SIL International Media Release

OpenOffice upgrade uses SIL Graphite software

Open Office (February 2010) Users of minority scripts have reason to rejoice. OpenOffice.org has released version 3.2 of its popular office software package. This is the first version to incorporate the SIL-developed software that enables users of many complex scripts and writing systems to design special computer characters needed in their languages.

Prior to this partnership, OpenOffice supported approximately 110 languages. The inclusion of Graphite makes it possible for users of OpenOffice to implement computer scripts for hundreds of other languages.

Tamil Ligature Involving a Viramacized Consonant Tamil Ligature Involving a Viramacized Consonant

There are currently more than 6,900 languages in the world, according to the Ethnologue, although some may never have a written form. Many of the remaining languages, however, require complex rules governing the way their scripts are or will be written. These writing systems require cutting-edge computer technology–smart fonts–in order to display and print properly with computers. Graphite is designed to be flexible enough to handle any orthographic need that might arise in any writing system based on any modern roman or non-roman script.

Features of Graphite software

Graphite was first designed on the Windows platform (Windows 98 and later) and then ported to Linux. Other applications that support Graphite include XeTeX, Firefox, Thunderbird and SIL FieldWorks, a suite of linguistic and anthropological research tools.

Why was Graphite developed?

Much language development work has been among preliterate ethnolinguistc communities, or those that are literate only in a national or trade language. In cases where there is no written form for the local language, orthography development is a significant part of literacy promotion efforts. Diverse linguistic, sociological, cultural and political factors play into orthography design. Often it is necessary to adapt the script of the national language for use with local languages.

Smaller local languages may be quite unrelated to the national language. Therefore, it is common to find linguistic phenomena in the local language that are not present in the national language, and which might complicate the issue of orthography development. For example, a local language may be tonal while the national language is not. This may require tone diacritics to supplement the national writing system.

Computer implementations of writing systems for many local languages require processing that is not supported in implementations developed for languages of wider communication. For example, the leading smart-font technology, OpenType, targets majority-script solutions, while Graphite is designed for minority languages. Some of these local languages have special rules about how diacritics are positioned or how adjacent characters combine.

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