My home, Vancouver B.C., just announced new names for two public places: “šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square” and “šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn” . In contrast to just about every other name in this town, these names are not Scottish- or English-derived. Nor are they a Chinese phoneticisation of a Scottish-derived name. Instead, at long last our town asked the First Nations leaders, whose people have been here the longest by far, to contribute the names. I think it is awesome. It is a step towards reconciliation, tiny but real. I think these names will become Vancouver’s new shibboleths.

But names like these represent change, and change is unsettling. The characters are unfamiliar-looking! We don’t know how to pronounce them! There are rectangular boxes showing missing text! There is no ə key on our keyboards! Heh. We seem to have no problem expecting immigrants who grew up with Chinese or Ge’ez or Gujurati writing to learn how to write and pronounce “Granville”, but we are reluctant to step up when it’s our turn.

Never fear. I’m a software engineer specialising in internationalisation and Unicode. Let me explain how to read, type, and spell these names.  It’s really very interesting. Continue Reading »