Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top to bottom

The scripts used by the languages that have a #Wikipedia are written either in a right to left or in a left to right direction, the Arabic script for instance is "rtl" and the Latin script is "ltr". Supporting all these scripts is difficult enough. There has been a constant demand for improvements that make editing in languages like Arabic, Hebrew or Urdu easier.

Mongolian is one language that turns things on its head; it is written top down. Even though it is a living language, it is hard to find documents on the Internet. It is hard because at this time only Internet Explorer supports the Mongolian script in its production versions and applications like MediaWiki do not support it at all.

When Mongolian is to be completely supported by browsers, there are several issues;

  • the shapes of the Mongolian script need to be supported by Harfbuzz and other shaping engines. 
  • supporting versions of the shaping engines need to be included in the browser people use
  • it still needs to be shown in the top down direction
Mongolian is not the only script that is written in a top down direction. SignWriting is another one. SignWriting is used by sign languages, there are several hundreds of these languages  and SignWriting is the only script that can be used realistically for day to day use.

There are several requests for Wikipedias that need SignWriting support. All these requests are waiting because of missing technical infrastructure or other issues
  • SignWriting characters are not yet defined in Unicode
  • there is a freely licensed font based on Unicode specifications but it is not stable by definition
  • browsers do not support top down; for now top down needs support in the application
All this can hardly be considered "low hanging fruit" and as there is so much that needs doing. Supporting top down languages in general and Mongolian and SignWriting in specific is something to wish for. It is technology that needs champions that make it a reality.
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