Bolorsoft CEO and consultant discuss Unicode standard of Mongolian script – The UB Post
27 avr. 2018
(note : je reprends tout le texte ici car le format de Pressreader est très pénible, le UB Post n’a plus l’air d’être en ligne en version html et l’adresse ci-dessus n’a pas l’air très spécifique)
Mongol News sat down with Founder of Bolorsoft Co. S.Badral and Consultant of Bolorsoft T.Jamiyansuren to discuss the international standard for Mongolian script. Last week, they attended the Unicode technical commission meeting in San Jose, California, USA to improve the existing Mongolian script standard/phonetic model.
$The public has just recently become aware of the controversial situation concerning the improvement of international standard for Mongolian script, which is whether to encode with Mongolian phonetic model or with graphetic, like that used to encode Chinese characters. Since you have participated in these discussions, would you please give our readers information regarding this issue?
*S.Badral: Unicode is a company of international character encoding standards. It’s an integrated consortium of corporations which develop the encoding standards for all the scripts in the world. In other words, it produces one comprehensive standard which identifies the computer codes for Latin “a”, Cyrillic “a”, Mongolian “a”, and Chinese characters. If the script in question is not encoded by Unicode standards, all the global players, such as Facebook, Google, Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, and IBM, would not support it. That means the script will not be supported on any operating system, computer, or phone. Although Mongolian script was first encoded based on a phonetic model in 2000, small unsolved issues have caused it to drag out without a solution for 17 to 18 years.
So, during the Unicode technical commission meeting in Hohhot last September, it was almost decided that the current model is completely wrong and a graphetic model developed by Chinese experts Liang Hai and Shen Yilei was nearly adopted. At that time, we flatly opposed, saying, “Mongolian script has letters, and it’s written by its phonetically.
...In this last meeting, we have achieved our objective for the past few years and defended our heritage...
Therefore, we need to improve the existing phonetic model instead of adopting graphetic encoding”. With support from the Inner Mongolian party, the graphetic model was not approved. In this meeting too. Our discussion revolved around abandoning the phonetic model and changing to the graphetic model.
T.Jamiyansuren: Had we approved the Unicode standard for Mongolian script as the graphetic model that the Chinese developed, it would’ve then been discussed and approved at the ISO international standard meeting, and everything would’ve been over. Because these two meetings were scheduled right after another, we tried very hard to not take it to the ISO meeting. That Unicode technical commission meeting was almost like war.
Do any state representatives take part in these important meetings? What is the participation of the Mongolian state and government in this international discussion concerning national script and culture?
S.Badral: Previously, representatives from the Agency for Standardization and Metrology and the Institute of Language and Literature at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences regularly attended these meetings. But we don’t know why the issue has gotten to this point. Before we went to Hohhot in September 2017, we viewed that the future of Mongolian script relates to the national interests and intellectual independence of Mongolians and contacted the president. President Kh.Battulga then met us within 10 days of our return, called the representatives of relevant organizations, and ordered them to urgently take necessary measures. We determined that an action plan to improve the Mongolian scripts phonetic model will be developed by the Communications and Information Technology Authority (CITA) and approved by the Agency for Standardization and Metrology, and formed a working group.
However, the working group did nothing because they didn’t have a budget. The National Security Council obliged them to send a report every week, but we have no idea what report was given or what work was done. The agency tried to discuss the funding issue in a government meeting, but was postponed. By then, the budget discussion had already been conducted, hence, no solution. Basically, they took this issue very idly.
Government Memo No. 54 was passed. In there, they assigned six agencies to take care of the execution and funding of this issue, three for each. While the Mongolian script encoding improvement issue was bounced between state organizations like a tennis ball, it was time for the scheduled meeting.
T.Jamiyansuren: Approximately 20 days before we left, another working group was established by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and they held a meeting. During that meeting, there was some kind of talk, “What do we do . Either we give S.Badral and T.Jamiyansuren a state assignment, or notify them that they do not represent the state”. A letter was sent to the Unicode technical commission stating, “These two men do not have the right to represent the state,” and that a person named Enkhdalai will be coming. Those two men have just returned from participating in that meeting. But political suggestions and conclusions do not affect the Unicode technical commission meeting. They sent a person called Enkhdalai with a position of consultant at CITA. We were introduced at the meeting.
Did the Mongolian representatives first met each other once they were at the meeting?
S.Badral: Yes. We had arrived two days before, met our translator, and carefully prepared the issues of concern and presentations. Unicode technical commission chose Ganbayar Gansukh (G.Ganbayar), a man who lives in Oklahoma, as our translator. On our end, it was unclear who was going to voice the state position even a week before the meeting.
T.Jamiyansuren: Unicode Consortium believed that CITA is of importance and had them attend as a liaison member. The responsibilities should be even higher in regard to this.
Did you introduce a Mongolian phonetic model that you developed yourselves, during the meeting?
S.Badral: How could we have the Mongolian script encoded graphetically, like that of Chinese characters on our watch? So, I and T.Jamiyansuren discussed and cooperated with Mongolian script expert Lkhagvasuren, and prepared a presentation on ways to improve the phonetic model. We discussed the disadvantages of the existing model and ways to fix it, and proved it with a realistic example. After three days of the meeting, the Unicode technical commission had a positive attitude and said, “If we really fix it like this, the model will be easier and better”. That’s because the graphetic model contains only characters and not letters, which makes it complicated to sort, categorize, and develop etc. There would be many problems such as identifying the text and spellchecking it. The proposed graphetic model was not even for the clear Mongolian script drawn, so it was hard for the user to write with the word in mind or even the root of the word . For instance, the “a” and “e” at the beginning, middle, and end of a word, and “n”, were to be written by pressing one “teeth” or aleph, and the “crown”, “tooth”, and “tail” (elements of Mongolian script writing) were to be automatically managed. This might break the Mongolian thinking and one button will easily break from too much pressure. I think the Unicode technical commission people started to understand it. The Inner Mongolians on the other hand, suggested to develop both the graphetic and phonetic models, maybe because they were in a rush to decide on some solution to prevent further drag out, or they lost faith in the phonetic model.
