10 February 2000

The Multiculturalist's Anachronism

You want a website that's culturally
and linguistically sensitive,
that's multilingual, inviting,
easy to use, and friendly.

In this, you are
years ahead of the WWW
consortium or
the Unicode initiative.

You are to be applauded for your ideals
and then you should take a look
at your computer keyboard.

As structured, it
cannot handle even French
accents or Spanish
diacritical marks or the German

It is not a linguistically sensitive
tool, your keyboard, and it
gets worse.

Did you know that there
is no HTML code for an
O with a macron?

Serious researchers
are losing their credibility
as we speak, spelling
Japanese words with an OE
in lieu of a simple bar over the

And, oh me oh my,
you want your website
to have simultaneous
translation in Korean,
Chinese, Japanese,

And, lady, you
know I want to be sensitive.
You saw me on TV marching
with the GBLT community
in front of Tim Johnson's
office. I love the idea
of a multilingual website.

I must confess to you
at this point
that I am not well-
equipped to pull that off.

I know a little
That's it.

And, as far as the technical
problems go, I'm

I don't even know
what a line break is
anymore. Oh sure,
I've theorized it in
graduate poetry seminars,
but, when it comes to
ASCII, that line break is more
troubling even than Scully
or Olson or Levertov
would have one believe.

And it turns out,
it is not even the same
as a paragraph break
in Word
although they look the same.

So, in HTML, a &
is spelled &
which is a special code for
& which means
"ASCII character 38",
which is in turn
a bunch of zeros and ones,
namely 00100110.

On which level
does language take place?

If a color is a hexadecimal
whose digits are represented,
of necessity,
by arabic numerals,
and the letters A through F,
then what is red?

A wavelength.
A number.

And what is
the letter E?

When spoken,
it is an irregular waveform,
in each pronunciation
slightly different.

When typed,
it is the letter E.

Nothing but the
letter E, in each inkstain
slightly different in
manifestation, but
identical in meaning.

But when it is typed into
an email ... it becomes a shorthand
for a different code altogether.

Which refers to which:
the binary string
or the letter E?

See what I mean?

Language has taken
on a new foundation
although the houses
look the same.

The door is no longer
a door. It is a string of
zeros and ones.

How will this affect meaning,
the fact that, increasingly,
beneath our written
correspondence, is
a strata of math that
didn't exist a century ago?

So, thanks for stopping by
my office for some green
tea. So you see, I'm
going to have to scan in
those Korean child development
charts as .JPGs.

So, in essence, the Hangul will be
no longer words, but shapes,
in a large field of multicolored pixels
stored and transmitted
as a string of zeros and ones
and therein
is the color red.

I'll email you tomorrow
when I have them posted.

Newspoetry at Spineless Books