[By Nic Lindh on Wednesday, 15 October 2003]
Thinking more about the problems with high-ASCII characters being munged by computers reminded me of some of the insane silliness that happened in Sweden during the Big PC Explosion of the late 80s. At that point in time a lot of PCs shipped with American keyboards. Which is fine, as long as you don’t need to type in any strange characters, like, oh, let’s say, åäö. What’s crucial to remember here is that åäö aren’t some fancy-schmancy things that only typographers care about–they’re letters in the Swedish alphabet. This means that typing without them is like arbitrarily removing three letters from the alphabet. In other words, you’re castrating the language.
Being of the opinion that computers are supposed to help us, not force us into downgrading civilization to comply with whatever limits were designed into the machines, I thought this was absolutely sickening.
But then things got really weird. A lot of people got the idea that not using åäö was really cool and International. “Hey, who needs ‘em!” rang the cry. “You can figure it out from context.” And besides, not using åäö will make us more International. Think about that one for a second.
It even went far enough that major Swedish corporations that happened to have the offending characters in their names dropped the diacritical marks. Begone, foul non-International reminders of our humble origins! This, of course, made their names sound incredibly silly to Swedish ears, but hey, what are you going to do?
I still know people who don’t use åäö in their emails. And it freaks me out.
Now, as you can tell from my writing this little rant in English and living in the States, I’m not exactly the staunchest Swedish jingoist, but that’s not the point.
The point is that due to some arbitrary design limitations built in to computers a long time ago, people of a certain mindset started to consider the voluntary castration of their own language a sign of progress.
Sigh. I need to not think about these kinds of things.