• IRSAAL-Urdu: Multiscript Urdu Discourse and the Question of Secularism for Postcolonial Digital Humanities

    Max Dugan (see profile) , Elliot Montpellier
    Global Digital Humanities Symposium
    Digital humanities, Social media, Technology--Study and teaching, Urdu language
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    Global Digital Humanities Symposium
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    Meeting Date:
    March 23-25, 2022
    Secularity, Postcolonial studies, Technology studies
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    This paper describes the function and genesis of IRSAAL-Urdu, a novel application of Google Sheets for the analysis of Urdu discourse online. This tool prioritizes openness, ease of use, and extensibility in its low technical bar for entry, robust documentation, and easily customized components. In particular, the paper details the postcolonial DH stream from which it emerges, the method for its use, its extension of DH work with right-to-left (RTL) languages, and some use-cases for its application. The “messiness” — e.g. idiosyncratic transliteration of Urdu into Latin script or frequency of multiscript tweets — of Urdu datasets drawn from social media and digital forums hinders text analysis. These challenges stem from the neocolonial normativization of left-to-right scripts (Risam 2018) and capital-driven sequestering of tools by the tech industry (Benjamin 2019; D’Ignazio and Klein 2020). Our project builds on these by pushing against the persistent colonial secularism that undergirds knowledge production about Islamic phenomena (Asad 2003 and 2018; Fadil 2019). Scholars have taken generative steps toward regularizing Urdu corpora from digital spaces (Irvine et al. 2012, Sharf and Ur Rahman 2017). At the same time, their methods require substantial technical knowledge and deprioritize non-Urdu terms, especially English words and Islamic expressions that draw from Arabic (e.g. ما شاء الله, mashAllah, ma sha’ Allah, mash’Allah, mA, etc.). In contrast, IRSAAL-Urdu prioritizes a short technical learning curve and certain features of IRSAAL-Urdu, such as the word bank and transliteration rules, facilitate new research collaboration between scholars working with Urdu corpora. Ultimately, we elaborate how regularizing orthographic variability in the digital culture in Islamic South Asia and its diasporas widens the analytical scope for scholars working with multiscript, multilingual, and religiously-inflected datasets emerging from Muslim digital worlds.
    This is the slide deck for a corresponding text file of the presentation of the same name.
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