TODAY -

E-Pao! Opinion - Meetei Mayek and Unicode

Meetei Mayek and Unicode
- Making the Script Immortal -

By: Tabish Qureshi *



Meetei Mayek, the indigenous script of Manipur, has a history which makes an interesting subject both for a linguist and a historian. The destruction of the script by burning all the documents in the early 18th century and its resurrection, almost from the ashes, hundreds of years later, reminds one of the mythical bird phoenix which is supposedly consumed by fire, and then rises again from its ashes.

Meetei Mayek is back, and has been given its due place. However, one might surmise if the script is hundred percent safe today. What if some whimsical tyrant comes to power and decides to destroy the script again? Well, I will argue that in this era of new technology and digital information, it is practically impossible to carry out such a destruction.

Computers store everything as numbers - whether you write a story or type in a long proof of a mathematical theorem, the computer stores everything as just numbers. So, a research paper by Einstein or the epic of Khamba-Thoibi, are all stored as a sequence of numbers in a "file" in a computer. The computers in turn store these numbers on some storage devices like hard-disks, CDs, DVDs, floppies and now pendrives.

DVDs and pendrives are portable media, each of which can store several gigabytes of data. To give you an idea of how much space a fat book occupies, the whole Bible occupies only 4-5 megabytes (MB) of data. And one gigabyte is about a thousand MB! So, one can imagine that a tiny pendrive or a DVD can store thousands of books the size of the Bible.

Now, imagine if in the time of king Pamheiba, the technology were as advanced as today. People could have stored all the puyas that were ever written, on a single DVD or on a tiny pendrive, the size of a fountain pen cap! People could compress files of a puya and email it to some account in some other country.

The historical and holy text that was mindlessly destroyed by burning the puyas, could easily have been sent to "safe" places, where Pamheiba's rule did not hold In a matter of seconds, a thousand copies of a puya could be cloned. In such a situation, it would be humanly impossible for someone to erase every trace of a manuscript.

This would have been the scenario, had this technology been around at that time. Sadly, it did not exist then. However, this technology is around now and it is up to us to make the best use of it, in spreading the script, using the script, and popularizing it.

To popularize the script we don't need any library burning fanatics - we only need the internet, computers, and the power of digital media. We don't even need as many teachers, the online tutor programs can easily teach Meetei Mayek to anyone interested. One only has to be interested

The hotch potch of character maps

Now-a-days one can use Meetei Mayek on computers after installing appropriate software. So, have we done everything that needs to be done? The answer is no, and I will explain that in a moment. Those who visit E-pao site regularly must have frequently seen lines like the following:

Meitei Mayek Poem :: fHgd_ra samNyada



A newcomer wonders what it is, but a computer geek informs him that he doesn't have the right font installed on his computer. And if that it done, these strange words will actually be displayed as Meetei Mayek. Why does this happen? This happens for the following reason.

Computers store alphabets as numbers - so, there are certain numbers associated with the Roman letters A, B, C, D etc. The Meetei Mayek font provided by E-Pao maps the Meetei Mayek characters to the same numbers that are used by Roman letters. So, a newcomer who doesn't know that this text is to be viewed with E-Pao's font, sees some gibberish text.

The problem is made worse by the fact that there is not just one Meetei Mayek font, there are several, and each has its own mapping of characters. So, a document written in Meetei Mayek using one particular font, will appear as gibberish if seen using some other Meetei Mayek font.

So, as things stand now, if a document is typed in Meetei Mayek and sent by email to somebody else, he/she cannot make any sense out of it. So, the gigabytes of stored documents may just appear to be garbage. What one person writes cannot be easily understood by another - this is not a healthy scenario in this era of information technology.

The Unicode standard

So, is there a solution to this mess? Yes, the answer is Unicode (www.Unicode.org) which is becoming the de-facto standard for storing text in computers. Unicode provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language.

Once the Unicode standard is adopted, each character will be unique, it will not be replaced by mistake by any other character. A document typed using Unicode standard, will be understandable by everybody, without any ambiguity. Unicode aims to assign a unique number to every characater of every script that exists in the world.

Even the scripts which have died out, and are no longer in use, will be included in the Unicode standard. This will make storing of old documents in old scripts possible.

The Unicode Standard has been adopted by such industry leaders as Apple, HP, IBM, JustSystem, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Sun, Sybase, Unisys and many others. It is supported in all modern computer operating systems like Linux, Windows XP and MacOSX.

Most scripts of India, like Devanagari, Tamil, Malayalam, Urdu, Bengali, have already been included in Unicode. Now comes the million dollar question - has Meetei Mayek been included in the Unicode standard? The answer is, not yet.

