20 April, 2008

A CURRICULUM DESIGN IN LANGUAGE COMPUTING


national seminar on
current trends in language teaching
organised by
Southern Regional Language Center,
Central Institute of Indian languages,
Manasagangothri, Mysore
at Vivekanda College for Women,
Idayampalayam,Namakkal,Tamil Nadu
on 4th and 5th March २००८

A CURRICULUM DESIGN IN LANGUAGE COMPUTING
FOR LANGUAGE STUDENTS
Dr.Mahesh Mangalat,
Department of Malayalam, M.G. Govt. Arts College, MAHE. 673 310
U.T. of Puducherry

In this seminar on CURRENT TRENDS IN LANGUAGE TEACHING, I begin my presentation by pointing out some challenges that currently language as a subject encounter at secondary level and in university system। Some of the educational planners are of the view that the content of language curriculum requires a through revamping, so that the focus of it can be shifted to acquiring skills like reading, writing, communication and comprehension. Traditionally literary works have been extensively used in language curriculum to give students an impression on the heritage of their language. Texts taken from ancient period to present day writings were used for this purpose. At university level, the situation is more bleak. The dominant idea is that there is no need for first language and second language at undergraduate level, as the students would have acquired the language related skills from schools and at higher Secondary level. Another challenge is for the Board of Studies in languages. University Grants Commission, while giving model curriculum for diverse courses at undergraduate level, has suggested that there should be at least two modules devoted to computer related content in each major.

Technology and HumanitiesHere the problem is that what should be the content for Computer related modules in humanities and especially in languages। This question arises mainly due to the perception that humanities as such, and languages, especially have nothing to do with technology. Such a perception is some what justified by naming and renaming of courses. If you browse through the courses offered at under graduate level, at various colleges, you will definitely come across a course by name Fashion Technology.This is an offshoot of erstwhile Home Science. This subjects deals with dress making. Of course, dress making is an activity that involves Technology. However, this course deals with diverse designs for dress and various types of materials used for dress making. It seldom cares the technology part of the whole business. Another course that bears technology in their very name is Education Technology. It is nothing but the B.Ed and T.T.C courses, appearing in new name. It is play with nomenclature. I do not have any idea about the technology that they are talking about. The general perception is strengthened by such kind of play with names.

Language and Technology
It is in such a situation that we think about having course content in Language Computing for Language Students।The question here is whether language has any connection to computing? Or does it have any connection to any kind of technology for that matter? Such a question is important, as language and technology are domains which would seem to operate in a way that has nothing in common. Language is a means for articulating ideas. It makes abstract ideas into concrete, so that it can be transmitted, either orally or graphically. Where as. Technology is something which makes physical tools for our use, based on scientific principles or theories. It is an area of precision, scientific testing and constant improvement. Language itself is an abstract entity. This abstract and concrete categories makes them stand apart. However when we analyse it further, we can see that both language and technology are sharing a common level at its operations. Both these are means for making abstract ideas in to concrete, transmittable, usable and with a definite shape. Without making it concrete, these ideas do not seems to exist.

Language Technology
When we look at the history of language, we can see the development of language based communication was the result of the technology that it has been used। Initially, language was only spoken. Only the person/persons in proximity could be reached through oral communication. Then came the technology of sharp granite piece or chisel, which let us leave a message, and a way that we could communicate without our physical presence. Scripts developed and took its shape, to be precise, by the diverse use of tools that were used for scribbling. Then came the technology of loud speakers, radio, television and computers. In each and every stage, language did shape, according to the technology. But when we talk about language technology, we talk about the language part of Information technology. No information can be transmitted, stored or retrieved without the help of language. You require some language to communicate with others. This rule is applicable to Information Technology also. Information Technology is that part of computer Technology that deals with gathering data, processing it and making information systems. As said earlier, language is a basic prerequisite for the whole business. Which language is being used, is not an important issue.

Language Technology and its DomainLanguage Technology has various kinds of application areas, ranging from making plain texts to high level application such as Text to Speech or Speech to Text application. A Text to Speech application lets you to input a text to a computer and the computer reads it out for you. Like wise a Speech to Text application lets you to speak using a microphone to the computer and the computer makes that speech a text. It is possible to have voice controlled enquiry terminals at Railway station, where you can just ask to a computer, as you would normally do to the personnel at the enquiry counter. Such application softwares are being developed for many languages, including Indian Languages. But in Indian Languages, the progress and the result that we have made is little. My point is that Language Technology is not just a fashionable coinage like Fashion Technology or Education Technology. All the application softwares developed for language related tasks are generally called as Language Technology products.
Language Technology: Whose Subject?As we have seen there exists an area of brisk activity around the world, as Language Technology। But in India, this subject is not being taught either at any Technical institution or at Language Study Centers. If you look at the Information Technology syllabus of any University or any such institution, for that matter, you will not see Language Technology figuring in their curriculum. Now, check the syllabus for any Language major course of any university, in India; there again you will not find a reference on this subject matter. Now, whose subject is this? This is the question.

