Mozilla and language preservation

Jeff Beatty

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Experts have discovered that there are approximately 7,000 spoken languages around the world, as cited by Ethnologue. Many of these are well known and are spoken by millions of people. Others are on the brink of extinction. It is estimated that nearly half of the world’s 7,000 languages could become extinct within this century, according to the Endangered Languages Project. Preserving these cherished languages has become a high priority for many organizations and people worldwide, including the localization teams at Mozilla.

Mozilla’s localization efforts aim to bring the open web to every corner of the globe, offering every user a regionally customized web experience. We are only able to accomplish this mission by teaming up with a very talented and dedicated, global community of volunteers who share our same values. Many of these volunteers are native speakers of languages that are considered to be endangered. For many of them, they localize Firefox for two reasons: they love the web and they want to preserve their language.

Mozilla works closely with volunteer localization teams who form part of organizations such as AnLoc in Africa and Nacnati in Mexico, as well as individuals and small groups who localize Firefox into the following languages:

To support these teams, we provide the framework and vehicle for them to distribute their work as either official language packs or official localized Firefox builds. We seek to mentor their efforts wherever possible through dedicated Localization Community and Program Managers. In addition, we actively encourage experienced localizers to join us in mentoring these teams. As part of our mentor efforts, we work to visit these teams as often as possible, providing them with one-on-one trainings called L10n Sprints.

We love all of our localization teams and look forward to our continued opportunities to aid in preserving the languages of the world.

10 responses

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  1. Toni Hermoso wrote on ::

    And, hopefully, more languages to come soon: Aragonese – https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=560810 :)
    Nice idea about l10n sprints.

    Reply

  2. Greg Dickson wrote on ::

    This is great. Well done to all involved. I would love to be able to help make this happen in Australia for some of our Indigenous languages too. Any chance of that eventuating?

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  3. Michael Bauer wrote on ::

    Hm that figure of 5-7k is hardly a recent discovery but anyway, yes, thank you ;)

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  4. Michael Bauer wrote on ::

    Greg, anyone can join the party. Depending on how good you are with code, there are different ways of doing that – there’s the really hardcore approach of editing the dtd etc files manually. At the other end of the spectrum, you could join Locamotion (http://mozilla.locamotion.org/) who will do most of the hard code related stuff for you and all you have to do is translate. Give me a shout if you want more details via email or some other route?

    Reply

  5. ndubuisi aguihe wrote on :

    I would like to form a team here in nigeria that will also be part of this great project.I like what you are doing.There are over two hundred languages in Nigeria.
    I want to know whow i could be part of this project.
    Thanks.

    Reply

  6. Brett wrote on :

    While it is great that localization work goes forward to ensure people who have not learned a lingua franca can benefit from and make contributions through technology, I do not believe preservation of languages (except to document them or to enable younger generations some ability to avoid a precipitous loss of communication with older generations) is really a worthwhile effort.

    Yes, language does provide access to culture, and resources, and these cannot always be translated elegantly. Yet it is also within the capacity of any people to express their ideas and values in any human language.

    To take an analogy from the computing world, yes, it is no doubt of benefit to computing that innovation of languages has been possible, but even in computing there is a very compelling advantage to a lingua franca. Thankfully, it appears we are starting to have this now, more or less, with JavaScript, with powerful implications to computer literacy and simplification of training.

    If English does not automatically take over as the world lingua franca, a vote could no doubt help consolidate it or choose another language to have a language which could indeed be taught in all schools in the world, at an early enough age where language mastery is feasible.

    Because while localization is no doubt doing a favor to people, an even greater favor, in my opinion, is allowing everyone access to the knowledge of each other, without restrictions. This is not to extinguish diversity; rather it is the opportunity for all to benefit from it, and to offer it to others.

    Because those familiar with language history, whether of human language or computer language, languages change over time, and old forms get thrown to the wind. Very few are clamoring for expanding usage of old English, or Fortran, as there is little need, so what is so harmful with people willingly abandoning their own language traditions if there is no longer a need?

