SHRI/SRI ? — ஸ்ரீ = ஶ் + ரீ != ஸ் + ரீ – Unicode

ஶ் – An introduction

For those of you who are not aware of the existance of this character, it is a grantha character SHA normally used only in sanskrit texts written in Tamil. Unlike ஸ, ஷ, க்ஷ, ஜ and ஹ. ஶ made a late entry into Unicode. ஶ however was very much alive in print form particularly in Hindu religious texts in Tamil for a long time now.

Code point, Glyph :

Let us first understand how Tamil characters are treated in unicode. All Uyirmei characters are considered as “complex glyph" and are stored with consequent individual elements code point. For instance க் gets stored as க, followed by ்(pulli/Virama). When consecutive individual elements come in the text, the font chooses to display a single complex glyph. This is also the reason why using the standard character length of Indic text will be longer than what it is! Read Gerard’s blogpost twitter-in-chinese-or-in-tamil

ஸ்ரீ = ஸ் + ரீ to ஶ் + ரீ:

Until Unicode 4.1, ஶ did not have a codepoint in Unicode. So ஸ்ரீ was considered as a complex glyph of the form ஸ் and ரீ. Later ஸ்ரீ was considered to be ஶ் + ரீ. Linguistically if one is "strict”, it shall be right to call ஸ்ரீ as ஶ் + ரீ as that was the intended pronunciation. One can even see how the glyph’s ஶ் and ஸ்ரீ are slightly related in shape. But if one accepts that language evolves (read previous post on Sri’s cultural aspect) and the fact that ஶ never made into mainstream except for religious texts, ஸ்ரீ = ஸ் + ரீ can be accepted. Kaa.Sethu wrote other usecases non-conjunct form of ஸ்ரீ. Seeing that the definition change could well be a good thing. 

Dual encoding / re-coding ஸ்ரீ:

I am not sure why Unicode did not think of potential recoding text when they changed the definition of ஸ்ரீ = ஸ் + ரீ to ஶ் + ரீ. May be they thought Tamil Unicode was in its infancy and not much text would be there. The fact that am writing this blogpost after 7 years of Unicode 4.1 is saddening. Most of the popular Unicode fonts are pre 4.1 and do not have glyph for ஶ். So they still use the old definition of ஸ்ரீ = ஸ் + ரீ. The input method developers also ignored the Unicode standard may be they did not have the “vision” and were shortsighted by the font’s display.

But there are people who follow the rules of the game and upgrade themselves to latest standard even if they stand out from the crowd. Among the major technology players, Apple has implemented Unicode strictly and has updated. This is the reason why reading texts in and out of Mac/iOS a pain. ஸ்ரீ typed on most non-Mac input tools uses ஸ் + ரீ and hence Apple font does not display the complex glyph and choses to display them individually as ஸ்‌ரீ. Other hand ஶ்ரீ typed on Mac will be shown as seperate glyphs outside Apple world which uses fonts with older standards. Where is the interoperability of Unicode? LOST! Think of searching these texts? We are back to pre-unicode days! Some fonts like Lohit-Tamil show the same glyph for both the forms, but that is a deviation from Unicode standard, but a step forward in usability.

Solutions?

1. Ask everyone to upgrade to latest Unicode standard. Easier said than done.

2. Make a proposal to Unicode to announce ஸ்ரீ and ஶ்ரீ canonically equivalent. This however will be a cultural issue with people following grammar strictly / treating language as a static entity opposing and modernists supporting it based on mass usage.

PS: For TanitTamizh folks, this will be a non issue, but fortunately / unfortunately Tamil masses still have to live this problem until a solution is found.

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