Indonesia to Digitize Indigenous Scripts

Andrew Warner reports on efforts to make the indigenous languages of Indonesia more accessible online

Ramadan Mobile

UNESCO and the Indonesian Internet Domain Registry (PANDI) have announced plans to work on digitizing the Indigenous scripts of Indonesia through an initiative called “Connecting the Nation through Ancient Character Digitalisation.”

Indonesia is home to more than 700 languages, and while the official language is Indonesian, which has nearly 200 million speakers, many speak it as a second language.

Indonesian is written in the Latin alphabet, making it a convenient language for digital communication. However, other major languages of the region, such as Javanese, have historically used other Indigenous scripts that were specifically designed for those languages.

Aside from Indonesian, most of the country’s languages do not have a significant online presence—UNESCO and PANDI have set out to make the Internet more accessible to speakers of these languages.

“It is important that the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of Indonesia is reflected online especially since young people nowadays are mostly digital natives,” said Dr. Yudho Giri Sucayho, chairman of PANDI, at a virtual conference on the digitization initiative.

Through the initiative, PANDI plans to register at least seven indigenous scripts with Unicode and ICANN, each of which has been overlooked in recent years. Javanese, for example, historically used a traditional script distantly related to the Devanagari and Tamil scripts. Tthis has however largely been replaced with the Latin script (and to a lesser extent, Arabic script), for practical purposes. Currently the native Javanese script is still taught in some schools in Java, however few Javanese speakers use it regularly, and computers have difficulty rendering the script.

PANDI hopes these digitization efforts will help increase linguistic diversity on the Internet, which is relatively scarce: around 40 languages make up the vast majority of content on the Internet, with the remainder making up less than .1% each of the Internet’s content. Prince Notonegoro of Yogyakarta, an autonomous region in Java, said at the conference that he believes digitizing the native scripts will encourage younger generations to learn about the writing systems and their heritage and keep the scripts alive.

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