Firefox goes Sotho

Originally appeared in ITWeb

Software non-profit, Translate.org.za, together with a group of volunteer translators, have customised open source Web browser Firefox 4 to support the Northern Sotho language.

Dwayne Bailey MD of Translate.org.za says the decision to roll-out full versions of Firefox in indigenous languages forms part of Translate’s plans to convert as many applications into vernacular languages and drive technology adoption in Africa.

“Technologists dream about how technology will change the lives of Africans, easily forgetting that technology mostly speaks English,” says Bailey.

“We believe that the barrier that language presents must be eliminated for these benefits to (reach) Africans.”

Bailey believes if local people start using Internet browsers in their mother tongue, this will spark demand for Web sites and Web services to be delivered in their own language. He predicts that online banking will soon be available in African languages.

Driving diversity

“Samuel Murray translated Firefox 3 into Afrikaans in June 2008, so the release of Firefox in Northern Sotho is a big step forward for us,” says Bailey.

“It is the culmination of work that started last year through our participation in the African Network for Localisation, a project funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).”

Canada’s IDRC funded the project. The organisation indicates it is based on funding research and supports projects that have made a measurable impact on societies.

While Translate.org.za has developed a number of language extensions for Firefox, the latest release will be the first that is a complete application in either Northern Sotho or South African English. The Web browser currently supports South African English and Afrikaans.

Pheledi Mathibela was responsible for customising Firefox 4 to support Northern Sotho and the South African English version was customised by Bailey.

Bailey says the language extension packs, which are not quite as comprehensive as the full Northern Sotho Firefox version, include Ndebele, Swazi, Southern Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.

However, he says, full versions in other vernacular languages are expected to be released in future releases of the browser. He adds that Translate.org.za is interested to work with other browser developers, such as Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, in the future.

Browser innovation

Regarding security, Bailey says the translated browser will have no impact on security vulnerability. “The language pack simply changes the interface text. The internals of Firefox remain exactly the same.

“We do make minor changes to RSS feeds, local sites that might be slightly different from the US English version. But all these are evaluated and vetted by Mozilla.”

For the rest of the year, Bailey explains, Translate.org.za will be looking for sponsors to bring the other eight languages into Firefox and to make local language software available to other African communities.

According to Bailey, northern Sotho is the fourth most common language in the country after Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. He says it is widely used in Gauteng, where a quarter of people living in the province speak Northern Sotho.

Firefox 4 Beta arrived this week, six weeks before developers are to ship in the final version. In preparation for the official roll-out of the updated Firefox, users are invited to download the beta version of the translated browser for testing and input.

The files can be downloaded free of charge here, and are available for Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

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