Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A language's journey out of digital exclusion

I asked Waldir to write as a guest on my blog..

Kabuverdianu is a language spoken on the islands of Cape Verde. It is a creole language of Portuguese basis, it is the mother tongue of virtually all Cape Verdeans, and it is used as a second language by descendants of Cape Verdeans in other countries. This amounts to almost a million speakers worldwide.1

However, it is still virtually nonexistent in the written and digital world. Even in Cape Verde, where it is the only language spoken on an everyday basis, the official language is still Portuguese, which is used in schools, press, TV and the Internet.

This happens primarily because the language hasn't been standardized. There are many works published in Kabuverdianu, but there's no official grammar or dictionary. Fortunately, there is an official alphabet, which aims to standardize the transcription of the language's sounds to written form, which until now was done following the taste and creativity of each author. But an alphabet is barely enough for a start! Much more needs to be done.

The language had already been assigned an ISO 639-3 code (kea), but that only gives it a name. In order to have a digital existence, a language must have an entry in the CLDR (Common Locale Data Repository), which is a project by the Unicode Consortium aiming to provide basic locale data for all languages in order to allow software to be translated.

This important step in the language's journey to digital existence was now taken. The next CLDR submission window is scheduled for October, so I gathered a few people2 some days ago and we worked on translating the data through AfriGen, a project of ANLoc (the African Network for Localization). It took a while since there is no dictionary we could base on to translate things such as country or currency names. There were also meeting constraints, due to the different time zones we live in. At some point I started to be afraid we might not be able to finish it on time for this release. But yesterday we managed to discuss the last entries, and finally complete the locale! It can now be seen on AfriGen's statistics page, with every data block beautifully at 100%! :)

With this, many things can now be done. Since CLDR is used by many software packages, Kabuverdianu will soon become available as a language to which operating systems and applications can be translated to. We will be able to translate OpenOffice, the Linux and Mac interfaces, Firefox, and even the interface for websites such as Google, YouTube, Wikipedia or Facebook!

And this will be just the beginning! A toast to the bright future of Kabuverdianu.

Thanks for reading!

1) adapted from the Wikipedia article Cape Verdean Creole
2) Thanks, Amílcar Tavares and Etelvino Garcia!
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