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Information technologies the focus of International Mother Language Day 2011

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International Mother Language Day – 21 February 2011

by A. Drame

Linguistic diversity is dwindling fast. Already, half of the world’s 6,000 languages are endangered, according to official UNESCO figures.

While the Internet is now the major driving force when it comes to the spreading of information, knowledge and culture, it is dominated by very few languages, like English, French, Spanish or Chinese. Even languages which are spoken by millions of people, like Kiswahili, Tamil, Hindi are virtually not present in the World Wide Web.

This fact has two major effects: it promotes the dominance of these languages as de-facto global linguas francas; it also still prevents the Internet to develop its full potential as global medium and repository of knowledge and culture. New information technologies these days have ventured into the remotest places of the Earth and reach more people than ever before in history. However, lacking content in “smaller” or less dominant languages hampers the possibilities that this development could open to promote democracy, equal opportunities and development, and to prevent discrimination. All because it still does not allow access to vital information, to education and resources for millions of people with limited knowledge of these few dominant languages.

The neglect of “smaller” languages in the new technologies has yet another adverse effect. While technological development and the evolution of the Internet proceeds ever more rapidly, those languages which miss out to follow suit now, risk to lose more and more of their functions ever faster. With increasing “monolingualisation” and simultaneous permeation of the Web to various social and geographical regions, even languages which may seem healthy and strong today may lose their ability to evolve and develop further through this medium.

At the same time, many contributions from speakers of other languages will not be heard now and in future. Many ideas and innovations that can best be expressed in a person’s mother tongue will thus be lost. The result is a true pauperization of our emerging knowledge societies.

The true danger is that the process reinforces itself to the advantage of some and on the costs of many others. And once gone it is hard to revive.

UNESCO set the theme for this year “The information and communication technologies for the safeguarding and promotion of languages and linguistic diversity” to highlight the new technologies’ enormous potential for safeguarding, documenting and promoting the use of mother languages.

TermNet supports this effort and, therefore, calls for joint efforts to promote linguistic diversity in the new media for the mutual benefit of all.

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Google goes (further into) Africa

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Google unveiled localized Swahili versions of Gmail, Google Maps and Google Chrome.

Localizing software makes the Internet more relevant for users everywhere, but in African countries it has the special benefit of bridging the huge Digital Divide and thus bring the local population closer to information that are relevant for economic development, education, health, democracy and their government. “Google is focusing on making the internet more relevant and useful to Africans by creating more African content online; raising awareness among consumers and businesses about the opportunities offered by the internet; and developing products that are locally meaningful” writes KBC online.

Joe Mucheru, Google Lead for Sub Saharan Africa, said in an interview with the KBC, “The Internet offers so many opportunities, and we want to make the Internet more relevant and useful to East Africans.  Being able to use products like Chrome, Gmail and Maps in Swahili means that our users will now have a much better experience of the web in their day-to-day lives. And this is just the beginning.”

Google’s announcement coincides with the commencement of the East Africa Community Common Market in July 2010. The common market wants to see trade among the signing countries made easier and has as an ultimate goal a single currency. It represents a significant milestone for the people of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda & Burundi, which will create new opportunities for the free movement of capital, goods, services and persons across East Africa.However, experts do not see it is likely to be in full swing until 2015.

Swahili is spoken by approx. 120 million people in the East African Common Market or 20% of all speakers of indigenous languages in Africa. “Swahili uniquely conveys much of our shared culture, is the lingua franca used in day-to-day interaction across borders, is one of the languages of the African Union and is becoming an increasingly important part of the internet fabric in Africa” says the Chairman of the Kiswahili and African Languages Department at Kenyatta University, Dr Leonard Chacha Mwita.

Google currently has offices in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. This week, the company has also made localized versions of Gmail and Maps available in Amharic.

WSIS Forum 2010: Turning Targets into Action – towards 2015 closes tomorrow

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The year of 2010 marks a turning point for assessing the progress made towards WSIS implementation during the past five years and for proposing new strategies to ensure the achievement of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) goals by 2015.

The WSIS Forum 2010 is currently held (10 to 14 of May 2010) at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The organizers, UNESCO, ITU, UNCTAD and UNDP set-up an exceptional event: More than 800 participants have registered. Four heads of UN agencies, many ministers, CEOs, civil society, representatives from academia and other stakeholders will participate in a week full of high-level debates, facilitation meetings, thematic workshops, interactive sessions, knowledge exchanges and kick off meetings. There will also be an exhibition and several publication releases and two receptions for the participants…

(for full article go to UNESCO)

WSIS Summit is webcast. View the sessions here: http://www.itu.int/ibs/WSIS/201005forum/index.html

UNESCO will also present its WSIS mid-term assessment, a publication entitled: Towards Inclusive Knowledge Societies – A review of UNESCO’s action in implementing the WSIS outcomes at the Forum

Long walk to freedom for new terms in France

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This great article from Wall Street Journal online describes the way of neologisms through French institutions and expert groups before they become approved new terms.

