Multilingual Computing & Technology in its latest edition (#61) has a piece
on African language localization. Though the focus of the project described
is cellphone terminology, the article may be of interest in the larger
process of adapting new technologies to African contexts. And for those who
don't know the magazine, that too may be of interest.
MC&T's homepage is http://www.multilingual.com/ and there you can click on
the article to view in HTML. I copy some excerpts below, followed by the
direct link. A PDF version can be read at
"Localization in African Languages: Translators face linguistic challenges
as they localize modern technology"
Localizing high-tech devices in southern Africa comes with a unique set of
challenges. South Africa is the main economic power within the region, which
includes Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho,
Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. South Africa
alone has 11 official languages. Most of the sovereign states within
southern Africa have at least three languages, often with at least one
European language (English, French, German and/or Portuguese) as well.
Demographics, cultures and languages of the populations of sub-Saharan
countries are all factors that must be considered when adapting high-tech
concepts to indigenous African languages.
Web-lingo, a localization company based in Pretoria and Cape Town, South
Africa, recently worked with European clients on localization of mobile
phone technology. After research and discussion with the clients, the team
chose five languages from the myriad of languages and dialects in the
region: Afrikaans, Sesotho, Swahili, Xhosa and Zulu.
. . .
"Most of the time," says [Zulu] translator Thutukani Cele, "I am forced to
use my imagination to the utmost just to make sense of what seems
untranslatable into my language. This happens when I come across words that
have no equivalent in Zulu. A team of us had to pioneer words within the
structure of the Zulu language so that even a fairly inexperienced reader
will be able to identify with them. I am proud of the results because they
are more than just clear. They are precise and original.
"I am truly convinced that through deep thinking and creativity we can
translate whatever terms we come across, even if the subject is beyond the
available sources and vocabulary of our languages.
"It pleases me to see that the work I have done is useful to people. I often
see people using their phones in Zulu, and it gives me satisfaction to know
that I helped pioneer this. Here I am talking about working without sources
at all in one's native language, brainstorming, consulting with colleagues
and debating until one is convinced that what one has come up with is a good
. . .
[Sesotho translator Thabiso] Ntsielo sums up the situation for all the
translators. "There is a desperate need for translation work in South
Africa. Close to 50% of the population is illiterate to semi-literate. They
simply cannot afford to fall behind the technological demands of today's
life. I see my role in this situation as not only a communication
facilitator but also as a language lobbyist, activist, educator and perhaps