OpenOffice in 11 South African languages

Published in Tectonic

After 75 000 translated words and many months of hard work, is scheduled to release 2.0.1 in all 11 official South African languages later this month. director, Dwayne Bailey, says that 20 people – academics, translators and reviewers – were involved in the translations, most of whom are language practitioners in their respective fields.

“Seventy days is the quickest time we can translate in, but if you have to check for consistency or common errors, it can probably take as long as six months to do translations,” says Bailey. “We don’t want to be translating old products when new products come out, but luckily we were on time with the latest translations.”

Translations of Web browser Firefox and mail client Thunderbird are also due to be released later this month.

The release of 2.0 last month contained updates of Afrikaans, Zulu and Northern Sotho and also included new translations in Xhosa, Sotho and Ndebele. Translations of Venda, Swati and an updated Tswana translation are expected to be completed later this month, in time for the release of 2.01.

Bailey said one of the most significant challenges in translating the applications is that the text is broken up into snippets.
“Translating a novel is simple because you already have an idea of the plot, but for these applications it was harder because certain words can have different meanings,” says Bailey.

Bailey says an important part of’s mission is eliminating the idea that certain languages are inferior to others because they aren’t represented. “The most significant thing it challenges is people’s notion of whether their language is a modern language. We challenged this notion that certain languages are inferior,” says Bailey.

Bailey hopes the project will spawn similar work in South Africa. “I’ll be excited if commercial companies started translating everything into all the official languages,” he says. “Tomorrow we’re having a major launch in Pretoria, to celebrate all the contributions people have made towards the project.”