Lost In Transliteration

I was attached to the Computer Center of Local University in Penang, Malaysia some 25 years ago (hope that I could boast I was a child protégée and started work at 5). There was a UNDP or UNESCO sponsored project to combine all the South East Asia bibliography into a single volume. There were no problems for Bibliographic materials from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Philippines because they all have romanized titles and cataloging information. However, when it came to Thai, there are Thai scripts as well and romanized text. I was assigned to transliterate the Thai script stored on computer tapes.

The project started with me visiting the Thai professor in the university to understand the Thai letters, how words are formed and pronounced. The consonants, vowels and tonal marks, their positions and how they affect the intonation. A proto-type transliteration program was written and presented to the professor for her reading pleasure. Like a chef waiting at the dining table for clues on how the diner enjoyed the culinary creation, I nervously waited for her comments. She started with a smile and a few seconds later burst into laughter.

After a few rounds of refinements with the professor, I was ready to travel to Bangkok to meet up with some officials at the Thai National Library. After many meetings, discussion and dinners (the latter being the part of programs I enjoyed most), I had to bid the host farewell and went back to writing my report and findings. A few months later, I left to work for a US multinational company, and my task was taken over by a graduate student.

On a smart fellow’s recommendation, the key people in the project decided to buy a Thai Print Train that is able to print Thai Scripts along with Romanized text. Printing was a big deal then and it wasn’t a matter of just getting another printer driver.

The transliteration was finally LOST.

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