SA languages: One keyboard fits all

Published in the Mail & Guardian

A new keyboard has been developed that will allow typing in all 11 official languages in South Africa, said Dwayne Bailey this week, director of translate.org.za, a non-governmental organisation focused on the localisation of open-source software into all 11 official languages. The keyboard will allow a person to type all characters needed by the Venda, Northern Sotho, Tswana and Afrikaans languages.

A new keyboard has been developed that will allow typing in all 11 official languages in South Africa, said Dwayne Bailey this week, director of translate.org.za, a non-governmental organisation focused on the localisation of open-source software into all 11 official languages.

The keyboard will allow a person to type all characters needed by the Venda, Northern Sotho, Tswana and Afrikaans languages.

The software, which took one-and-a-half years to create, was made available to the public in early October.

In an effort to promote multilingualism, one keyboard is designed for all languages. The “Alt Gr” button will give letters that require diacritic marks (an accent symbol used to alter the pronunciation of a word) extra functionality so each language will be able to function from the single keyboard.

Venda uses five additional characters, which have diacritic marks and are not used by any other language.

Bailey said that most Venda speakers are limited when typing in their language on a conventional keyboard and often the meaning of words is changed as a result.

” … The same applies to Afrikaans and to a lesser extent Northern Sotho and Tswana,” he said.

Bailey said the keyboard will help departments such as home affairs, where officials battle to type a Venda person’s name correctly because their computers don’t have the correct fonts. Multi-purpose community centres that offer computer services to people in rural areas will also benefit from it.

The keyboard can be downloaded from the translate.org.za website and copies of the keyboard software can be bought for R150. So far the site has had 170 downloads in October and expects 450 by the end of the month.