραίες λέξεις και επιπλέον μαθαίνετε νέες και δεν ξεχνάτε όσες ξέρετε. Στηρίξτε την ελληνική γλώσσα, δεν υπάρχει λόγος να την αποποιούμαστε. Δική μας είναι στο κάτω-κάτω. Διαλέξτε τα ελληνικά για το facebook. Άντε και για εναλλαγή τα αγγλικά ή ιταλικά ή ισπανικά. Πάντως... μια γλώσσα γνήσια.
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