Published in Tectonic
Translate.org.za, which previously released OpenOffice.org in all 11 official South African languages has now created a South African keyboard. The keyboard can be used to type all characters of all the South African languages, including those needed by Venda, Northern Sotho, Tswana and Afrikaans.
For English language speakers the idea that words or characters could not be reproduced on a computer is unthinkable. For many indigenous language speakers, however, this is something that hinders their easy adoption of ICT.
The Venda language, for example, has five additional characters which are not used by any other language. These characters use diacritic marks but most Venda speakers cannot type these so they simply leave them out. In Venda this is critical as it changes the meaning of words. There are ways to insert these characters but they are tedious and frustrate many Venda speakers. The same applies to Afrikaans and to a lesser extent Northern Sotho and Tswana.
These characters are also not easily available to other users, rendering them unreadable. The keyboard includes a set of fonts that allows you to view the correct Venda characters.
Dwayne Bailey, Director of Translate.org.za, explains “creating this keyboard was a natural progression for us. We intervene wherever technology gets in the way of language. Here shortcomings in keyboards lowered Venda’s standing as one of the official languages. We’ve changed that as the multilingual keyboard we developed covers all South Africa’s languages.”
Translate.org.za is a non-government organisation focused on the localisation of open source software into all 11 official languages. They have released OpenOffice.org, Mozilla Firefox (web browser) and Mozilla Thunderbird (email) in all 11 official languages.
Bailey said Translate decided to build a single keyboard layout instead of one per language in an effort to make the layout ubiquitous. The layout, when installed, does not hamper the normal operation of the keyboard. Users can install it on every keyboard in an organisation without affecting the keyboard’s normal process. Yet those who need it can access their characters at will.
The layout was designed by Translate.org.za in response to its own needs, namely translating software. Many Venda translators will type text on a computer, print it out and then add their special diacritic characters to the print out. Clearly when translating software this is not an option. The layout was designed in consultation with language experts and translators with the aim of creating a single layout that is logical to use.
The keyboard is released as open source software and may be downloaded from the Translate.org.za website Translate sells copies of the keyboard which includes a printed user manual (with installation instructions and a section detailing exactly how keyboard and fonts work on your computer), a quick reference guide and may be installed on as many computers as needed.