April 13, 2022


Online Only

12:00 pm – 1:30 pm

Event Organizer

Isabelle Zaugg, ICLS and Data Science, Columbia University

Event Sponsor

Institute for Comparative Literature and Society

Event Co-Sponsor(s)

Columbia University's Data Science Institute, the Script Encoding Initiative in the Department of Linguistics at University of California, Berkeley, and the Center for Ethnography at University of California, Irvine

Registration required. Please register here


  • Anshuman Pandey, PhD; Research Associate at the Script Encoding Initiative
  • Anushah Hossain, ABD; UC Berkeley
  • Keith Murphy, PhD; UC Irvine
  • Isabelle Zaugg, PhD; Columbia University; Research Associate at the Script Encoding Initiative

The Unicode Standard serves as the technical backbone for text encoding and gives proper form to most of the world’s writing systems on contemporary digital platforms. Among other features, Unicode contains specifications for over 140,000 individual characters (letters, ideographs, punctuation marks, and symbols), along with basic information required for rendering emoji.

Like any other technical system, Unicode is built and run by interested social actors, in this case The Unicode Consortium, an American nonprofit with membership composed of big tech companies, other nonprofits, and even ordinary people drawn to the Unicode project. It is no exaggeration to say that modern multilingual computing and communication technology would not exist in the forms they take today without Unicode.

That said, Unicode presents both significant opportunities and challenges to users of digitized writing systems, especially scripts for minority languages that have been overlooked by various power-brokers.


This panel introduces the Unicode project as a subject of scholarly inquiry from a range of vantage points. What makes technical material so difficult to understand? What work is being done to bridge the interests of technical actors and user communities, and what resources does this require? What motivates these boundary actors in the realm of writing systems? And how are peripheral communities in the Global South assigning meaning and negotiating with these standards?



 The Heyman Center for the Humanities, Room B-101
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