An assessment of the Unicode standard

Steven D'Aprano steve at
Sun Aug 30 08:27:32 CEST 2009

On Sun, 30 Aug 2009 00:22:00 -0400, Chris Jones wrote:

> On Sat, Aug 29, 2009 at 11:07:17PM EDT, Neil Hodgson wrote:
>> Benjamin Peterson:
>> > Like Sanskrit or Snowman language?
>> Sanskrit is mostly written in Devanagari these days which is also
>> useful for selling things to people who speak Hindi and other Indian
>> languages.
> Is the implication that the principal usefulness of such languages as
> Hindi and "other Indian languages" is us selling "things" to them..? I
> am not from these climes but all the same, I do find you tone of voice
> rather offensive, 

I think Neil's point is that Unicode has succeeded in the wider world, 
outside of academic circles, because of the commercial need to 
communicate between cultures using different character sets. I suppose he 
could have worded it better, but fundamentally he's right: without the 
commercial need to trade across the world (information as well as 
physical goods) I doubt Unicode would be anything more than an 
interesting curiosity of use only to a few academics and linguists.

> considering that you are referring to a culture that's
> about 3000 years older and 3000 richer than ours and certainly deserves
> our respect.

Older, certainly, but richer? There's a reason that Indians come to the 
West rather than Westerners going to India. As Terry Pratchet has 
written, age is not linked to wisdom -- just because somebody is old, 
doesn't mean they're wise, perhaps they've just been stupid for a very 
long time. The same goes for cultures: old doesn't mean better.

Indian culture has been responsible for many wonderful things over the 
millennia, but the cast system is not one of them, and any culture which 
glorified sati (suttee) as an act of piety is not one we should look up 
to. Sati was probably rare even at the height of it's popularity, and 
vanishingly rare now, and arguably could even be defended as the right of 
an adult to end their own life when they see fit, but dowry-burning is 
outright murder and is sadly very common across the Indian sub-continent: 
some estimates suggest that in the mid-1990s there were nearly 6000 such 
murders a year in India.

If we are to be truly non-racist, we must recognise that the West does 
not have a monopoly on wickedness, ignorance, spite and sheer awfulness.  

In any case, I'm not sure we should be talking about Indian culture in 
the singular -- India is about as large as Western Europe, significantly 
more varied, and the culture has changed over time. The India which 
treated the Karma Sutra as a holy book is hardly the same India where 
people literally rioted in the street because Richard Gere gave the 
actress Shilpa Shetty a couple of rather theatrical and silly kisses on 
the cheek.


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