The Issue of Armenian Language on the Internet - IMHO (Part 1)

26.04.2011, Critique

Journalist, Digital Anthropologist, Lusine coordinates the Media Literacy project at Media Initiatives Center.

When Khachik Gevorgyan announced on Facebook that he was going to delete people who write Armenian in Latin letters from his Facebook friends' list, not everyone reacted positively. For some people writing in Armenian is a technical issue, for others – a matter of habit. Even though some of Khachik’s friends felt offended, he is certain that his radical views and steps helped to promote Armenian language on the Internet.

Armenian language is now included in Windows 7, and Khachik says people who buy new computers do not have an excuse for using Latin letters. In any other computer one can download Armenian fonts from the internet. Moreover, today it’s possible to write in Armenian online with just an online keyboard. For example, on Google.am one can do a search in Armenian without having the fonts installed on the computer.

ARMACAD organization, founded and led by Khachik, along with some other groups and individuals have been trying to increase the volume of Armenian content on the internet, to translate more internet programs and to solve technical issues. Web developer Aleksey Chalabyan is one of the activists. Over the last few years he has been spending his nighttime work hours on the 'Armenization' of the internet. According to Aleksey, with his friends he has come up with good solutions for different mobile platforms. BlackBerry, for instance, has started to officially support Armenian without having received any requests. But Google's Android is still unable to incorporate Armenian fonts. Even though Aleksey's team is happy to grant the package worth $30,000 for free, Google is still thinking. 

This is important, as mobile is thought to be the gadget of the future: more and more people will be using mobile for browsing the internet, reading, writing and socializing. And of course, as long as it is not possible to send a text message in Armenian letters from any mobile phone, the keyboard will still be associated with the English or, for some people, with the Russian alphabet. 

Another big move for Khachik is the fact that Armenian media and governmental bodies now use only the Unicode system. Last year the participants of Barcamp 2010 asked Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan to pay attention to the problem: many government websites were not readable and some ministries kept sending emails from Russian or English addresses. Today, Գրապալատ and Մարիամ fonts are officially used in all structures: however, according to Aleksey, these fonts still need some development. 

Having Armenian letters is just part of the issue. Then come the never-ending Eastern vs Western Armenian debate, the grammar of «ու» and «եւ» letters, and the question of punctuation. As Aleksey Chalabyan explains, if in an Armenian text, there is a Latin punctuation mark, the machine won't be able to anaylze the text correctly (for example to detect the number of sentences).

The solution to these issues depends on volunteers and enthusiasts. The National Inspectorate of Language which, I guess, is supposed to be concerned with such matters, doesn’t even have a website and an email address. Instead, the activists have created a website — the People’s Inspectorate of Language — that shares useful information and links for using the Armenian language in computers and mobile devices.

Khachik Gevorgyan believes that technical issues should concern online media outlets first, as they lose readers who can’t access the Armenian information via mobile.

Nevertheless, Internet in Armenia is not really considered a business platform, and increasing the number of readers, customers, and users is not a priority yet. It is left to enthusiasts and few projects that promote the process. Aleksey Chalabyan’s new initiative is one such project: the open source Hy-AM project, which will allow developers to come together and continue the “Armenization” of the internet.

To be continued...

Lusine Grigoryan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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