Technological Imperialism: Nastaliq vs Google and Apple

We are very happy to inaugurate our Opinion column with this piece by Ali Eteraz on the casual censorship of Big Technology, and its effect on language and identity.

I’m a Bay Area based writer who has gotten fed up with the disregard that Google and Apple have shown to the languages of hundreds of millions of people, especially Persian, Punjabi, and Urdu. That is at least 200 million people, if not more.

Basically, Apple & Google both treat these languages as “Arabic.” Even though Urdu has twelve more letters than Arabic, Apple thinks that Urdu speakers can use the Arabic keyboard.

Imagine your foreign phone maker expecting you to write without a letter as ubiquitous as E.

That’s what Apple demands from Urdu and Punjabi speakers. As for Google, it’s imposing an Arabic Naskh Script on these languages, which have traditionally been written in a cursive cascading script called Nastaliq.

This latter point was the subject of my award-winning Medium article The Death of the Urdu Script. It was featured on Hacker News, won the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize judged by novelist and NYTimes Book Columnist Mohsin Hamid, and even got me an invite from the Microsoft Language Team (Microsoft is a good but useless guy in this). You should check it out and share it widely. It provides great visual background to this issue.

That article came out in October. Now I am hearing word that Google has created Noto, a way of offering fonts to “ALL” the world’s languages. Great, except the script it’s imposing on Urdu, Persian, and Punjabi (and other nastaliq based languages) is the naskh Arabic script. What Google has done is ridiculous. This is nothing less than forced conversion to “Arabic.”

According to scripts authority, Thomas Milo, of Decotype, who has already designed an excellent nastaliq script:

 Mopping up all variants of Islamic script with one fake naskh or “Eurabic” is as mad as combining Cyrillic, Greek and Latin, and then force everybody to write their languages in the resulting “Cygretin” script.

Google, for what its worth, has been alerted by the hive and this is where some of the updates are coming from. I encourage all of you to follow and spread the word. There is no reason that Google (and Apple) should get to decide nuances about other people’s languages. Or worse, alter them altogether under the guise of benevolent (but empty) universalism.


Ali Eteraz is the author of the forthcoming surrealist short story collection FALSIPEDIES & FIBSIENNES (Guernica Ed. 2014). Previously he wrote the darkly comic memoir, Children of Dust (HarperCollins, 2009), which was on the Fall Reading List at O: The Oprah Magazine and was a New Statesman Book of the Year.

Featured image via Ali Eteraz on Facebook

Categories: Censorship, Media, News, Opinion, Philosophy, Politics

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2 replies

  1. Reblogged this on raincoaster and commented:

    Our very first Op/Ed from author and poet Ali Eteraz on the casual censorship of Google and Apple vs language and identity



  1. Technological Imperialism: Nastaliq vs Google and Apple

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