Remember Taslima from the Nari Jibon project in Dhaka?

Isn’t she sweet? Now she has her own domain, Taslima.net. Go on and visit and say hello.

Yesterday she led a workshop at Nari Jibon to train the other bloggers there how to publish in their native language, Bangla. It’s not so easy.

Jus eeemajin haveeen to tipe owt ur langwej funeticullee in order for a software program to convert each of those phonetic syllables to proper roman script? What a pain in the ass right? That is exactly what a large chunk of the world must do. In China, for example, you must type in Pinyin, a phonetic, romanized version of Mandarin and use software which converts those syllables into Chinese characters. In fact, Chinese computer users have gotten so used to typing this way that many of them are forgetting the actual Chinese characters.

Similarly, to type in Bangla, the national language of Bangladesh (also called Bengali), you must type phonetically and use a program like Avro to convert the romanized text to proper Bangla script. Worse, many computers still don’t support Bangla unicode, which means the characters won’t show up on your computer screen, unless you install the proper font files.

Despite all of these obstacles, the Nari Jibon bloggers are still forging ahead so that they can write in their native language.

There is historical importance here: in a few months it will be International Mother Language Day, which not only serves to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism, but also commemorates the deaths of a number of Bangladeshi university students on February 21, 1952 when Bangladesh was considered East Pakistan. Pakistan had ruled in 1948 that Urdu would be the official language of both East and West Pakistan and the university students were campaigning for Bangla to be recognized as one of the official state languages when they were killed by police officers.

Today it is economic rather than political realities which force many young people across the world to give up their mother language and concentrate on English. I would never dissuade anyone from learning English as it does immediately create many more opportunities throughout one’s life. But I am encouraged when I meet young people like those at Nari Jibon who understand the importance both of learning English, but also perserving their native tongue and all the culture embodied within it. Congrats Taslima and everyone else at Nari Jibon.

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