Burmese Typing, Spelling and Processing

Updated : August 5, 2019

Olympia was commissioned to produce typewriters for Burmese. It was not trivial to type Burmese and Pali characters. The red keys were used to type vowels; the carriage did not go forward. The black keys were used to type consonants. Back-spacing for half a step was necessary on the Standard Edition to type characters such as “tha gyee”. Manual dexterity was needed to type some “pa sint” characters. The Office edition had extra keys (e.g. tha gyee, common pa sint).

Before the wide spread use of copiers (initiated by Xerox), special care is needed to print multiple copies. We miss the days when we had type perfectly or reasonably well on typewriters using messy carbons. Also, planning to cyclostyle double-sided printing (odd numbered pages first, then repeat with even-numbered pages).

IBM produced Selectric typewriters. “Golf” ball-like character sets had to be installed/replaced.

Wang computers provided word processors for various languages. Ko Htay Aung (Victor, EC80) worked at Wang for a while on the Burmese language project.

The evolution has seen various type face/font families, keyboard layouts, Unicode support, …

Chinese characters are used by Chinese, Japanese, Korean. To input them to a computer, various techniques were used. They include (1) large tablets containing the most common characters (2) three corner method (based on the horizontal, vertical and diagonal strokes in the character (3) Romaji (mostly used by Japanese (4) human user to select if there are ambiguities (e.g. in the three corner method).

Burma Research Society (BRS) used transliteration for its journals. For example, “k-o-l” combination represents “ko”. The scheme was used inputting Burmese on Macintosh.

Universities’ Computer Center (UCC) had projects to do Burmese word processing. Saya U Myo Min supervised a project for Ma San Yu Hlaing for “collation” (needed for sorting). Saya U Tun Aung Gyaw and his team (Ko Htay Aung, Ko Soe Myint, …) worked on Cromenco System Three for printing and processing. U Soe Win and team worked on Calcomp graph plotter.

There were also some difficulties imposed by the higher authorities.

Burmese Language Commission “bowed” to higher authorities to “revise” the spelling at least two times.

Fines were “imposed” on authors and publishers spelling the “established” way. (e.g. “Ta”) instead of the “preferred” way (e.g. “Tit”) despite the scholars pointing out the old inscriptions at “Bo ta htaung” (not “Bo tit htaung”) pagoda.

CTK (Children’s Treasury of Knowledge) project was delayed to correct the spellings.

It was not easy to write in those days without facing censorship. It was taboo to quote “Dhammata” poem (by Ananda Thuriya). It was a crime to mention the “setting sun”.

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