Localisation and text direction

Fascinating comment from this post:


I actually have a lot of experience with various language encodings having lived in China and Japan and worked for the Korean government. The East Asians as traditional as people might think they are are willing to read left to right top to bottom and have made do with a variety of plugins and 3rd party character entry systems for years. Now on Mac OS X at least or iOS it is really easy to input ひらがな or Simplified or Traditional 中文. There is a notable pause when you switch character inputs, but it is totally doable. The people who would not change are the people in the Middle East. Israel alone basically forced Microsoft to support this feature in Windows. Other Asian countries like Cambodia and even Thailand so widely pirate Microsoft Windows that there is either no official support for their character set or Microsoft has threatened to discontinue support for their localization of Windows. I’m not even sure there is a Cambodian version of Windows and I’ve been to Cambodia. They are poor, every computer I used there was in English.

Online one company can not dominate but before OS X and iOS those that wanted to write right to left were very limited in what software they could use. There wasn’t necessarily a Word Processor or Spreadsheet available you could use, let alone an OS localization. OS X shipped with something like a dozen localizations, Microsoft would charge extra to be able to switch languages in the olden days. Indeed the entire design of software from Windowing systems to Browsers is based on languages going left to right, top to bottom. Israel really fought hard to achieve support for this feature, which of course benefits a billion Chinese people among others.

I presume they fought to bring it to Web Standards too.

One place you can see the dominance of English is in programming languages. All major programming languages have their reserved words in English and code is written top to bottom, left to right. It is only natural that the end software supports text left to right and top to bottom. I’ve had to debug Perl of all things written in German, ie all the variables and functions were German words, but even then the reserved words were still English and every compiler and preprocessor goes left to right and top to bottom.

Some real world languages have almost died out in part because they had no written alphabet or speakers couldn’t easily record their thoughts in native words in anything other than what the Japanese would call Romanji a romanization or more accurately Latinization of the native words. Many indigenous North American languages had no written script and now some of them have less than a 100 speakers. This occurs elsewhere but having no written characters and the modern equivalent no support for your native language in major computing packages is almost the kiss of death for your language and culture.