The Fight to Preserve the Urdu Script in the Digital World - TIME

Zeerak Ahmed has spent years in the U.S., working for some of the world’s biggest tech companies. But one thing he has grown frustrated with is how “computing treats non-Latin languages as second class citizens.” One such language is his mother tongue, Urdu, the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan, which is also widely spoken in India. Ahmed, who is from Lahore, has had many conversations with his friends and family about the difficulties of trying to use existing Urdu keyboards or read Urdu type. And he has witnessed many young people instead resorting to English or so-called Roman Urdu, using the Latin script to produce a phonetic transliteration, in the absence of a better solution.
While undertaking his Master’s degree in engineering design at Harvard University, he came up with his own solution. After five years of working on the project, last year he launched the Matnsaz iOs app. The app offers users a more refined Urdu keyboard that groups letters by shape, autocorrects and even suggests subsequent words. It’s a stark improvement on the standard Urdu keyboards available on mainstream devices.
Despite being the 10th most widely spoken language in the world, according to reference publication Ethnologue, Urdu has fallen behind in the digital age due to multiple limitations. Many Pakistanis outside of the tech industry believe that Urdu text is incompatible with computing, says Ahmed. But he argues that’s a flaw on the part of computing rather than the...

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