An excerpt:

PARIS — The word on the table that morning was “cloud computing.”

To translate the English term for computing resources that can be accessed on demand on the Internet, a group of French experts had spent 18 months coming up with “informatique en nuage,” which literally means “computing in cloud.”

France’s General Commission of Terminology and Neology — a 17-member group of professors, linguists, scientists and a former ambassador — was gathered in a building overlooking the Louvre to approve the term.

“What? This means nothing to me. I put a ‘cloud’ of milk in my tea!” exclaimed Jean Saint-Geours, a French writer and member of the Terminology Commission. “Send it back and start again”…

Read the full article on Wall Street Journal online.

Terminology of Knowledge for Sustainable Development

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On the Website of the Communication Initiative I recently came across the following article from 2005:

The Terminology of Knowledge for Sustainable Development:

Information, Knowledge, Collaboration and Communications

Author: Heather Creech
Publication Date: 2005

URL: http://www.comminit.com/en/node/269383

Summary
This International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Knowledge Communications Practice Note offers a glossary of terms related to sustainable development communications. The glossary covers: principal distinctions; terminology of knowledge processes; typology of collaborative relationships; and an inventory of communications practices and tools. Examples of this glossary, which is presented in a chart format, include terms such as: Adaptive management; Community of practice; Intellectual capital; K4D: Knowledge for development; Knowledge mobilisation; Appreciative inquiry; and Participatory video, among others.

What to do when you have to create a glossary

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UPDATE!

The “glossaries” focus group reports what they did:

Essentially, we introduced ourselves to each other and as we did this, established the various frameworks in which different members of the group create different kinds of glossaries and other terminological resources.

Environments, glossary types, target groups

  • Resources designed to respond to distributed development in large enterprises; problem of communication among distributed sites;  getting clear definitions in English
  • Resources designed for the purpose of translating EU legislation based on multilingual glossaries with master en equivalents (languages: Croatian & Turkish)
  • Regulatory affairs in order to support translation activities by outsourced translators
  • Language planning in the context of the Welsh language boards; Welsh/English; issues of acceptance and term creation
  • Fachsprache= special language in business; (English and Slovenian) for use by freelance translators
  • Bilingual lexicology for special languages
  • WIPO terminology database
  • Transportation industry; dictionaries and glossaries for Latvian, Russian, English; how to make the terminologies parallel
  • Translation department glossaries for EU agencies in a wide range of domains; how to foresee problems and solutions for translators, auditors, interpreters, etc.
  • Freelance technical writer: glossaries; technical solutions
  • Technology companies where people are creating terms in industry and business
  • Technical terms, medical terms, processes to establish preferred terminological usage
  • South African experience: language planning and term introduction in languages for which many terms must be created
  • Translation unit of the eu: exercise in the combination of various different glossaries into Euroterm; problem of legacy data; problem of unification of entries
  • Communications support – total communications management for translation and document production
  • Technical translation and terminology management for enterprises, multiple languages
  • Modernization of legacy systems and importation of legacy data
  • Secretary to a commission in a minority language region; translation of legal terms & laws into a minority language that is a majority language in a neighboring country (i.e., German in Belgium, parallel)
  • WIPO – World Intellectual Property Organization; patent translation and terminology management

Problems

  • How does one transfer terminological and lexicographical information from tabular Excel glossaries into a structured terminology management system, such as MultiTerm? (Answer: xml output, manipulation and importation into the master system; more of a tools question, but nevertheless related to “glossaries”. Similar issues exist for glossaries found on the web, which may also need to edited for stylistic presentation.
  • How does one deal with copyright issues? (To be discussed on Thursday)
  • How do we come with new terms in different environments:
  • Terms used in well established languages (e.g., German terms for Italian or Belgian law)?
  • Terms or even general language words for use in languages where some areas of science, law, etc. have not been as rigorously developed in the past
  • How do we introduce and educate the general public so that terms created in such environments will be accepted for general usage?
  • Community action procedures and introduction in the school system in order to familiar children, families and interest groups in focused areas of terminology (e.g., family health, water management, childhood education, etc.), with the result that the introduction and acceptance of terminology can actually take a generation!
  • How do we deal with the fact that terms are coined in English and tend to be both very compact and short, in addition to being ambiguous with regard to noun/verb/adjective relationships, when some languages require more explicit, longer phrasal terms?
  • How do we keep people from just giving up and using the English terms?

No clear solutions here, but we commiserated with each other!

Critical insight: “Nothing is so easy as I thought it would be.”

To be continued tomorrow…