Native Language Email (article)

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Tue Oct 7 20:42:52 UTC 2003

Greetings!  I am new to this list and am looking over some off the archives.
Hope it's okay to comment on some older postings.

Matthew Ward's comments are very interesting. I've personally noticed the
evolution of e-mail and the internet in Chinese over the last decade or so
(my wife is Chinese).  In the case of Africa and African languages things
are moving also, though the sociolinguistic terrain varies and has some
differences from much of Asia (the higher prominence of former colonial
languages being one, less of a written tradition, non-use of maternal
languages in instruction, and in the case of some less-spoken languages,
lack of standard orthography).  One wonders about the potential for more
multimedia uses of ICT, including more creative use of audio, as the lines
between technologies become more blurred.

>From a technical point of view, there are no particular problems for text
e-mail for languages using basically the same Latin alphabet as West
European languages.  For the many languages using modified letters and those
using non-Latin scripts the technical hurdles are no more insurmountable
than those faced in Asia.  Oddly it sometimes seems that the orthographies
with extended Latin orthographies have more issues, because there may only
be a few characters outside the European character set - one can get by with
substitute measures, more or less, and if you use the extended characters,
still some browsers and many e-mail readers mess them up.  Just recently on
the Unicode-Afrique list, someone actually wondered about creating an
ISO-8859 for the Latin transcription of Tamazight (not likely to happen, and
a backwards step from implementation of Unicode if it did).

Re the e-mail system that Phil Cash Cash brought to the
list's attention, there has also been another one out there for a while at .  Haven't checked to see if the two are


Don Osborn, Ph.D.         dzo at
*Bisharat! A language, technology & development initiative
*Bisharat! Initiative langues - technologie - développement

Date:         Wed, 13 Nov 2002 10:52:11 -0700
From:         Matthew Ward 
Subject:      Re: Native Language Email (article)

Good article, thanks.

I lived in Asia in the 1990's and the early part of this decade, and I
witnessed an amazing revolution in terms of native language use of
e-mail and Internet.  In Thailand in the early 90's, for example, e-mail
use was restricted to an elite who could communicate in English, as
then-current technology could not handle the Thai writing system.
 Technological advances not only caused most people to switch to Thai,
they also brought in the majority of Thais who do not speak English.
 Today, the idea of writing e-mail in English to other native speakers
of Thai would seem quaint indeed to most Thai teenagers, who have
already grown up with technology which allows them to use their native
language online with ease.  People who are fluent in English may use it
to communicate with native speakers of other languages, but native
speakers of Thai now use almost exclusively Thai to communicate among
themselves.  This revolution has also occurred in Japan and Taiwan, the
other two Asian countries that I have lived in.

Now, with the need to write e-mail in English already a thing of the
past, the new trend has been towards e-mail programs which allow
minority languages and dialects to be used, which lessens the dependance
on national Asian languages like Standard Japanese, Standard Thai, and
Mandarin Chinese.  Last year, my Japanese wife and I were riding a train
in Japan, and she was transfixed by a huge advertisement for a program
which would allow her to write her native dialect, Kansai Japanese,
online.  The advertisement showed what would happen if you input Kansai
Japanese into a standard program (the computer would "misread" the
phonetic input) vs. what would happen if you used the program advertised
(the program would correctly interpret the phonetic input).

It is my experience that if you create technology which allows people to
easily use their native languages online, they will do it, just as
people prefer to use all other technologies in their native languages.
 The only real challenge is creating the technology and making it
available to everyone.

Matthew Ward

Phil Cash Cash wrote:

>Dear ILAT members,
>Many of you might find this recent news interesting where e-mail is used
>for African languages such as Swahili, Kikuyu, Luaya, Luo, Yoruba, Hausa
>and Igbo.  Below is a link to the article, "Kenyan Company Creates Native
>Language Email Services."
>Enjoy!  Note the multimedia links as well.
>Phil Cash Cash (cayuse/nez perce)
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