Software that speaks ‘local’

11 February 2008

South African multilingual software developer Translate.org.za has won an award from the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) for its efforts to make computer software more accessible to speakers of South Africa’s indigenous languages.

Translate.org.za won the PanSALB award for Multilingualism and Nation Building in the eBusiness Institution category, which recognises Translate.org’s invention of the country’s first multilingual keyboard and open source spell checkers.

The award also recognises the company’s work in translating software including OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Firefox into South African languages.

Their latest project entails helping people across Africa translate their indigenous languages into popular software.

Speaking to BuaNews last week, Translate.org.za director Dwayne Bailey said the award was not about recognition for them, but about promoting the use of vernacular languages.

Bailey said the project had proved that South African languages were in no way inferior to others: “If we can’t protect our languages, they will die, and if we care about them, we should use our hands and pens to promote them.”

PanSALB, which conferred the awards, is a statutory body that promotes the equal use and enjoyment of all 11 official South African languages.

Criteria for the awards include a landmark language-related work, a campaign to increase public awareness of the linguistic profession, a specific event or programme or a number of endeavours or sustained services over a certain period.

Translate@thon
Another of Translate.org.za’s successes was a “translation marathon” held on the University of Grahamstown’s Rhodes campus in May 2007, aimed at making indigenous African languages visible.

During the event, about 60 isiXhosa speakers and IT specialists huddled around computer screens and dictionaries in an attempt to translate the 10 000 words that make up the Rhodes e-mail system.

The translated software was the first application of its kind to allow the university’s students and staff to access e-mail in their mother tongue.

In 2004, Translate.org.za successfully translated OpenOffice.org into isiZulu, Northern Sotho and Afrikaans, and by 2005 they had translated it into all 11 official languages.

Translate.org.za also won the 2006 African ICT Achiever award for their efforts towards bridging the digital divide in Africa.

Source: BuaNews