However, the process is under way. The task of preparing a draft for assigning the numbers to Meetei Mayek characters is being coordinated by Michael Everson of Ireland, who is an expert in the writing systems of the world, in consultation with learned persons, and scholars who have done research on the script, both Manipuris and non-Manipuris.

The draft proposal for encoding of Meetei Mayek has been finalized and sent to the review board of Script Encoding Initiative (SEI). The SEI, established in the UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics, is a project devoted to the preparation of formal proposals for the encoding of scripts not yet currently supported in Unicode. So, everything is in the pipeline now, and it is only a matter of time before Meetei Mayek will become part of the Unicode standard.

One might wonder what difference it will make to a layperson when that happens. Once it happens, the computer you buy, which comes preloaded with Windows or Linux, will already have Unicode compatible fonts, capable of displaying Meetei Mayek characters, installed.

You will be easily able to type documents, send emails and chat in Meetei Mayek. And the documents you type and the websites you make in Meetei Mayek, will not appear as gibberish to others - they will appear faithfully as Meetei Mayek.

Which form of Meetei Mayek?

We all know that the controversy regarding which form of Meetei Mayek should be used, has not died out completely. The two camps have their own reasons to promote 27- or the 35-letter form.

One might feel apprehensive about which form of the script Unicode is going to adopt, and whether that will be the right thing to do. Well, the experts who discussed this aspect came to the conclusion that it will be best to include all the characters from all the forms of the script, in Unicode.

This will leave room for using any form of Meetei Mayek in the future. For example, if the currently adopted 27-letter form continues in the future, it will be fully Unicode compatible, and yet if there exist some old manuscripts, which were written in the 35-letter form, they can also be typed and stored using the Unicode standard, by using the extra characters encoded in Unicode. Encoding certain characters in Unicode doesn't mean that people have to use them - they can use those characters if they want to.


Figure 1: A schematic representation of the codespace. The code blocks for a few scripts have been indicated.



A wee bit of techincal stuff

Now that we have come this far in the discussion, we might as well take a peek at what this coding looks like.

The character codes are basically sequences of four hexadecimal numbers, prefixed with a "U+". Hexadecimal numbers are 16 in number (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F). Code elements are grouped logically throughout the range of code points, called the codespace.
Figure 2: The proposed chart of Unicode characters for Meetei Mayek.
The coding starts at U+0000 with the standard ASCII characters, and continues with Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, Indic and other scripts; then followed by symbols and punctuation. Figure 1 shows a schematic representation of the codespace.

In the codespace chart in figure 1, the fourth number of the code-sequences has been suppressed. For example, the single upper left blue box represents numbers U+0000 to U+000F. One can see blocks of numbers representing various scripts. The numbers U+1C80 to U+1CCF have been reserved for Meetei Mayek.

The chart of Meetei Mayek characters proposed for Unicode is displayed in figure 2. It displays three numbers of the sequence as the column number, and the fourth as the row number. Thus, for example, "kok" will be assigned the code U+1C85 and "til" will be assigned the code U+1C94.

At this point the reader might have the feeling that this Unicode thing looks too complicated and how will simple users cope with it. The answer to that is that all this coding remains in the background and the user doesn't have to bother with it.

For example, for typing "kok" the user wouldn't have to use some complicated method of typing the code U+1C85. The software will take care of how the user types.

For example, while using a word-processor, one may just have to select the script "Meetei Mayek" from a menu, and then just press "k" to type a "kok". The word-processor will take care of translating the "k" to the Unicode character code corresponding to "kok".


* Tabish Qureshi contributes regularly to e-pao.net . The author can be reached by email at: tabish(AT)jamia-physics.net . This article was webcasted on January 06th, 2007.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.


