Vowel DISharmony?, aka The case of the missing dot

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/04/22 10:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/04/22/8415727.aspx

Content of Michael Kaplan's personal blog not approved by Microsoft (see disclaimer)!
Regular readers should keep in mind that all I said in The End? still applies; the allusion to the X-Files continues for people who understand such references....

Randy asked over in the Suggestion Box:

While U+0131 is not at all new to your blog, this gives its importance quite a different spin.


Now Randy was technically the third person to ask me about this one, but one of the other ones was via the Contact link and the other sent it by email, so in the interests of trying to use social engineering to encourage Suggestion Box usage, the other two will remain anonymous and all official credit will go to Randy. :-)

The Gizmodo story is entitled Localization Problems: A Cellphone's Missing Dot Kills Two People, Puts Three More in Jail.

It is quoted in full on the Hoax Forum with a title of Deadly Texting Error, and I will quote it again here:

The life of 20-year-old Emine, and her 24-year-old husband Ramazan Çalçoban was pretty much the normal life of any couple in a separation process. After deciding to split up, the two kept having bitter arguments over the cellphone, sending text messages to each other until one day Ramazan wrote "you change the topic every time you run out of arguments." That day, the lack of a single dot over a letter—product of a faulty localization of the cellphone's typing system—caused a chain of events that ended in a violent blood bath (Warning: offensive language ahead.)

The surreal mistake happened because Ramazan's sent a message and Emine's cellphone didn't have an specific character from the Turkish alphabet: the letter "ı" or closed i. While "i" is available in all phones in Turkey—where this happened—the closed i apparently doesn't exist in most of the terminals in that country.

The use of "i" resulted in an SMS with a completely twisted meaning: instead of writing the word "sıkısınca" it looked like he wrote "sikisince." Ramazan wanted to write "You change the topic every time you run out of arguments" (sounds familiar enough) but what Emine read was, "You change the topic every time they are fucking you" (sounds familiar too.)

Emine then showed the message to her father, who—enraged—called Ramazan, accusing him of treating his daughter as a prostitute. Ramazan went to the family's home to apologize and was greeted by the father, Emine, two sisters and a lot of very sharp knives.

Injured and bleeding, with a knife on his chest, Ramazan tried to escape. Emine was still trying to finish him but he managed to take the knife out of his chest and attacked her back. Ramazan finally escaped, but Emine bleed to dead as the family waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

Confused by all the events, he later killed himself in jail.

Apparently it's not the first incident of this kind caused by the damned dot on top of the letter i. The local press has pointed out that the faulty localization of cellphones in Turkey is causing "serious problems" when it comes to certain "delicate words" in Turkish, and they are calling to enhance localization of technology to avoid these mistakes.

Alternatively, the press could ask for banning knives from the homes of demonstrably stupid people.

You can also see it in Turkish over on HÜRRİYET, under the title Küçücük bir nokta tam 5 kişiyi yaktı.

Now the Hoax Forum has not yet passed judgment on whether it is in fact a hoax. Proof takes time. And actual journalism. Of course. :-)

For the record, I hope it is a hoax, since it involves death and injury, something I would not generally want to wish on people.

But if that part is just an exaggeration then I hope people in technology at least take the lesson an start choosing to take language issues seriously due to potential problems in using and understanding in even non-dire circumstances.

and all you who are so sure that such different meanings can be ascribed to such similar words as




Well, I have plans to get into the vowel harmony topic soon but in the meantime keep in mind that we are talking about very different letters. Just like






are very different letters (made up each of a line and a circle) yet we do not find ourselves mixing up the bear and the pear from or dear loved ones. So the underlying story is believable to me, whether the dire consequences are or not.

If it is true, it does end up being a truly epic example of vowel disharmony - and a serious warning to cellular providers to spend a little more time caring about Unicode support for their devices and their software....


This post brought to you by ı (U+0131, a.k.a. LATIN SMALL LETTER DOTLESS I)

John Cowan on 22 Apr 2008 3:23 PM:

According to Language Log's Bill Poser, the correct spellings are sıkışınca and sikişince respectively; the second s has a cedilla.

Michael S. Kaplan on 22 Apr 2008 4:19 PM:

Ah, good point! :-)

His post can be found here....

Crwth on 23 Apr 2008 9:52 AM:

Perhaps I'm nitpicking, or perhaps I read it wrong all three times, but it wasn't a lack of a dot that caused the problem -- it was the presence of it, or the lack of dotlessness.  Is this a translation error, or evidence that the story is a hoax?

Michael S. Kaplan on 23 Apr 2008 10:55 AM:

Well, people outside of Turkic languages are most likely to be unfamiliar with the dotless lowercase I, which makes it a good way to explain where the problem is, I think.

The hoax idea is looking less likely, I think....

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referenced by

2008/09/08 UCS-2 to UTF-16, Part 1: Getting the obvious out of the way

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