Web browser speaks Xhosa

Published in ITWeb

A local project, started little more than a year ago and largely funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, this week released a range of translated software including a Web browser and an Office suite.

The Zuza Software Foundation has translated the Mozilla Web browser into Xhosa, Zulu and four other languages, and has completed work on KOffice in Xhosa, Zulu and Venda. The translated Mozilla browser runs on Windows, Linux and Apple Mac, and includes a browser, an e-mail client and an HTML editor.

The organisation behind the translation effort is Translate.org, a body formed little more than a year ago with the intention of translating a range of open source software into local languages. The organisation now has 16 translators and, with the technical aid of Obsidian Systems and Shuttleworth Foundation funds, has set up premises and a translation network.

With this most recent release, Mozilla is now available in Xhosa, Zulu, Venda, Northern Sotho, Siswati and Tswana. The open source browser is available for download from the mozilla.org Web site and the language packs are available from www.translate.org.za. The open source KOffice suite has also been translated into Xhosa, Zulu and Venda, and is available for free.

“This project is crucial to transformation in our country where language is a highly sensitive issue,” says project director Dwayne Bailey. “The open source philosophy lends itself to making technology available to the masses. No commercial software vendors have adequately addressed the language issue in SA, but in one year the open source community has.”

Bailey says many languages have been marginalised through the history of apartheid which has led to a lack of language pride. “Seeing Linux users working in German and French environments made me realise that this could do the same for South African languages. I hope that simply allowing people to use the computer in their mother tongue will stimulate pride in their language, plus the fact that learning something in your mother tongue is naturally easier.”

He says the organisation’s immediate goal is to continue translation until all the local languages have been completed. Some of the more mature languages – those that were first translated – are now in a review process aimed at improving the quality.

Once the local languages are completed, he says, the organisation may look beyond SA’s borders for other languages to translate. “Open source provides a way for Africans to help themselves – not to have to wait for the First World – but to get up and do it themselves. Nobody else is going to translate software into Swahili.”

Bailey says he is also looking at other projects for translation although nothing has been finalised. One of his areas of interest is the broader Internet and what issues users face that could be improved by translation.

“Translation does not remove all barriers to computer access but it helps to eliminate one. This, together with low cost computers, open source software and low cost Internet access, will go a long way to making a dramatic IT impact on South Africans, especially the disadvantaged.”

Tags: , , ,