Lisa, a Bible translator, enthusiastically begins work in a language that has a complex writing system. But her laptop cannot type or display the traditional script.
Bruce needs to know which scripts and characters must be built into a new font he’s designing to support a dozen minority languages in Asia.
A mobile phone manufacturer needs technical data to be able to display the scripts used by its minority-language customers.
ScriptSource can meet their needs.
Victor Gaultney presenting ScriptSource at a software developers’ conference at JAARS late September 2011.
ScriptSource* (http://scriptsource.org) is a new website whose goal is to document the world’s scripts, alphabets, and writing systems, gather technical information about how (or if) those scripts are supported in the electronic world, and connect professionals who have a role in making these scripts work properly on digital devices—from computers to mobile phones.
ScriptSource links together 230-plus scripts (alphabets), 110,000-plus characters (individual letters), and 7,000-plus languages into a database around which linguists, translators, software developers, and even equipment manufacturers can connect and share information. They can use this data to program a language’s (up to now handwritten) alphabet onto a computer and ultimately onto a mobile-device display. They can supply new information by creating “entries” (with text, pictures, files, and Web links) that will appear wherever ScriptSource displays any relevant script, character, or language. In addition, they can post their needs for fonts, keyboards, and other software if none are available for a given language.
For translator Lisa, all her great linguistics and translation software is useless if the script doesn’t work on her machine. So she visits the ScriptSource website, which directs her to a font and keyboard she can use for the script. After downloading and installing the appropriate files, she finds her machine’s software suddenly “understands” how to enter and display the script.
If she visits ScriptSource but instead finds no font and keyboard files for her script and her kind of computer, she posts her need to the site, creates an entry describing how the script should work, and links it to the language in which she is working. A font designer could then meet the need by building the font and posting it for sale or free download.
For Bruce, the professional font designer, ScriptSource gives him the information he needs, as well as a place to distribute or announce his new font product.
And the mobile phone manufacturer finds most of the technical data it needs to serve all its customers.
Bible translation work is nearly impossible in today’s world if the text of a language cannot be displayed and edited on a computer. Writing the software for an as-yet unsupported script is a complex job that can require up to a year to complete. The needs of hundreds of languages currently without adequate script support simply overwhelm the dozen or so existing staff who do this specialty work. ScriptSource exists to gather the required technical information and share the job with programmers around the world who have their own reasons for seeing every language usable on computers, tablets, and the Internet.
Scripture distribution is also moving more and more to the Web and into mobile phone apps. Paper is not even in the publication plan for some translations in progress now! If a script does not work on the Internet or on mobile phones, which are essentially computers, then Scripture distribution will be limited. In some closed countries print distribution is extraordinarily difficult or dangerous, but mobile phones abound and can provide access to the Word. For millions from minority language groups, ScriptSource will play an important role in moving the Good News from the scribe to the screen.
*ScriptSource was launched on June 1, 2011, by the Non-Roman Script Initiative (NRSI, a sub-group of the Language Software Development department of SIL International, a JAARS partner organization).
Ken Wienecke provided IT support in Burkina Faso, Africa, for eight years, spent six years recruiting IT missionaries, and has served as a ScriptSource software developer since November 2007.