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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Japanese involved in Khmer script computerisation

Japanese involved in Khmer script computerisation

THE development of a new computer system designed to accurately and easily render

Cambodian script on-line is being touted as a much-needed boost for the development

of an indigenous Cambodian information technology industry.

Dubbed the Intelligent Khmer Writing System (IKWS), the new system was developed

using the same marriage of technological and linguistic principles applied to the

computerization of Japan's Kanji and Hirigana scripts and was funded by Japan's Ministry

of Foreign Affairs through the Asia Pacific Association of Japan's Khmer Philology

Project (APA-KPP)

The IKWS is the result of more than a year of research and development by a team

of volunteer Japanese and Cambodian computer experts and will be distributed free

of charge to all of the Kingdom's computer users by September.

"We want to catch up with the outside world, but if we don't develop an [indigenous]

information technology capacity, we can't develop," explained Chea Sok Hour,

Director of the National Election Computer Center and member of the Interior Ministry's

Committee for the Khmer Character Standardization for Information and Communication

Technology. "The point is that [IKWS] provides common guidelines that we can

then build on ... we're already planning a computer system for rendering Khmer in

Braille and a phoneticized version for the Cambodian community abroad."

APA-KPP Project Researcher Harada Shiro told the Post that the IKWS addresses the

shortcomings inherent in current Khmer font computer software.

"IKWS solves the problem of the current incompatibility of different Khmer font

software, making it easy to share data between systems," he said. "IKWS

also ends the awkward requirement [on Khmer font software] to push as many as four

buttons simultaneously to produce a Khmer word, and renders Khmer words much more

accurately."

Bill Herod, information technology consultant for the NGO Forum in Phnom Penh, said

that that IKWS designers "correctly understood the problem" rendering Khmer

script on-line, but noted that current Cambodian computer users operate on-line almost

exclusively in English.

However Sorasak Pan, Undersecretary of State for the Council of Ministers and the

committee's Deputy Chairman, insisted that IKWS will be instrumental in overcoming

the "digital divide" separating Cambodia from developed countries.

Acknowledging that the penetration of computer technology in Cambodia is still very

limited, Pan said that making computers more accessible to Cambodians in their own

language is crucial to the Kingdom's future development.

"We want to use information technology to bridge the gap for poor people in

Cambodia by making the Khmer language more computer-friendly," Pan said. "Computers

in which Khmer language can be easily used is a step toward making computers a development

tool, for example allowing rural people to learn about innovations in rice production

and increasing rice yields."

Cambodia is the first of three developing Asian countries targeted by the Japanese

for assistance in rendering non-Roman language scripts computer-friendly.

Harada said that "political problems" in Burma and "disagreement over

the form of written script" in Mongolia allowed Cambodia to be the first country

to benefit from the Japanese program.

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