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Home > Tamil Digital Renaissance > Tamilnet'99 > Pallavi Shukla, Indiaworld

Towards a Tamil Internet Research Centre

Report by Pallavi Shukla - 22 February 1999

The 75 million-strong Tamil speaking population worldwide has received a boost in cyberspace thanks to a $1.25 million local language initiative launched by the Tamil Nadu government to promote online content and institutional backing.

The initiative, announced by Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, includes seed support for a state-level Tamil Internet Research Centre and a World Tamil University.

The state government will also approach the International Unicode Consortium for seeking membership and participation regarding inclusion of Tamil encoding in Unicode, for platforms like Windows 2000.

Karunanidhi said the state government would work closely with the governments and IT sectors of Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka on such Tamil language initiatives; Tamil is an official language in these countries as well.

According to Manoj Annadurai, a speaker at the recent TamilNet '99 conference, less than two per cent of Tamil Nadu's population uses computers, and most of this usage is in English.

The government's support for online initiatives and keyboard standardisation drives in the local language is expected to be instrumental for tapping into Tamil-speaking rural and home markets in India and the Tamil diaspora.

Numerous other initiatives for online Tamil publishing are expected to coordinate their efforts with the Tamil Nadu government, said Naa Govindasamy, a lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who has been working on a Tamil Unicode editor and multi-script URL software.

Several semi-commercial efforts have thus far been launched to globally coordinate Web publishing and online business among the Tamil population, such as ChennaiOnline, International Tamils Motivational Movement, TamilNet and TamilNation.

Karunanidhi said the use of Tamil on the Internet is far greater than any other Indian language.

The first TamilNet conference was held in 1997 in Singapore; the second one was held this month in Chennai, and decided on a standardised Tamil keyboard based on the phonetic system as well as a base character encoding scheme.

This initiative is accompanied by a major infrastructural drive to enable widespread Internet access in Tamil Nadu via community centres and Internet kiosks, with assistance from London-based World-Tel.

"A global Tamil village is in the making," said Ramasamy Chidambaram Pillay, Minister for Education and Science, Mauritius.

Earlier, the Tamil Nadu government has announced that it would set up a distance learning centre to teach Tamil in Mauritius through the Madras University.

S. Thondaman, Sri Lanka's Minister of Livestock Development and Estate Infrastructure, said that in three decades the global Tamil population would reach 100 million.

"The challenge before the Tamil speaking community is to bring marvelous innovations like the Internet accessible to a growing number of people," he said.

Malaysian Public Works Minister Dato Seri S. Samy Vellu said Tamil is one of the oldest classical languages in the world. Tamil software standards and online education initiatives would help "create a competitive edge for speakers of the Tamil language in the new digital economy."


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