Writing System Reforms
India and the reform that failed: An unsuccessful campaign for script reform
In India, script reform has been needed for political and social expediency but has been prevented by nationalism and popular conservatism.
Ten major and many minor writing systems, as well as many different languages, hamper communications in the enormous Indian nation of 700 million people.
The Roman alphabet is already used for English, which has been in practice India's language for international communication and navigation, important commercial and technological documents, electronics, and much of higher education. English-language newspapers' daily circulation of around 3.3 million compares with only 12 million for all Indian languages together until a few years ago. Outsiders can see the advantages of a common script for Indian languages to use in parallel with continuing native Indian scripts, particularly if this alternative were the international roman alphabet.
Yet only one small group has recently struggled for its adoption as a complementary script. The Roman Lipi Parashad, supported by some businessmen and technical workers, was led by an engineer, M. Gogate (1995) who believes that 'machines are our allies' and that Indian progress may be too difficult without a common writing system. Founded in 1984 in Bombay, the organisation dissolved itself in February 1995, disappointed at its continuing lack of success. The founder has turned to other practical scientific pursuits.
Opposition came from increasing linguistic xenophobia, continuing prejudice against ex-imperial English and foreign influences, and regional nationalism.
There had been some previous interest in the roman alphabet for Indian languages. The Raj trained the Indian army in roman-script Hindustani and Pandit Nehru was impressed by Turkey's example.
However, Mahatma Ghandi supported Devanagari and Persian scripts, hoping to promote Hindu-Muslim amity.
A scheme to teach English, Hindi and the local language in all Indian schools failed, because three scripts were too much to learn or teach.
At independence, non-Hindi South India had sought roman script but by one vote the Constituent Assembly endorsed Hindi in Devanagari script as the official language in India from 1965, provoking riots and a dozen self-immolations among non-Hindus.
Roman script is still too hot an issue for government to touch.
An ironic feature is the widespread Indian belief that the roman alphabet would be more difficult than their own present scripts, which are mostly phonemo-syllabic and consistent. The reason for this misconception is that most Indians only know of the roman alphabet in English spelling, and assume that roman letters to represent Indian languages would be just as difficult and unreliable.
The table below shows the similarity of English vocabulary
imported into 12 Indian languages - a similarity which is
unrecognisable when the words are written in their numerous Indian
How English vocabulary appears in 12 Indian languages,
1 Writing systems World writing systems, Alphabetic writing systems, Chinese logographic writing system, The'mixed' Japanese writing system , Korea's amazing writing system , Syllable writing systems , New and recent writing systems
3. Some writing system reforms in the past 150 years Chinese writing reforms - Japanese writing reforms, Korean writing reforms,Spelling reform in Indonesia and Malaysia, Netherlands spelling reforms, Portuguese spelling reforms , Russian spelling reform, Spanish spelling reforms, Spelling reform in Turkey