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NRSI: Computers & Writing Systems

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Short URL: http://scripts.sil.org/digitaldivide

The Digital Divide

Alan Conner, 2001-01-01

Beyond the Digital Divide

The digital revolution has improved standards of living, education and public health — at least for societies with access to that technology.

Many ethnic minorities around the world, however, are marginalized because their languages cannot be represented or processed by current technology.

Often, these groups are too small or poor to attract the commercial investment behind technological advancements. As a result, speakers of many minority languages are technological “have-nots.” This situation is known as “The Digital Divide.”

SIL chartered the Non-Roman Script Initiative (NRSI) to enable ethnic minorities to bridge the digital divide. NRSI participates in the work of the Unicode Consortium, an international nonprofit founded to establish a universal standard for representing each character of all the world's writing systems on the computer.

Using the Unicode standard, SIL is pioneering a new technology named Graphite. Designed to enable the use of complex writing systems, this extensible software component allows programmers to create digital writing systems for minority languages. To harness Graphite technology, SIL is developing WorldPad, a word processor which creates and edits multilingual documents with complicated scripts.

The original program code for Graphite may be downloaded for free at Graphite. Making this intellectual property freely available enables software developers to incorporate Graphite’s program code into other programs. This “open source” strategy empowers others to build on Graphite’s foundation to create customized digital solutions to meet the needs of indigenous peoples.

Many languages have no access to the digital world. Over 600 of these have no access simply because they use a non-Roman script. NRSI has recognized that capacity building and partnership are essential to bridge the digital divide. The digital revolution has improved standards of living, education and public health — at least for societies with access to that technology.



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