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Race for Native Language Technology

Around UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day (February 21, 2011), K. David Harrison, Director of Research of the Living Tongues Institute, which recently teamed up with National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project, recently pointed to the role of technology in helping endangered languages flourish in the digital age – like chatrooms for Cherokee, web browser for Inuktitut – in a recent Huffington Post article:

It may seem wildly impractical, from a business standpoint, to translate 350,000 Microsoft Windows terms into Inuktitut, a language having < 40,000 speakers, written in a unique syllabary. But Microsoft's Local Languages Program -- which provides a Windows interface for nearly 100 emerging languages, including Maori, Welsh, and Tamil -- seeds future innovation. The real payoff to acting locally is thus intellectual, yielding a foment of ideas. No culture has a monopoly on genius, and we never know where the next great idea will emerge.

Collectively, these grassroots and corporate efforts at language revitalization converge on a global trend. I predict it will prove to be one of the most intriguing social dynamics in coming decades. People are rejecting a false choice of globalization – that they must choose to give up local tongues to monolingually speak a global one. Access to heritage languages strengthens identity, belonging, and access to traditional wisdom. We are all enriched.

Recently, CSOFT International Ltd. (one of the top 30 language service providers worldwide) announced a language race on TermWiki (a free way to search for terms, definitions, and translation in over 75 languages), which encourages native speakers of minority and endangered languages to make their language most active (above English, Polish, German, Turkish, Japanese, Russian, Greek and other major world languages with lots of internet representation). It’s drawing crowds from not only students and professors but also Fortune 500 companies. At the moment, major world languages are at the top of the list. Join now!

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mathias

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