Texting With Many Tongues

Cellphone users in India must confront the challenges of texting legibly in a country with 22 official languages:

The narrow range of communication for Indians on the mobile Web has largely been ignored because, for years, India’s online population, nearly two hundred million people, has mostly overlapped with its English-speaking demographic. But the general prediction is that many of the next two hundred million Internet users, who will go online almost exclusively through smartphones, will not comfortably understand English. Phone manufacturers, eyeing this vast new market, have begun incorporating Hindi scripts into handsets like [48-year-old Bangalorean] Birsingh’s. However, since Hindi has twice as many vowels as English, and a wealth of consonants and character combinations, cheap phone hardware with traditional keypads still pose challenges. Reverie [Language Technologies]’s software platform, which underpins [texting app] Plustxt, aims to give local scripts the flexibility of English, providing text input for all twenty-two official Indian languages on phones, tablets, and TV top boxes. To demonstrate, [company director Arvind] Pani showed me one of Reverie’s newest products, an address book. At first, the names appeared in English. Then, with one click, they were rendered in the loop-the-loop characters of Malayalam, the language of Kerala, a south-Indian state.