Origin of the digital encoding of accented characters for Esperanto

William_J_G Overington wjgo_10009 at btinternet.com
Tue Mar 24 06:19:26 CDT 2015

WJGO >> It does not seem axiomatic that accented characters for Esperanto would necessarily be included in a digital encoding of the accented characters needed for the languages of Europe.

DS > Where does languages of Europe come from? 

It seems to me that an alternative scenario could quite easily, and possibly more probably, have been what had happened, namely that a list of the countries of Europe had been made and then starting from that list, the main language of each country in that list then be added into a list of languages to be supported, with Esperanto not even having been thought about. Also, it could have been that if Esperanto had been suggested that the idea could have been dismissed as Esperanto were not the language of a country or dismissed for some negative opinion about Esperanto or some other purported reason.

It seems axiomatic that the accented characters for French and German would be included, yet not axiomatic that the accented characters for Esperanto included. So I wondered how they came to become encoded.

Back in the 1960s I saw a list of the accented characters needed to typeset in various European languages. It was in the Riscatype catalogue of metal type. Esperanto was included in that list. Is it possible that that list was used years later in deciding which accented characters to include in an electronic coding?

I remember that in the early 1970s two researchers were trying to translate what they thought was a paper in Spanish and having great problems. I glanced at the text and pointed out that it was Portuguese. Asked if I spoke Portuguese I replied that I did not, but that, being interested in printing, I knew that the a tilde character was used in Portuguese and not in Spanish: so the Riscatype list was helpful to them.

DS > Latin Extended-A is not designed to exclusively cover Europe, and both ISO 8859-3 and Extended-A cover Turkish.

Well, part of Turkey is in Europe.

DS > The largest Esperanto libraries have about 25,000 books, and there's a large collection of people wanting to use Esperanto on the Internet;  ... 


DS > ... moreover, the encoding decision is trivial, being a simple and uncontested set of twelve codepoints.

Well, the decision was not necessarily trivial nor uncontested: that is now a part of history and maybe some documentation will be found to describe what was the situation at the time.

DS > Of all the Latin script characters not encoded in Unicode 1.1, I doubt any of them have 1% the use of the Esperanto characters. Not encoding them upfront would have been silly.

I have been interested in Esperanto since the 1960s when I found an Esperanto dictionary in an antiquarian bookshop. I had not previously known of Esperanto. I asked the bookshop owner about this language and he explained and I bought the dictionary and a copy of the English version of the book The Life of Zamenhof, by Edmond Privat. Soon after I bought a copy of Teach Yourself Esperanto and some years later in the early 1970s I bought the Teach Yourself Esperanto Dictionary. In the late 1990s I gained two certificates in Esperanto, namely for Elementary and Intermediate levels.

More recently I have written a song in Esperanto and I am hoping to record it and place it on the web so that it will become archived by the British Library. The song lyrics use g circumflex many times and s circumflex a few times and I was thinking that it is good that the characters are available in Unicode.

DS > Kie ekzistas vivo, ekzistas espero.


For the benefit of readers who do not know any Esperanto, I translate to English what David wrote

Where there exists life, there exists hope.


Where there is life, there is hope.

and the translation into English of my reply is


I am also trying to draft a petition to send to the Unicode Technical Committee about encoding some localizable sentences with their symbols in plane 13 and building localizable sentence technology as a part of Unicode for the future.

As part of the introduction I am seeking to compare and contrast Esperanto and localizable sentence technology.

Both are intended to assist communication through the language barrier. Neither is intended to replace natural languages. 

Esperanto can be used to construct a sentence for any meaning. Yet localizable sentences are for a finite set of sentences.

Esperanto does need to be learned as a language before it can be used, quicker and simpler than learning French or German, yet still taking quite a lot of study. Localizable sentences could be used easily, just by learning how to use a cascading menu system with category headings and sentences localized into one's own native language: there is the capability to include names, not localizable, within a stream of localizable sentences and escape  mechanisms for adding unlocalizable items in Esperanto or in a natural language. 

Before encoding as electronic characters, the letters used for Esperanto had been in use by a lot of people for many years, in handwriting and in print. Localizable sentence characters, by being part of a pure electronic technology, have no history of use, so an encoding would be so that the technology could become used. Whether that use would happen is open for opinions to be expressed, yet unless the encoding takes place no one can be certain that an encoding into regular Unicode would be used or would not be used.

William Overington

24 March 2015

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