The use of the new multilingual software and the adoption of the new UNICODE standards are revolutionary tools that the international organizations, particularly UN agencies should adopt. It is about time that the UN not only cut publishing costs but actually reach a wider audience. The non-Latin text provided electronically on the WWW, can then be downloaded (captured), edited (content and format) and used in publications by local governments, NGOs., etc.
Mike Holderness states that "Much of what's available on the Net is in English. Unknown numbers of people do communicate in other languages, but for now it is only practicable to send e-mail in languages which use the Roman or Cyrillic alphabets. Software programs that handle different scripts are common, but files generated in a language like Hindi or Japanese by one program are not readable by other programs. The International Standards Organization adopted a scheme called Unicode in 1993, providing interchangeable representations of every language and script from Japanese to Cherokee, but practicable software to generate and read Unicode files doesn't look likely to arrive until later in 1996. "I think in English," said Ranil Senanayake of the Environment Liaison Centre International in Nairobi, Kenya. His mother tongue is Sinhalese, "which makes a huge difference to what I think. If you read and think in the language and you have the cultural and social values ingrained in you, the way you interpret that information may be totally different.""
Though obviously Holderness wrote this earlier, now with software like the "Accentsoft Multilingual Mosaic", any Arabic text written with other software is readable as the Arabic text examples show. I believe this applies to other languages as well.
All major media of the world are moving to electronic publishing. It makes sense. Why should they waste money on printing and distribution. If that is true for businesses, it should be more true to international organizations, particularly UN agencies. Just think of the trees this approach can save.
Seriously, the approach followed now is both obsolete, expensive and inefficient. Most international agencies print their materials in a multitude of languages (Arabic being one of the official languages of the UN). These material is often mailed and distributed free of charge to developing countries to set in some organization or official bookshelf with very limited, if any, chance for some one else to make use of it.
This is not the case with electronic publishing. There would be of course be the cost of translation and word-processing (which is common in both approaches). The new costs that will be incurred are those of converting the text to HTML and the design involved. Moreover, there may be the cost of providing internet connection to some key organizations - that cannot afford it - to be made available to the public. Even this can be reduced down to providing diskettes to be used with browsers on a computer or a local area network. However, what all this (with the more accessibility of electronically published material) compared to the current costs of printing, mailing, etc.
I am not so radical as to propose that electronic publishing should be used instead of conventional publications. We all know that not all people are as computer literate as we are. Also the information infra-structure in most developing countries will not allow the full use of the 'information revolution' available to the lucky ones in industrial countries. Just think of it, here in North America most telephone companies will provide you with an ISDN connection with a band width more than that available to some nations.
There is a multitude of material already available in non-Latin languages that only need to be transformed to HTML format to be available to the public at large. Why not start by these? FITS is ready to do just that, on trial basis free of charge, with Arabic material of UN agencies and international organizations.
So, my last remark is that this approach should be started from now, in the near future may be we shall not have enough trees or recyclable material for that matter, to continue using hard copies. We should start now as the media did. The technology is here to electronically publish in different languages. Let us use it!
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