Sunday, November 6

Microsoft bans reference to Bhutanese language?

Microsoft has changed all references to Bhutan's official language, Dzongkha, to "Tibetan - Bhutan" in its new operating system, Windows Vista, according to the Save Tibet campaign (via Language Log). The campaign says internal documents from Microsoft call any references to Dzongkha "ship-stoppers" because they risk offending people in the area and could jeapordize sales. The change is already implemented in the beta version of Vista that's out.

Apparently the name of the language is a political issue in this contentious region because Bhutan is a Buddhist country with strong cultural and linguistic ties to Tibet, and since China is a big customer of Microsoft's, then China has to be coddled. But Microsoft changing the names is either insensitive or ignorant, because the Dzongkha and Tibetan are related, but only as similar as Spanish and Italian, says Save Tibet.

What brought this to a head just now, or whether the internal documents referred to are real, I don't know. But it will be interesting to see what comes of it. Also I wonder: why not remove all references to Tibet to placate the Chinese?

The kicker is the Bhutanese government paid Microsoft to develop the Dzongkha version, and then didn't get quite what they wanted. Bhutanese people are offended about the name change, and the script is not quite right, according to this Bhutanese online news story and the comments on it.

Microsoft began work on a Dzongkha version of Windows a few years ago, according to BBC article, to enable people there to use their own script on their computers. This might make it sound like Microsoft is engaged in a good cause, but Bhutan paid the company to do this, and anyway since then the company has been involved in some dodgy stuff. This Boing Boing post talks about how Microsoft helped China block blog posts on democracy and freedom.


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