Unicode acceptance of Lepcha font important to preserve culture

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Gangtok, Jan 15 (UNI) The efforts to preserve the aboriginal knowledge of the Lepchas, the indigenous tribal community, nestled in the Sikkim Himalayan region, would bear fruit with the Lepcha language font on the verge of receiving a Unicode acceptance.

''Several people had been urging for the inclusion of the Lepcha script in the Unicode standard and recently, the Unicode had accepted the proposal, whereby the Lepcha font will now be included in the Unicode 5.1, to be released in March or April,'' Dr Helen Plaisier, from the Leiden University in the Netherlands, told UNI today.

The Dutch researcher recently completed her thesis after putting up a preliminary English database of around 300 Lepcha bird names found in the Sikkim Himalayan region, one of the four biodiversity hotspots of the country.

''Working Lepcha fonts have been available for several years now and have been used successfully in publications in the Lepcha language in the Kalimpong area,'' she said.

Linguists and researchers from all over the globe had been stressing on the need for conserving and documenting the indigenous Lepcha language.

''The acceptance of the Lepcha script in the Unicode standard is of great importance for everyone who wishes to use the Lepcha script on a computer,'' Dr Plaisier said.

Presently, she is working on an elaborate Lepcha-English dictionary which is a five-year project.

The Unicode is an international character-encoding system which is designed to support the electronic interchange, processing and display of the written texts of the diverse languages of the modern and classical world.

The Lepcha people are said to be born naturalists and it is often claimed that their language has names for all the birds, plants, butterflies and other insects in their native habitat. And this knowledge, which is mostly passed on orally by their elders, is disappearing fast as the new generation grapples with modernity.

It is this vast and dying knowledge that has been attracting researchers and academicians to Dzongu, the last bastion of Lepchas in remote North Sikkim for conservation and documentation works.

UNI BG DPM KLC1334

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