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Comments on the ccTLD IDN FT program

  • To: fast-track-review-2010@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Comments on the ccTLD IDN FT program
  • From: Eric Brunner-Williams <ebw@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 16 Dec 2010 19:11:06 -0500


As I can't tell if there will be an extension of public comments, this hurried note will have to do.

The ccTLD IDN FT was broken in two important ways ab initio. First, the one script per presumption, which became a rule without sufficient reflection, and second, the presumption that only non-Latin scripts are necessary, which also became a rule without sufficient reflection.

The one-script-per rule is sensible for monolingual countries, and either comedic or potentially tragic for countries with either a healthy linguistic plurality, or in which linguistic hegemony is precarious and maintained by force. There are several candidates for either, and I'll just point to the canonical example of 11 official scripts in India, for 22 official languages.

The non-Latin rule is also sensible for countries in which the expansion of Western European literary culture in the 16th to 20th centuries was not pervasive -- the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Where cultures adapted to Latin script hegemony, the Americas, Oceania, Sub-Saharan Africa, the non-Latin rule eliminates the adaptations, usually using diacriticals, which are encoded as Extended Latin in Unicode, of non-Latin languages which use Latin Script.

So this point is not lost, on restricted keyboards, even Arabic has a Latin keyboarding convention used by millions, on ordinary keyboards, Cherokee, Cree, and other unrelated indigenous languages with non-Latin scripts are as commonly keyboarded in Latin as Arabic.

What we call "decorated Latin" has been excluded by the ccTLD IDN FT, which has the effect of limiting the benefit of the ccTLD IDN FT to the majority populations of East Asian, Eastern European, and West Asian and North African states, and utterly denying it to the pluralities of populations of the Americas who do not ordinarily use a Latin language, but who do ordinarily use Latin script, with extensions.

With those two areas covered, two subjects that affect IDN users differently -- "variants" and states as the sole authors of applications for scripts.

The rhetoric of the ccTLD IDN FT has been crippled by the use of the word "variant" for vastly different technical problems. The historically tragic "Han Unification" committed by the Unicode Consortium has resulted in the unfortunate treatment of Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters as "variants", rather than as two distinct scripts of tens of thousands of characters sharing several thousand characters in common. The less tragic "Arabic Script" unification of Arabic and Farsi/Dari has also created a kind of variant problem, one that showed up during the IDNAbis work that touched on Arabic and Eastern Arabic digits and their directionality and similarity. Finally, there are the true variants, arising from the context dependent nature of some scripts, such as Arabic, with an initial, medial, and terminal form for each of the characters.

Calling these all "variants" has lead to a year long inability to express usefully what is meant by equivalences of variants, to the consternation of the IETF DNSEXT WG that has attempted to assist ICANN in spite of a history of shared mistakes and misunderstandings, and put some non-trivial additional tensions on the relationship between the largest single language group on the planet and ICANN.

The restriction of agency for scripts, and therefore languages, to state, has adverse consequences. It is reasonable to offer Yiddish, language written both in Latin script and in Hebrew script, by any state using a right-to-left bidirectional script. Unfortunately, for language policy that does not meet rational scrutiny, no such state is interested in the survival of the Yiddish language in Hebrew script. Additional examples of state disinterest in important languages exist. State elites, whether purely for policy rationals, or for market rationals, are unlikely sources of agency to adopt a minority language, even if no other "Fast Track" choices are available to the state elites.

Yes, ICANN has made some gesture of service towards the Han, Arabic, and Cyrillic script users, and will get to some of the Indic script users before the end of the FT process. But we could have done much more, and the reveiw cannot legitimately be "flawless execution, with champers and backslapping all around."

Eric Brunner-Williams
in a personal capacity

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