Do computers and technology change the use of scripts? Or perhaps, the question should be “how do computers and technology change the use of scripts?”

A number of years ago I wrote a chapter in the  Implementing Writing Systems book which is now online. The chapter was called  Challenges in publishing with non-Roman scripts. In that chapter I discussed how computers had changed the way word spacing is handled in the Ethiopic script. To quote:

Ethiopic is an example of using a character rather than a space: the Hulet Neteb () is used between words in place of white space, unless there is other punctuation which acts as a word break. (This is also an excellent illustration of how computers have changed a script. With the advent of computing, Ethiopic is now usually written on computer with white space between words. When handwriting, however, people typically still use the Hulet Neteb.)

There can be even more dramatic changes when you look at other scripts or styles of script. ali eteraz has written a very interesting article called  The Death of the Urdu Script. The Urdu language uses a special style of the Arabic script called nastaliq. Nastaliq is written on a slanting baseline where the longer a word is, the taller the word becomes. Here is an example of nastaliq compared with the more common naskh:

Nastaliq v. Naskh. Courtesy Wikpedia.

It should be immediately obvious why naskh is easier to implement than nastaliq. ali eteraz says “With its straightness and angularity, naskh is simply easier to code, because unlike nastaliq, it doesn’t move vertically and doesn’t have dots adhering to a strict pattern.”

The difficulties in implementing nastaliq mean that most software companies have simply opted to implement naskh in hopes that Urdu speakers (and any other language using nastaliq) will switch to using naskh. This has not worked the way we might have anticipated. Apparently naskh is so abhorrent to Urdu speakers that they prefer to switch to using the Roman script instead of naskh on the web and for texting!

ali eteraz goes on to explain in an entertaining way all the steps he went through to try to get various software companies to implement nastaliq on computers and mobile devices. He gives a plea for software developers to implement nastaliq fonts and keyboards for use on the web and for mobile devices.

This beautiful script deserves to be preserved.