Pondicherry University ModelThis was the question we addressed while restructuring the curriculum for Malayalam Major at Undergraduate level, at Pondicherry University। Prof.Vasundhra Radhakrishnan, who is no more now, was the Chairperson of the Board of Studies. I was a member in it. Along with courses in Media Studies, such as Writing for Print Media and Writing for Visual Media, we have introduced a course by name. An Introduction to Malayalam Softwares. It was in 1999. Madam is no more, and I am not a member in the Board of Studies, now. The Curriculum design that I proposed remain unchanged, even though it require an updating, at least. Let me tell that, the Microsoft Website for Indian Language Computing, www.bhashaindia.com has called this curriculum design as a Revolution in the History of Indian Universities.

Designing a Course for Language StudentsWhat should be the course content for language students, when you introduce a course other than that related to literature or grammar is a relevant one, as it is most likely that literature students would seldom have an exposure to technology. This was one problem that we encountered while conducting the courses in Visual Media and that on Malayalam Computing. Another problem is that if the task of designing a course to language students is assigned to Computer Science specialists, they would prescribe things which does not bear any relevance to the learners. I know an example of Calicut University, where computer science people were asked to design two courses for Post Graduate students in East Asian Studies. They got a syllabus including C++, Jawa and all sorts of such things, which they have no use at all. We need not have to blame the Computer Science specialists who framed the syllabus. They did what they thought correct with regard to their subject. But when we have an area of activity that is depended on our subject matter, here it is language, we have to consider it, above anything else.
Language Use on Computers
Language use on computers have multiples levels of operation, as I mentioned earlier. Apart from the simple text editing to pre-press work. Web publishing, Blogging.Chating etc are language related operations required for all sections of people in society. A student who study computer related modules as part of his course should be conversant with these types of activities. Apart from that, presentations can be made easily using computers.
Let us now confine our computer related module in one semester. Normal duration of a semester is 90 teaching days, out of which, effective teaching days that we get would be somewhere between 75 to 80. In that case a course need to be completed within a minimum of 75 days and a maximum of 90 days. This course require practicals, hands on training. We have to earmark one third of the total available hours for practicals. So the teaching hours that we get would be 50 hours. When we divide this 50 hours to ten units of theory class, we get 5 hours for one unit.
Now, the task is to plan content for these 5X10 hours। A basic knowledge about the computer hardwares and how these hardware components work should be known to the students. Normally Computer Fundamentals course of IT students cover this content. Relevant matter can be taken from it. The common task that a language student has to do with computers is text editing. Text editing applications can be introduced in the Second unit. Various Text Formats and formatting tools need to be introduced to them. Desk Top Publishing is another subject that has to be taught. All these contents are based on English, the default language of most computers. Since we are planning curriculum for Indian Language students, we have to teach them how to configure their system to input and work with an Indian language. At this point we encounter issues with regard to encoding. ASCII, acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, was the encoding used as an International Standard. Now it is being changed to Unicode encoding. All the popular DTP applications supports only ASCII encoding. Where as Bloggs and Web pages support Unicode encoding. So these two encodings should be familiar to a student of Indian language computing. And, the student should learn to configure the computer to use both these encoding standards. Likewise popular applications used for editing graphics, sound and video files should be introduced, even though these does not directly come under language computing. These applications are essential for an effective use of computers.

Internet and Web Content in Indian Languages
Informations are freely accessed through internet. A precondition with regard to it is that the information should be there in some web pages. Till recently, Indian language content on web were using a special kind of fonts known as Web fonts or Dynamic fonts. Since these fonts are following ASCII encoding and that work as an overlay on ASCII environment /browsers would not be able to search that content. This limitation is now overcome by means of Unicode encoded fonts. What is required
now is to create web content related to our land, language, culture, history etc। Unless there is web content, web search would not show any result. It is the need of the hour. Indian language students are the best available resource that can be utilized for this task. Assignments and projects can be incorporated to the curriculum to make students well versed with the technology and its tools for creation of web content. Let me conclude this presentation with a request to you all to give some training to your students to use computers and especially their mother tongue on computers.
Dr। Mahesh Mangalat, Lecturer (Selection Grade) in Malayalam,
Mahatma Gandhi Government Arts College, Mahe.
Tel: 91-490-2334697 Cell: 0-94470-34697 e-mail: mangalat@yahoo.com

1 comment:

毛彥宇毛彥宇 said...

Thank you very much for such useful informaion ● 3●............................................................