The road not traveled (or, more to the point, the road not built) for Amharic

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2010/02/20 07:01 -05:00, original URI:

I've written about both Amharic language issues and Ethiopic (Fidel) script issues a few times over the years.

Like these, for example:

Today I'm going to delve into something I mentioned in that fourth link, which has some relation to the first link.

You see, the Amharic locale on Windows is missing something.

Something big.

It is missing the support for formatting the numbering system in GetNumberFormat[Ex], and both that numbering system and the Ethiopic calendar system in GetDateFormat[Ex] and the various calendaring functions (informants knowledgeable about Amharic assure us that the numbers are still used, as is the calendar). Probably in times too - there is a difference in time handling that is not the same as time zones which would amount to a need to change the formatted times, at least.

In the end, neither was done in Vista for the locale, and the one spec that was written (during Vista) on what it would take to add that support was not picked up and implemented for Windows 7 (I do not know why, this was after I left the team).

Now what this means in practical terms is that the locale is missing a crucial element that is known to still be used by people who might reasonably be expected to choose that locale.

As the Wikipedia article on the Ethiopian calendar states:

The Ethiopian calendar (Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ዘመን አቆጣጠር yä'Ityoṗṗya zämän aḳoṭaṭär), also called the Ge'ez calendar, is the principal calendar used in Ethiopia and also serves as the liturgical calendar for Christians in Eritrea belonging to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Eastern Catholic Church and Lutheran Evangelical Church of Eritrea. It is based on the older Alexandrian or Coptic calendar, which in turn derives from the Egyptian calendar, but like the Julian calendar, it adds a leap day every four years without exception, and begins the year on August 29 or August 30 in the Julian calendar. A seven to eight year gap between the Ethiopian and Gregorian calendars results from alternate calculations in determining the date of the Annunciation of Jesus.

Like the Coptic calendar, the Ethiopian calendar has twelve months of 30 days each plus five or six epagomenal days, which comprise a thirteenth month. The Ethiopian months begin on the same days as those of the Coptic calendar, but their names are in Ge'ez. The sixth epagomenal day is added every four years without exception on August 29 of the Julian calendar, six months before the Julian leap day. Thus the first day of the Ethiopian year, 1 Mäskäräm, for years between 1901 and 2099 (inclusive), is usually September 11 (Gregorian), but falls on September 12 in years before the Gregorian leap year.

The current year according to the Ethiopian calendar is 2002, which began on September 11, 2009 AD of the Gregorian calendar. The year 2003 will begin on September 11, 2010.

Anyway, this support does seem pretty important. And while the calendar support would be fairly straightforward (and managed code supports a Julian calendar even if native code doesn't), most reports confirmed that the numbers used in dates also used the other numbering system.

And tackling that number system is just something that no one seemed terribly inclined to do, especially since it would conventionally be expected to be handled via digit substitution in fonts, something that would not work since they are really not the same kinds of numbers. So this would really just be kept to the formatting functions. And the parsing ones too if this made its way into managed code....

So Amharic would be the locale that never got completed. Well yet, anyway.

Given the implementation decisions in Windows 7 like the one I mentioned in We do seem to be short on time... (Windows 7 edition), finishing up that support seems less than likely (especially post reorg though even pre-reorg this was not done).

Conceptually this troubles me, because it is quite possible that technology could start to change the way people look at their language and their culture. The decision to not support these things may well make them less supportable in country too, eventually.

It is troubling to me to think that if that happens I will have been a part of it. A part that perhaps didn't fight hard enough (even though I know that these arguments would not have been accepted when balanced against resources).

I may have earned my salary that day, but I didn't earn my respect....

Now at some point one of the people I know (like Scott, or Daniel, or one of the other Amharic speakers in the group of "people I've met") will read this.

They may tell me that is not so dire as I paint it (which might make me feel better).

Or they may tell me that incomplete support here will not have the same impact on culture that spell-checkers in Word have on spelling regularization/reform (which might also make me feel better since details make the reassurance more plausible).

Or they may tell me that other platforms are also to blame (which might make feel better still since blame shared is guilt divided).

Or they may tell me that I am spot on in the long run (which will make me feel worse since opinion plus authority often goes that way).

Or they may remind me that cultures change in response to technology of their own volition so it is unreasonable to blame technology (which might make me feel better since I'll remember that Japanese vertical writing's lessened prevalence was much more the choice of people in Japan to speed technology adoption than anything technology drove specifically).

Or they may tell me I am thinking too much (a common charge today so I'll check for an echo).

I think I'm a little depressed now though.

# Daniel Yacob on 20 Feb 2010 4:01 PM:


Great post and thanks for bringing the calendar issue up. I would hope that it wasn't the Ethiopic numerals that held back supporting the calendar system.  While the numerals are desirable, users would certainly be happy to have the calendar support without them -better than no calendar at all.

There is a bit of an old/young divide here in terms of preference. The younger generation (the generation primarily using computers) would be less insistent on the numeral system support. While the older generation, and other sticklers for purity, would accept the calendar but not consider it fully localized until the numeral system was also supported.

Once Windows can support both the calendar and numeral system, the calendar widget would still have to allow for some customization for personal preferences.  There are three styles that are common for the use of numerals with dates.  Given by frequency of occurrence (as found in newspapers):

1) ቅዳሜ፣ የካቲት 13 ቀን ፳፻፪ ዓ/ም
2) ቅዳሜ፣ የካቲት 13 ቀን 2002 ዓ/ም
3) ቅዳሜ፣ የካቲት ፲፫ ቀን ፳፻፪ ዓ/ም

Neither the calendar nor numeral system should be *that* hard to support, but I have to speculate about the impact on the low level framework. Harder is getting good information on how to go about it.  The calendar system has been supported by ICU for more than a few years (5?) but not with the numeral system as of yet.  Public domain algorithms and some background info are also available here:

As the calendar of commerce, the government and by which all non-Islamic holidays are referenced, the calendar is an essential to a localization targeted for Ethiopia.  The calendar is very much a part of the national psyche and national identity also.

When technology does not support some aspect of culture, that tradition will begin to erode as the technology is further adopted ("Localize or by Localized":  This is in part what we see in the declining status of the Ethiopic numerals.

Translating Windows into Amharic is an enormous step forward, kudos to MS for taking the plunge! But if ya wanna swim in the Ethiopic pool, ya gotta support date and time localization as well. Please keep the pressure on for the calendar support when the opportunities present themselves.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 20 Feb 2010 4:15 PM:

It was not only for the sake of numbers that the calendar wasn't added; at the time there were just no resources for either (and there are several other more prevaslent requested calendars like the ones in India that had also been postponed).

I will continue to push, and mention this is from external sources! :-)

# John Hudson on 23 Feb 2010 10:09 AM:

"...the Amharic locale on Windows is missing something."

It's also missing a decent Ethiopic UI font.

But I'm working on it. :)

referenced by

2010/02/22 Will someone take up the job of Calendar support in .Net, please?

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