Making technology speak your language

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The Independent Tech

Microsoft and UNESCO are working together to help people across the globe access technology in their own languages.

According to recent reports, one of more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth disappears from the face of our planet every 14 days; forgotten languages take with them often unrecorded cultural traditions, language-specific histories and thousands of years of knowledge.

Half of the languages spoken around the world today are expected to die out by the end of the 21st century.

Technology has brought this world many fantastic - and live-saving inventions. It has also been influential in the segregation and isolation of millions of people who can't speak or understand the dominant languages used in the computing world.

UNESCO is working with a number of technology partners to ensure native languages are not lost.

"Linguistic diversity is under threat," said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO. "This loss not only erodes individual communities and cultures, but more broadly, the very makeup of our societies."

"Linguistic diversity promotes mutual understanding and dialogue. Access to learning in local languages is of utmost importance for reducing social exclusion. What is encouraging is that a growing number of partners are acknowledging the importance of languages and committing to safeguard them. It is crucial that we bolster these efforts because each language is a treasure."

Microsoft's Local Language Program (LLP) aims to enrich the lives by providing people with access to new technology while trying to promote diverse cultural identities and preserve local languages. It also hopes to enable users to assist in the continuation and future development of native languages.

On February 22 Microsoft announced they had added an additional 59 new Language Interface Packs (LIPs) for Windows 7 and Office 2010 to their existing offering of 67 languages.

A second initiative, called Caption Language Interface Packs (CLIPs), enables computer users to customize a base language with more than 400,000 terms.

"Two dozen language hot spots, which contain the greatest diversity and most endangered languages, have now been identified globally. Microsoft's Local Language Program - which provides an interface for nearly 100 emerging languages, including Maori, Welsh and Inuktitut - seeds future innovation," said Professor K. David Harrison, a linguist at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, and director of research for the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.

"A Torres Straits' Islander in Australia told me: ‘Our language is standing still; we need to make it relevant to today's society. We need to create new words, because right now we can't say ‘computer.'"

Google has also been working on linguistic technologies in the hope of improving cross-cultural conversations in the future. Google's mobile-based translation software (which is still in its development stage) harnesses real-time voice-to-voice translation making you feel like you are conversing with someone in your natural language. 

More information about Microsoft's LLP can be found at: http://www.microsoft.com/LLP

 

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