In the same On Language column, William Safire cryptically ends on considerations about passports, computers and internet.
After mentioning current discussions on transliteration for administrative purposes, he claims that
[m]eanwhile, acting unilaterally, the Russian government has worked out its own plan for handling Russian names on its passports to make life simpler for immigration officials of other nations.
As far as I’m aware, Russian travel passports have used the French transliteration system for a long time, and I could not find any information about any current Russian plans to do anything about that. Can anyone enlighten us here?
Attempting an analysis, the column then states that the problem is that
most computer operating systems are based on the Roman alphabet. Maybe, like a new Caesar, the imperial computer will impose our present system on the rest of the world, forcing Slavic and Asian systems into our alphabet soup. Or maybe the United Nations will find a new raison d’Ãªtre (that’s ray-ZON DET-ra) in standardizing a system to encode Roman and Cyrillic letters and Chinese and Japanese characters to make them computer-friendly on all the world’s screens.
For users of tomorrow’s Internet to accurately cross cultures, experts in phonetics and transliteration will first have to create and agree on a standard system.
Are we, the people of GILT, failing in our mission to such an extent that there are still people out there, writing columns in some of the most influential newspapers in the world, who think that computers and the Internet can only work with roman alphabets?