LATEST IN E-PAO.NET
  • Top 3 Museums in Manipur
  • COVID-19 Status 28 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Opening a new door : A Closure
  • 100 Trees Planted in memory of Dr Kishan
  • Serendipity :: Poem
  • The Agnipath Yojana : Deify or demonise ?
  • On Govt's move to carry out delimitation
  • More than putting vehicle into motion
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • ILP Check point at Jiri : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 27 June : Govt of Manipur
  • The untold story, lest it be forgotten
  • Assistance to victims of Assam Flood
  • A glimpse of 'Yangna Paikhredako Punshi'
  • Market innovations in developing country
  • Anti-drug day expose state pathetic situation
  • The wedge amongst the Nagas
  • Coming of Manipur University in 1980
  • COVID-19 Status 26 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Laitonjam Lanchenba: Best Swimmer
  • Our capital Imphal - the city of sanity
  • Workshop : ND & PS Act, 1985
  • Mara Prabhu - Lord of the trees
  • Essence of international anti-drug day
  • July 1 : Taking the fight to plastic
  • Miss Shirui Lily 2022 #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 25 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Flesh Trade : Connection between Goa & NE
  • Importance of Soil Testing & Management
  • ST status Vs Classical language for Meetei
  • Life, faith and belief
  • MANISFA General Secretary appointed
  • Flood Watch : 23rd June #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 24 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Community led in ensuring HIV treatment
  • Approach to ideology & development
  • Solar Energy solution for healthcare facility
  • Yoga for health, beauty and immunity
  • Innovation Prize Launched for Designers
  • Knotty higher education sector
  • Classical language status and ST demand
  • Flood Watch : 23rd June #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Birds and Bees Talk launched 3rd phase
  • Luck matters, Rio's first entry into cabinet...
  • Need to deal with dumping of waste materials
  • Training on mushroom at Nagamapal
  • 1961 as base year: Take it or leave it
  • 10 years too late : JCILPS
  • Phamnaiba Jagoi @ Thangjing : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 22 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Women's cleanliness enjoys equal rights...
  • Life in some hill villages
  • The MCI Restoration II
  • 'BRO Cafes' on 75 border roads
  • Protest over boundary row headache for Govt
  • Issues on the indigenous question
  • Drug Menace In Manipur : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 21 June : Govt of Manipur
  • ST tag for Meiteis - A perspective!
  • Manipur State Welfare : Politics 1-0 Citizens
  • International Yoga Day at Assam Rifles
  • International Yoga Day at IBSD Imphal
  • International Yoga Day at NSU Imphal
  • Manipur Lokyukta: Fighting against corruption
  • Vision to distribute local rice under NFSA...
  • Taking the fight to the drug menace
  • Landslides - Imphal-Jiri [Jun 17] : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 20 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Thangjing in folklore of Koireng tribe
  • Health Workshop on Diabetes at Pune
  • Everyone is a thief :: Poem
  • E- barton for CM & Governor
  • Intensive cultivation of vegetables
  • High time to encourage e-vehicle operators
  • Scripting success story with Rs 500
  • Leima Jagoi by Transgender #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 19 June : Govt of Manipur
  • June 19 2022 : Father's Day message
  • Nine Hills One Valley : Ottawa Film Fest
  • Shirui Lily Festival or mud festival ?
  • Yoga for Women organised
  • Flight link to Mandalay dream come true
  • Action of Govt needs to be backed
  • 21st Great June Uprising #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 18 June : Govt of Manipur
  • The Great June 18 Uprising :: News Timeline
  • Revive environmentalism in Meetei ethos
  • COVID-19 Status 17 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Elephant army of Lord Guruvayurappan
  • Who will be next at Rashtrapati Bhawan
  • Hiyang Tannaba @ Loktak #1 : Gallery
  • Freedom movement against British #2
  • Inequity and health security
  • Donating blood is an act of solidarity
  • Unregulated deposit schemes & BUDS Act
  • Extension of entry age : Agnipath
  • Citizens feeding on adulterated food items
  • Of food safety and street vendors
  • Pooja Elangbam, IAS, 81st ranker in AICS
  • COVID-19 Status 16 June : Govt of Manipur
  • NE Model @Delhi Kids Fest : Gallery
  • Manipur Rajkunja
  • Effective Legal Aid to Women Prisoner
  • How to avoid cracked heel during hot summer
  • Aid to artisan must to promote local product
  • Education for whom ?
  • Kabui Dance @Nongshaba Haraoba : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 15 June : Govt of Manipur
  • 'Let's Talk About It' : music album
  • Significance of World Environment Day
  • The MCI Restoration
  • North East CSR Award 2022
  • Prolonged sitting or standing spoils your leg
  • State fast-tracking towards drug making hub
  • 'Progression' from smuggling to manufacturing
  • Bonny Elangbam : Longest distance covered
  • COVID-19 Status 14 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Interaction with Makakmayum Hosni Mubarak
