Friday, November 17, 2006

romanji chats

I haven't encountered a name for these yet, but they are chat languages which use English letters, by necessity, because one or both computer-users does not have the appropriate font to type in the native language.

An example is a Saudi student in my class, a woman, who promised to tell me more. She claims to chat using English letters but basically in Arabic, with her friends back home. She spends quite a bit of time doing it and I suspect that therefore this language has developed a little. And may be common to others besides her.

Another example is a guy I started up with in the locker room of the swimming pool. There were actually two, one a Sinhalese from Sri Lanka, and another whose native language was Malayalam, also in the Indian subcontinent. The Sinhalese left, but the Malayalam speaker maintained that he chatted in Malayalam, but using English letters, with friends back home. Malayalam has 51 characters; difficult to type and adjust to even when you have the fonts. In addition, he said, on the Indian subcontinent most proficient computer-users were also proficient English speaker/users, thus making mastery of their own native tongue, on computer, unnecessary. He said that they often compared their computer usage with that of China, which has many more webpages in Chinese, for example, and they felt that that statistic was unfair, since it didn't really mean that Hindi-language and Hindi-script users were undeveloped on the computer; it was just that many of their pages were in English.

About the Malayalam chat, in English letters, he said that it was clunky; if a third party entered a conversation, it would not be easy for them to catch on to what was being talked about. This was due to the difficult translation of Malayalam to English letters, apparently. Once one got used to a system, one would do ok. But someone from outside would first have to notice the system, which might not be the same in every conversation.

A final example was an early memory of mine, which I would love to get a hold of. I was chatting with webheads, I believe, when visitors appeared in the chat room and chatted vigorously in another language, but with English script. They were chatting furiously and we had to talk around them; we occasionally asked them to go occupy another room (there were plenty around) but they were either totally absorbed in their own conversation, or unable to understand ours; they kept on going, to our annoyance. I was fascinated though, and tried to guess the language. It wasn't clear but my guess was African. Webheads, who are fairly worldly, had a wide range of guesses; it wasn't clear at all. I may be able to find the transcript...

A characteristic of these Romanji chat languages (and I may be misusing the word Romanji here) is that they are born of necessity. People get together and want to communicate; they have and English/romanji keyboard; they make do. When something easier comes along, they switch; if they are fairly educated, they already know another alphabet, another typing pardigm, and can go back to it. Presumably some multilinguals never go back, never have to or want to.

A number of languages have had roman-script variants for years and some have even made the roman-script variant standard; Turkish comes to mind but there are more. By the way, my Turkish student claims that there is a Turkish chat, alive and well, no vowels; I'll ask her a few questions when I get the chance. It's fascinating.


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