Thursday, February 25, 2010

Technology is coming to the rescue of languages

An article in the Independent (UK) states:
Microsoft's Local Language Program (LLP) aims to enrich the lives by providing people with access to new technology while trying to promote diverse cultural identities and preserve local languages. It also hopes to enable users to assist in the continuation and future development of native languages.

On February 22 Microsoft announced they had added an additional 59 new Language Interface Packs (LIPs) for Windows 7 and Office 2010 to their existing offering of 67 languages.

A second initiative, called Caption Language Interface Packs (CLIPs), enables computer users to customize a base language with more than 400,000 terms.
I frequently use Google's Translate. It includes 52 languages, allowing translation from each into any of the others.

Of course, UNESCO keeps track of more than 6000 languages, many of which are endangered. While it is great that it is easier to deal with the digital world in a larger group of languages, I doubt that we will see facilities for the endangered languages (at least any time soon). The result may be more emphasis on learning a second language for the speakers of the endangered languages, leading to still greater likelihood that they will be abandoned.

While it is a good thing that more people will be able to communicate with each other and that more people will be able to access the wealth of digital information, it is probably not a good thing that languages will die out with the cultural destruction that such deaths imply. What is the balance?

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