  • India to become $5 trillion economy
  • Exploring traditional medicines of NE
  • Freefall of the kids after COVID-19
  • Honour the tax payers, expose defaulters
  • NE needs more than 'unprecedented'
  • Miss Shirui Lily 2022 #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 13 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Water management in paddy cultivation
  • PM Modi hails Nagaland Gaon Burahs
  • Blight of Nature :: Poem
  • Moreh as Las Vegas
  • NHIDCL's reputation at stake
  • Drugs, poppy & 'alternatives'
  • Thaopai Shithaine of Poumai #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 12 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Jadonang Park, Tamenglong :: Gallery
  • Freedom movement against British #1
  • Multi-Tasking Staff at Leima Traders
  • Toning down rhetoric that hurts religion
  • Shirui Lily fest brings to fore plastic menace
  • Conservation of pony & grazing fields
  • Kakwa Lairembi Haraoba #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 11 June : Govt of Manipur
  • The unheeded cry of children in labour
  • Why present distribution of urea fails?
  • World Day Against Child Labour 2022
  • Sunrise on the Civil Aviation Horizon
  • Arambam Samarendra Ningshingba :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 10 June : Govt of Manipur
  • NE Ex-Super Model at Delhi Kids Fest
  • What Diphu has, Dimapur & Kohima don't
  • Towards Manipur Budget 2022-23 ...
  • NE Social & Behaviour Change inaugurated
  • Fighting corruption remains an uphill task
  • Environment needs more than tree plantation
  • SN Chand: The father of Manipuri cinema #3
  • COVID-19 Status 09 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Degree Certificate for Survival #2
  • Value chain management of Umorok
  • Pulses for Nutrition Security in Manipur
  • Keeping your skin oil free during summer
  • Demand for impartial probe into IMC scam
  • Politics of isolating the NSCN (IM)
  • Raas @Manipur Rajbari, W Bengal :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 08 June : Govt of Manipur
  • A rare book on Birds of Manipur
  • Condemns bomb blast in Manipur
  • Market Innovations made America great #2
  • Jal Jeevan Mission : PHED Manipur
  • Disturbing data on lifestyle diseases in state
  • Tough talk against drug menace
  • Trekking to Shirui Peak, Ukhrul #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 07 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Take a leaf from sunderban if you're serious
  • Testimony of brother Ninghor Mahongnao
  • Local leaders unitedly push for One Health
  • Letters from the Republic of Dust #2
  • Soil testing for better crop production
  • Despicable threat to school
  • Outrage at Little Flower School
  • Ibudhou Thangjing Lam Thokpa #3 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 06 June : Govt of Manipur
  • India-Taiwan Global Bamboo Tech Forum
  • Condemns bomb attack at LFS
  • RSS chief sounds logical
  • Career options in Environmental Science
  • We reap what we sow
  • NRC in focus as keyboard warriors spar...
  • Coming together of COCOMI, UNC
  • HSE Result 2022 : Statistiscal Abstract
  • HSE Result 2022 : Subject Pass Percentage
  • HSE Result 2022 : District-Wise Pass %
  • HSE Result 2022 :Science Topper
  • HSE Result 2022 : Arts Topper
  • HSE Result 2022 : Commerce Topper
  • HSE Result 2022 : Science Stream Result
  • HSE Result 2022 : Arts Stream Result
  • HSE Result 2022 : Commerce Stream Result
  • COVID-19 Status 05 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Nagaland: Is it fair to blame Indrajit Gupta ?
  • 4th Plenary Session of WMC at Sugnu
  • World Environment Day at Tamenglong
  • World Environment Day at Lilong
  • World Environment Day at Haraorou
  • Musing :: Poem
  • Yet another World Environment Day observed
  • Mounting pressure for solution
  • Padmashree Award Moirangthem Muktamani
  • COVID-19 Status 04 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Congested road at Shirui Village :: Gallery
  • Degree Certificate for Survival #1
  • Admission for National Sports University
  • World Environment Day at Imphal
  • Include Meeteis in the ST list
  • Inhumane act of De-addiction centres
  • UK band Monuments @ShiRock #2 :: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 03 June : Govt of Manipur
  • 'Provocation' charges arrests on social media
  • Gerinda Loitongbam: Natl Women Award
  • Timeless Memories :: Poem
  • Ket Meth releases music video Trauma'
  • 8 years of Modi Govt: More hits than misses
  • Bad example commanders
  • Posers parents may raise within
  • Miss Shirui Lily 2022 #1 : Gallery
  • Lunghar (Imp-Kohima / Jessami) #3 : Gallery
  • Wakhom Leikai Lairembi Haraoba #2 : Gallery
  • Naga Indigenous Wrestling :: Gallery
  • June Calendar for Year 2022 : Tools
  • UK band Monuments @ShiRock #1 :: Gallery
  • Ibudhou Thangjing Lam Thokpa #2 :: Gallery
  • SN Chand: The father of Manipuri cinema #2
  • Licypriya speech at East Timor :: Gallery
  • On 200th Anniversary of MK Binodini Devi
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2022 #2: Gallery
  • Harvesting Fest of Tarao #4 :: Gallery
  • Id-ul-Fitr @Hatta Golapati :: Gallery
  • Rules of English Pronunciation : Download
  • Sub-Syllables in English : Book Download
  • SPONSORED ADS