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Preserving All Scripts

The Missing Scripts program aims to preserve the rich diversity of the world’s languages and protect Indigenous scripts, ensuring their existence in the digital sphere.

Developed in partnership with the Script Encoding Initiative (University of California, Berkeley) and the University of Applied Sciences Mainz (Germany), the Missing Scripts was initiated in response to the alarming realization that only half of the world’s writing forms are present on digital platforms. Missing are not only ancient scripts, some of which remain undeciphered, but also a large number of minority and/or Indigenous writings still in use today. Neglected by the digital industry, these writings, along with the languages they represent, face the threat of extinction, so the program aims to fix this situation. The initial step involves encoding these scripts, a process that entails standardizing them by assigning a numerical identifier to each symbol.

This task has been carried out by the Universal Unicode Standard since the early 1990s. However, mere encoding is insufficient. Equally imperative is the development of input methods such as keyboards to ensure compatibility across various operating systems, as well as the creation of appropriate fonts. Designing these digital fonts requires specialized expertise, involving collaboration with experts, including native speakers, developers, and linguists. This aspect of the program, led by researchers on the Atelier national de recherche typographique (ANRT), a postgraduate research course of the École nationale supérieure d’art et de design (ENSAD), a public art school in Nancy, France, allows these writings to be accessible on computers and smartphones. This approach thus makes a strong case for an interdisciplinary artistic education that combines technology, art, culture, and typography.

This is an essential issue of digital empowerment. Without proper encoding, not only is the publication or exchange of texts impossible but also the construction of vital data sets essential to current technologies, such as automatic translation, voice recognition, machine learning, and AI, becomes unattainable. The Missing Scripts project fits with the proposed outputs of the UN’s Global Action Plan, contributing to the goal of enhancing the practical use of Indigenous languages.

Related links
Indigenous Languages Decade (2022–2032) | UNESCO www.unesco.org/en/decades/indigenous-languages

Multilingualism and Linguistic Diversity | UNESCO www.unesco.org/en/multilingualism-linguistic-diversity

Atelier national de recherche typographique (ANRT) https://anrt-nancy.fr/en

The World’s Writing Systems www.worldswritingsystems.org

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