THE NEED FOR A STANDARDIZATION OF ETHIOPIAN SCRIPT

Abass B. Alamnehe

EthioSystems, Houston, TX

abassa@neosoft.com

Important terms: Ethiopian ASCII, Ethiopian Unicode, Keyboard Layout, Key stroke, Users, Developers, Hadiss Character Set.

Every software that is related to Ethiopian Script constitutes no national standard. Lack of national standard has left every developer to rely on his/her own. The disparity that exists among the software can be traced to this fact and the absence of leadership by higher educational institutions in Ethiopia. As a result, users at large are getting confused and disgruntled, leaving a lot of them in the limbo.

Besides individuals researches, this author is only aware of a formal work by CSES (Committee for Standardization of Ethiopian Script), who picked up, studied and examined the Unicode draft proposal on Ethiopian Script and then forwarded its own alternative. CSES was formed by the Cleo community members who took the initiative to address the problem. The progress of CSES was encouraging, but not satisfactory since its work remain incomplete.

Developers are feeling the hitch and they sense something has to be done. However that is, no sign of collective effort is emerging from them. As they are the beneficiary of their own products, so far, they have failed to share the burden of establishing a standard.

The whole situation can be summed up as follow: no national standard with respect to ASCII, no national standard for Unicode, no national standard for ISO 10640, no national standard on transliteration, and furthermore, no national authoritative body.

Why Do We Need a National Standard on Ethiopian Script?

This question shouldn't be viewed with perspective of trickled down benefits. It has a long lasting effect on our country's future direction in which computer technology is a pillar element. To answer the question, what is shown below may not be a complete list, but covers most of them.

Why?

1. It lays down rules where everyone would abide to.

2. Data, on Ethiopian ASCII level can be imported and exported, as well as transmitted through network with uniformity.

3. Developers take responsibility that their software conform to a national standard.

4. Users clearly would know what is expected of them in using a software.

5. Users would concentrate on the functionality of the software rather than how they should type or enter key strokes.

6. It speeds up the spread of computer literacy and the growth of computer technology.

7. Its presence enhances the popularity of the Ethiopian Script globally and paves a way for international developers.

What Should be Done?

Today, all the works that may lead to a national standard can be attributed to developers, researchers, volunteer organized groups such as CSES. The question is who is to take the initiative and assume responsibility. As it is the case now, the Cleo community has brought the issue at the forefront of the burner. Given its historical position and a track record of unwavering stand, the community is apt to the task and better equipped than anyone else. Therefore:

* Reorganize CSES. Fill the committee with qualified people that includes developers, researchers, linguists, and so on. AAU participation is a must at every possible level. A possible goal of CSES may consists of:

1. Ethiopian ASCII, a modified version of the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. At least, Ethiopian ASCII must satisfy the criteria outlined below.

a. Two set of ASCII tables, the first one being a Primary Hadiss Character Set (Hadiss Alemayehu's Character Set as used in the book "Fiker Eske Mekabir." )

b. Primitive Sorting.

c. Widely used punctuation marks, Arabic numerals, mathematical symbols.

d. Compatibility to Windows ANSI Character Set with respect to the block between 0 and 32.

e. No breakspace (ASCII 126 or ASCII 160).

2. Ethiopian Keyboard Layout and Ethiopian Key Strokes Combination

3. Ethiopian Unicode: Most of the work is already done by Unicode and then by CSES.

4. Ethiopian Transliteration: To this author knowledge, Daniel Yakob and Yitna FirdYiwek are the leading researchers in this area. Their work is published on "Ethio Science & Technology." a while back.

5. Publication and educational awareness.

References:

1. Haddis Alemayehu, "Fikir Eske-Mekabir", Minister of Education, 1968.

2. Ethio-Science& Technology, Volume 3 Number 1, EEDN Column, Abass B. Alameneh, Editor, Houston, TX, 1994.