Anyhow, maintaining the phonetic model which was to be abandoned, fixing its bugs, and having a decision made for it to be developed with preference is a big achievement.
So the representatives listened to you and acknowledged your presentation. Isn’t the message “They don’t represent the state” a way of saving their skin in case something went wrong?
S.Badral: It just looks like that. Since last September, that’s the stance our government held. In the first working group meeting of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, CITA representatives kept saying, “It’s not suitable for private company representatives be included in a state working group, that’s private party interest,” so I even removed myself from the working group (laughs).
T.Jamiyansuren: Because the issue couldn’t have been quieted down, they had to send somebody as a representative, which happened to be Enkhdalai, as a consultant at CITA. I had the impression that that person read and researched quite a lot too. But it’s not effective to have someone who’s interested in the Unicode standard of Mongolian script read ready prepared materials and retell them. You have to be meticulous with your words, and be able to prove your point. His few unsure words during his presentation had Chinese experts stand up and say, “This is exactly why there should be a graphetic model”. Of course, it was not easy to give this much work in tight schedule to a person who lacked experience.
People are saying that the Mongolian government will pay attention to our national script before the next August meeting to prevent the graphetic model from being encoded. Is there really such danger, or is everything behind us now?
S.Badral: If we hadn’t given a presentation at this last meeting and changed the commission’s understanding, our Mongolian script really would have been encoded graphetically. But now, the Unicode technical commission has decided to develop both models to rationally solve the issue. That means we have to fix and improve our phonetic model and introduce it to use. Even a single symbol cannot be changed once it’s registered in the Unicode standard. Therefore, there’s a strict rule that we have to fix without changing the previous one. In the meeting, we introduced a possible solution that we can improve it like that. So our government has to take care of this issue for this to continue on a bigger scale. We wouldn’t beg them if it was only technical work, but it’s related to society, culture, and politics.
T.Jamiyansuren: Some who understands the significance of this meeting are right when they say, “This was like the modern Khiagt agreement”. This is a matter of whether Mongolian script will exist for the next five years, 500, or 5,000. When the representatives were asked for their opinion on the location and time of the next meeting, Inner Mongolians suggested to urgently hold it in Hohhot, after two months. But the Unicode technical commission head said, “The next meeting will be held at least six months later. There’s a suggestion to organize it in Ulaanbaatar,” while our state representative stayed quiet. We couldn’t, so we voiced our opinion. In other words, there will be a Unicode meeting regarding this issue in Ulaanbaatar, at the end of September. If it’s organized well, it’s not ours but Mongolia’s name that will bear the good name.
It seems like we are greedy, hearing that the Chinese have developed the graphetic model and encode the Mongolian script, when we don’t even use the Mongolian script ourselves. There are some who say to stop cooperation with the Chinese and develop the script alone. What do you say about this?
S.Badral: Languages exist through the use of its script. In the modern times, people’s writing has transferred from handwritten notes to typing on a computer or a phone. As for Mongolian writing, it has slipped into the list of endangered languages because there is no digital usage and no opportunity to create content. How can digital content be created when the Unicode standard of 18 years has a big problem. Therefore, this issue will be immediately fixed and introduced into use like Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. In terms of possession, it shall belong to those who use it. In other words, Mongolian script is not the property of Outer or Inner Mongolians. There could be Americans, Germans, British, Belgians, Iranians, or people of any other country who have studied and uses Mongolian script. They have the right to learn and use whatever language and script they please. It’s important we provide that opportunity. That’s why these international representatives are putting this much effort into introducing the Mongolian script in digital use. This script is a very important world cultural heritage.
Why are you putting this much effort and heart for the Mongolian script?
S.Badral: As for me, I’m a member of the Unicode technical commission Working Group (WG)-2 and volunteer of the WG3. I receive information about this before others. I’ve seen this as my civic duties and reported it to the state and government. Secondly, Bolorsoft is a digital linguistics company. Mongolians know that we have released many products related to Mongolian language and script. Although Cyrillic writing programs are in the market, most users don’t know that it is based on Mongolian script. That’s why we can’t abandon it.
Bolorsoft Co. is considered a major provider in the development of Mongolian script at Unicode Consortium. That’s because we were the first to create the Unicode font for Mongolian script and have it licensed. This field was stagnant since 2013, until we solved the Unicode standard for Mongolian script issue. But those fonts became the beginning of big corporations such as Google and Microsoft. So, Unicode Consortium always invites us to their international meetings. We try to attend these meetings constantly to voice the interests of Mongolia, but we can’t always due to the expenditure. But I see that there are people who are jealous and spread rumors that we are trying to make money using Mongolian script. That’s the only thing they talked about in the last six months, politicizing it. On the other hand, we are working for Mongolia’s interests.
If we were seeking profit from this, we wouldn’t be using artificial intelligence to develop Mongolian language and writing, but financial development. We are one of the first Mongolian companies developing and using artificial intelligence. In this last meeting, we have achieved our objective for the past few years and defended our heritage.