This post has been a long time in coming.
I’ve hem-hawed around not really wanting to write it, but knowing that I needed to. The challenge is trying to present a complex topic in an easy-to-read manner. My wife tells me that my brain mostly resides up in the clouds thinking about abstract concepts….things that the “average Joe” doesn’t understand. Not that Joe is stupid -far from it. Its just that his body of knowledge is different than mine. Somehow I need to bridge the differences in our knowledge and communicate the importance of UTF-8.
So what is UTF-8 ?
UTF-8 is just a specific format of Unicode.
I won’t get into bits and bytes. The goal here is just to give a broad overview of the relationship between computers and languages.
Have you ever thought about how many languages there are in the world? There are over 2,700 spoken languages (and more than 7,000 dialects). Hundreds of characters exist for writing these languages. For example, there is the family of Chinese-like characters 中国的 such as Japanese 日本の and Korean 한국의.
Then there are Cyrillic characters that include languages such as Russian русский and Ukrainian Український. There are many different glyphs for writing languages: Arabic العربية and Thai ภาษาไทย…..Hebrew שפת עברית…..the list goes on.
In the early days of computers, the English language was contained in a box called ASCII. When computers spread to other parts of the world, different countries developed their own ways of formatting their written language. Each country had their own version of the ASCII box that contained their specific characters. This was all fine, until the internet was developed and countries started to connect with each other. Because each country had their own container that was named the same thing (ASCII), communication was difficult if not impossible. ASCII existed in many different forms, each with its own definition.
In 1987 software engineers got together and outlined a new concept for “language containers.” They proposed an all-inclusive box called Unicode that could hold ALL of the languages (their glyphs). If every computer could communicate using this new container, there would be no more confusion. A college student from Israel studying in the US could now type an email in Hebrew back to his family at home and they would be able to read it. Using this new container, a Japanese engineer could now trust that when he electronically sent documents to his client in France, they would display properly.
I can now build an Arabic language webpage here in the US, upload it to a server, and anyone around the world can view it (as long as they are using a newer browser or computer). It is very easy to communicate cross-culturally via the internet. The old barriers that once isolated people groups are fast disappearing. The internet is bringing everyone together quickly. Never before has it been so easy to reach millions of people.
While the internet has undoubtedly caused much harm and wrecked thousands of lives, the fact remains that IT CAN BE USED FOR GOOD! So many things are coming together in this generation. Thousands of people are coming online for the first time every minute. What if we could be right there ready and waiting to hand them a digital Bible or gospel tract?
The infrastructure exists for reaching people Quickly and Efficiently with the Gospel. Cross-cultural missions has never been this easy in the history of the world. Will you join us in reaching the unreached?