Language technology for all: expanding digital opportunities

Six  representatives from SIL, Wycliffe’s key partner organization, recently attended the Language Technologies for All Conference (LT4All) at UNESCO Paris from Dec. 4-6, 2019. The SIL team joined participants from major technology platforms including Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, Hanson Robotics, iFLYTEK and Mozilla. Aligned with 2019’s theme as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, LT4All aimed to promote the inclusion of all languages—particularly indigenous languages—online and in the global digital sector.

SIL’s Martin Raymond stands ready to answer questions about SIL fonts at the LT4All conference in Paris.

Language technologies play an important role in ensuring a language thrives. These technologies offer major contributions to ongoing communication, literacy, education and translation efforts in communities worldwide. The final day of the conference included an exhibition session where participants could share technological resources and strategies available to provide communities with the means of representing their languages digitally and in print.

SIL Language Strategy Consultant, Mark Karan,  was among the event speakers, while five other SIL staff members prepared posters highlighting three of SIL’s foundational technologies: SIL Fonts, Keyman, and Bloom.

The posters demonstrated technologies that enable communities to address important needs related to displaying, typing and publishing material in their languages:

  • SIL fonts are the most downloaded items from SIL’s website. These fonts allow writing systems—the written form of languages—to be displayed correctly and dynamically both digitally and in print. Many writing systems contain special characters that can only be accurately rendered using fonts specifically designed to meet their needs.
  • Keyman is a keyboard creation tool that allows language keyboards to be created and used on all major platforms and devices. Without customized keyboards to input their language electronically, many languages are excluded from the digital world.
  • Bloom is an easy way to create or translate books in local languages, even with limited computer experience. Without software to produce resources and reading materials in local languages, many languages are struggling to thrive.

These resources make important strides toward confronting the discouraging statistics presented during the conference discussion. According to Daniel Pimienta, an independent consultant for France and the Dominican Republic, there are fewer than 600 languages visible online, with 99 per cent of the Internet’s content composed of a scant 40 languages. In her address, Dorothy Gordon, UNESCO Intergovernmental Information for All program chair, was quick to suggest a solution: “We need to give people the skills to create online content in their own language.”

Photo by Marc Durdin

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