Today, I attended the Kannada Wikipedia Meet after reading a mention of it in today’s edition of the Deccan Herald.
Unfortunately, I was late and missed the keynote speech by U R Ananthamurthy. When I came in, Professor G Venkatasubbiah had just started talking about ‘Kannada on Encyclopedia’.
The professor explained about the importance of an encyclopedia and how a world-editable encyclopedia such as Wikipedia is invaluable. he quoted the example of an assistant advocate general who was a close confidante of JFK, but he was incorrectly referred to as being “suspected of being involved in the assassination of JFK” in one of the leading encyclopedias. This person was aghast on reading that and it took nearly a decade to finally get it corrected, and the best part is that nobody knew who actually wrote the original sentence. Such kind of problems can be avoided using Wikipedia.
He compared how he bought an English encyclopedia in 1971 which was 30-volume set of books compared to the easy access of a free Wikipedia which is online and easily searchable. The remarkable thing about the collaborative effort behind Wikipedia is that each person knows a little bit of everything, and when you combine knowledge of a few people, everybody benefits. It reminded me of George Bernard Shaw’s words – “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
He talked about phonetics, about evolution of Kannada language, the importance of using “standard language” in the wikipedia, about scientific knowledge in Kannada, how the English technical terms “do not pollute Kannada, only enrich it”.
He talked about how Alankar, a poet of yore, explained the virtues a good poem – it should be good to hear, it should have a good consequence, and the common man must understand it. He exhorted the Kannada Wikipedia community to strive for these aspects.
Next was a humorous talk was by Nagesh Hegde on writing about science and technology in kannada. He started off by explaining the richness of science knowledge in Kannada. For example, Dr. Shivram Karanth (who called himself ‘the science postman’) wrote about carbon dating in one of his Kannada novels.
Mr. Hegde then joked that bluetooth and other technologies were not coming in through “kannaDa da kiTaki” but through Windows of English. He explained that it was not always right to convert the terminology to Kannada. For example, antenna being explained as “juTTu” is just silly.
There are various terminologies associated with each field – from the words a coconut tree climber uses to describe parts of the tree, to doctors who have nearly 2500 special words to describe parts of the heart. Though such terminologies may not be needed for the common man. Just talking about the topics that appear in channels such as BBC or CNN who have stories explaining technology to the common man in plain English, and explaining it in Kannada in similar nature should be of enormous benefit. Maybe one day people might look up words they do not understand in the Kannada wikipedia and learn all about it.
It is important to explain people using an approach they would understand. He cited the example of an article in one of the science magazines which talked about the story of Prometheus:
Zeus had Prometheus carried to Mount Caucasus, where an eagle by the name of Ethon (offspring of the monsters Typhon and Echidna) would eat out his liver; it would grow back each day and the eagle would eat it again. This punishment was to last 30,000 years.
The article quoted this mythological story to explain that it is actually true that the liver can regrow and gave more details about it.
Similarly, an article on quantum physics explained electrons jumping levels by comparing it to pigeons jumping on tree branches because they get excited.
It is important to explain such scientific articles in ways that the common man can understand, but it is equally important to have correct meaning, and the article should not give false analogies that could lead to misunderstandings.
The next talk was on Unicode by Hari Prasad Nadig and Sunil Jaiprakash. They explained what Wikipedia is, explained how to use Baraha on Windows, how to enable the Unicode option in it, how to write in Kannada, and the ways of using different keyboard layouts, about installing Kannada fonts on Linux and about installing SCIM to be able to write in Kannada on Linux.
This was followed by a talk on how wikis work by Ramakrishna Reddy. He explained the special nature of wikis such as linking content to the contributor and how it gives the user the power to contribute, about democratic decision making, and about feeding the naturally curious (by way of an interlinked wiki).
This was followed by a talk on how to use the MediaWiki software by Hari Prasad Nadig. He explained the concept of logging in vs anonymous editing, the wiki syntax, how to create an offline copy to run on your own computer, the concept of revisions to see the contributions and changes by each user, using the toolbar provided above the edit box, etc.
The talks gave a broad overview to the audience on the importance of the Kannada Wikipedia, how to get started with Kannada on computers, the concept of a wiki, and how people can contribute themselves. Unfortunately, the latter talks got too technical in nature, and did not have any flow. It would have been probably better if they had got a newbie from the audience to follow their instructions to go about editing the Wikipedia. This might have convinced the 100+ non-technical audience that it is actually easy to contribute. Nevertheless, the conference was useful for persons who did not know about these topics before, which was the main intent.
Note : The Kannada Wikipedia is located at http://kn.wikipedia.org