Thuistezien 262 — 11.05.2021

Michael Everson
A slowly turning wheel

To some, it may appear somewhat puzzling to know that the need for a troll emoji is more urgent than a missing letter in the Middle Scots’ alphabet. However, according to the committee of Universal Coded Character Set (UCS), who makes the decisions on what should be adapted into the Unicode Standard, this was the case. To Michael Everson, cases like this are a recipe for frustration. Working as a linguist, script encoder typesetter, font designer and publisher, Everson has experienced unexplainable decisions like this happen first hand several times due to his many years of experience with applications for additions to the Unicode Standard. While some of the contributions have gone through smoothly where hardly any negotiation from either side was needed, other contributions needed longer time and some never succeeded. The frustration that Everson experiences is not so much due to his own personal preferences. He acknowledges that the committee of the Universal Coded Character Set (UCS) includes people with varieties of preferences who and the seats may, furthermore, change from time to time. The frustrating part is rather based on the fact that their decisions, at times, appear unexplainable to the extent that Everson sees them as random and inconsiderable.

In the length of the ‘Alphabetica Symposium’ that took place at West in November 2019, Everson was invited to do a talk that concerned the application procedure of contributing content to the Unicode Standard. Having several experiences with the matter, Everson took this as an opportunity to compare his various applications and, thereby, arguing that the missing characters, to him, were equally crucial. As a starting point for the talk, Everson introduces the non-pronunciation alphabet Blissymbols to the audience. In 1998 Everson made the first proposal for encoding Bliss in Unicode. At the time, the Blis alphabet was regarded as unfinished and was, therefore, not accepted by the UCS. They did, however, encourage Everson to continue the development of the alphabet. As a result, Everson has worked with contributing to and developing the Blissymbols for the past 20 years. While it is not used by many, it has proved to be of great importance to a minority of non-speaking children since the language does not require any pronunciation. The Blissymbol alphabet is now considered finished and it is once again Eversons aim to get Bliss encoded into Unicode. While he is confident in the impact the encoding can have, he does recognize the minority of people who may find it useful. And after all, there are additions such as green troll-icons which may be of more importance to society.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg