How to Kill a Writing System

How to Kill a Writing System
with Zachary Scheuren, Ripon Chakma, Mangu Purty, Sunita Dangol, Vinodh Rajan

Co-presented by San Francisco Public Library
Online Lecture
Tue, Jun 16, 2020
12:00pm–1:30pm PT

COVID-19 Update: This lecture will now be held online and the time has changed to 12:00pm PDT.

Writing systems live and breathe with the people who use them, but sometimes they can become difficult or impossible to use. In many cases a writing system has been deliberately pushed out of use or even out of existence. What does it take to kill a writing system? What does it take to bring one back to life? In the current digital world if a writing system is implemented in computing systems it can be immediately seen and used by billions of people around the world. However, if there is no support users must resort to other means. But why should they compromise?

Scheuren will be joined by local and native experts in a variety of endangered scripts, including Mangu Purty (Warang), Ripon Chakma (Chakma), Sunita Dangol (Newa), Vinodh Rajan (Grantha).

About Zachary Scheuren

Zachary Scheuren studied film production and foreign languages at the University of Colorado, Boulder before moving to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. After many years shooting, editing, and animating film title sequences he left Hollywood to attend the MA Typeface Design program at the University of Reading. He then worked as a software developer in London and Tokyo before joining Monotype as a type designer/font engineer. He is currently Senior Font Developer at Adobe, Japan.

About Ripon Chakma

Ripon Chakma was born in a remote village in Northeast India and has lived in many parts of India and Bangladesh. He researched his ancestors’ Chakma language and its script, discovering several historical accounts about the Chakma people and culture. Despite racial and religious discrimination commonly faced by the Chakma, Ripon studied Buddhism through textual studies and practical training, gaining more knowledge about ancient languages such as Pāli, Sanskrit, Prakrut, Apabramsa Chakma, and their relationship to her Chakma. Today, Ripon speaks, reads and writes Chakma, Hindi, Pāli, Sanskrit, Bengali, Marathi, Assamese, Sinhalese, and English — and has familiarity with other Indo-Aryan languages and Southeast Asian languages and scripts. He serves as a Buddhist teacher and linguistic enthusiast in California, and supports Chakma language and script education at a school in Assam. He wants to translate several books in the Chakma language after further development of the script, and hopes to see the language flourish along with the Chakma community.

About Mangu Purty

Mangu Purty comes from Southern Jharkhand, a Ho speaking area, and studied Chinese in undergraduate school. The main motivation behind all his efforts is to raise awareness of the Ho language which is currently limited due to lack of font support despite more than a million Ho speakers.

About Sunita Dangol

Sunita Dangol is a communications professional and Ranjana script trainer working toward the promotion and awareness of ancient scripts and one of the indigenous languages of Nepal. She is also a freelance emcee and a social activist. Her interests focus on child participation and heritage preservation. With Ananda Kumar Maharjan, Dangol cofounded a calligraphers collective called "Callijatra" to promote various Nepalese scripts. Callijatra has run several dozen workshops on the Ranjana script and is looking to expand its scope by involving more calligraphers and designers.

About Vinodh Rajan

Vinodh Rajan is a chemical engineer turned computer scientist with a great interest in writing systems. After working as a software engineer in India for three years, he left it to pursue a PhD in Digital Paleography at St Andrews in Scotland. He currently works as a researcher at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and is developing a web-based visual programming platform for processing digitized manuscripts. In his own time, he works on providing computational support to minority and historic writing systems, and also contributes to their outreach efforts.

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