CDAC’s Modi An­droid App says Namo to a Lost Lan­guage

Modi, the cur­sive short­hand to the De­vana­gari script, was the of­fi­cial way of writ­ing Marathi till the first half of the 20th cen­tury

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Pune: In what is a first in its ef­forts at pro­mot­ing heritage In­dian lan­guages, the Cen­tre for Devel­op­ment of Ad­vanced Com­put­ing (CDAC) will be launch­ing an An­droid app that lets users learn the Modi script.

The Modi script was in­vented as a cur­sive short­hand to the De­vana­gari script, some­time in the 13th cen­tury and was the of­fi­cial way of writ­ing Marathi till the first half of the 20th cen­tury. Ra­jat Moona, di­rec­tor gen­eral, CDAC, said that the app, and a plug-in for web­sites, which would trans­late Marathi web­pages into Modi would be launched on Gudi Padwa, the Ma­ha­rash­trian New Year, which is also the re­search in­sti­tute’s 29th Foun­da­tion Day. Moona said, “Marathi is now writ­ten in De­vana­gari and Modi isn’t used, but all the of­fi­cial doc­u­ments from the Maratha pe­riod are in Modi and the num­ber of peo­ple who can read these is very low.” The app will al­low users to prac­tice writ­ing the ba­sic let­ters, as well as learn some ba­sic words and short forms used in the of­fi­cial doc­u­ments to fur­ther aid read­abil­ity.

The web-browser plug-in con­verts Marathi web­pages into Modi, and CDAC will be pro­vid­ing the code for free to web­site de­vel­op­ers to in­te­grate it into their web­sites. It is be­lieved that Modi came about as a short­hand for De­vana­gari, which was con­sid­ered to be ex­ces­sively time-con­sum­ing, given each char­ac­ter re­quired three-five strokes and lift­ing of the hand af­ter each stroke was com­pleted. Modi (from the Marathi word modane or bend) al­lowed for conti-


nu­ous writ­ing by bend­ing the let­ters, al­low­ing court scribes to keep pace while not­ing down the edicts. Girish Mandke, cu­ra­tor, Maratha His­tory Mu­seum at Dec­can Col­lege in Pune, who also teaches courses on Modi at Sav­it­ribai Phule Pune Univer­sity, said that the app would help a lot more peo­ple learn the script and make these doc­u­ments ac­ces­si­ble to them. “The Modi script was used while writ­ing Marathi from the pre-Shivaji era till the 1950s. To­day, there aren’t enough peo­ple who can teach this script and the app would cer­tainly help with that.” Be­ing able to read Modi would help his­to­ri­ans, aca­demi­cians, re­searchers and le­gal ex­perts, given that all of­fi­cial court and land doc­u­ments over sev­eral cen­turies were writ­ten in Modi. Mul­ti­lin­gual and heritage com­put­ing is a key fo­cus area at CDAC, which has pi­o­neered the Graph­ics and In­tel­li­gence­based Script Tech­nol­ogy (GIST), which fa­cil­i­tates the use of In­dian lan­guages in IT. GIST works on cre­at­ing fonts, nat­u­ral-lan­guage pro­cess­ing (NLP) and multi-lin­gual pro­gram­ming and has cre­ated over 8,000 fonts, in­clud­ing Modi. Moona said, “The fo­cus is pro­vid­ing read­abil­ity for the ex­ist­ing doc­u­ments.” The in­sti­tute is now work­ing closely with the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment to digitise and re­vive the script.

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