    If Mozilla is to get involved in something related to language, I think it would make the most sense to get involved with ensuring that everyone in the world has access to a lingua franca–especially a SINGLE lingua franca of use around the whole world–acquired in early childhood. In other words, promote a standard; as we know, standards bring enormous benefits–no less for the standardization of human language which encompasses so many areas, and whose universal access will provide opportunities for training and collaboration which can hardly be imagined now.

    Translation technology or other intermediaries are not sufficient for allowing individual access to any other individual without requiring additional years of study to master yet another “standard”.

    If you think standardizing on a web language is important, just see what will happen with a standard human language. English is far from there yet if you think we can just sit on our hands and wait for it to take over (assuming we favor it taking over; proponents of Esperanto or the like are also hardly likely to get their way without a global vote either).

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  7. Brett wrote on :

    To add two more points…

    I believe we will see meeting software grow in importance as well, perhaps with this capability of screen sharing, video, etc., entering into web standards as well. A common human language will be required to take full advantage of this capacity.

    While I do not believe it is a waste so long as there is no standard and universal access to a common lingua franca, all of the effort spent in both internationalization and localization could be instead focused into better applications, documentation, education, etc. as a human standard becomes entrenched.

    We all want to get rid of IE6 JScript language idiosyncrasies–why not all of human language baggage? This is not to be intolerant, it is on the contrary, to seek to embrace more universal participation.

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  8. Michael Bauer wrote on :

    Brett…
    1) Speakers of a language do NOT readily abandon their languages. Same as a biological species does not one day decide “hey, you know what, sod this, I’m going to go extinct”, language don’t do that either. There is ALWAYS some sociological, economic or power imbalance that puts pressure on the “weaker” language. In the worst case, that is genocide. At beast, it’s economic disadvatagement (for example by making sure that if you speak X, you will be at a disadvantage) or restricting the ability of the community to pass on the language (for example by forcing education in another language). Languages don’t die. They’re killed. And that death is almost always is associated with generations of anguish and struggles within the community. Grandparents unable to speak to grandchildren. Parents forcing themselves to speak what little they have of the “bigger” language for the fear of holding back their kids. Kids being beaten or made to feel ashamed of speaking their language in school. And then of course being amongst the last speakers of a language is a huge psychological pressure in itself. Frankly, your position borders on linguistic imperialism. Who are you to tell anyone that they’re language ain’t worth peanuts.
    2) I recommend some light research into bilingualism. Being a native speaker of more than one language brings with itself a huge raft of cognitive benefits (like being able to see another person’s POV better and at an earlier age) and even health benefits such as delayed onset of age-related degenerative diseases. Children have a massive capacity for learning several native languages… where does this bizarre notion come from that speaking Udmurt has to mean you can’t speak English and Russian too?
    3) We’re humans, not computers. There is a reason why we have more than one handbag, smartphone and car … variety IS the spice of life and that applies to our languages too.
    4) Frankly, I’m sick and tired of this lingua franca and global commerce nonsense. I happen to speak both Chinese and Scottish Gaelic (58,000 speakers). Funnily enough, I don’t do trade with the PRC and funnily enough, I only very rarely call the Politbureau. Few people do. Most people on the other hand live locally which means that in spite of Gaelic being this tiny blip on the radar, I speak more Gaelic on a daily basis than Chinese.
    Thinking cap time…

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  9. Brett wrote on :

    @Michael:
    1) Actually, they do. That’s why some languages are dying. And my point is not to encourage languages to die, but to recognize that it is not such an awful thing that we need to prevent it (unless of course people want to preserve it, that is fine). It is by no means always through oppression or discrimination that languages die. They are simply not needed. The issue with grandparents was one I alluded to, and that is indeed an issue if a language is lost precipitously without a chance of transmitting knowledge between generations. But that is a separate issue from whether in general the death of a language is a sad thing. It is imperialism for me to tell someone to stop using their language; it is not imperialism to let people stop using languages voluntarily. Shall we go back to old English because someone thinks it is our “true culture”? Shall we force people to use languages they really don’t have any need to use? If anything, it is imperialism to force someone to use something they don’t want to use.
    2) I already hold a degree in Applied Linguistics, so I am familiar with a good bit on bilingualism. And while there is some research to suggest strengths in bilingualism such as flexibility, there are other disadvantages suggested such as in vocabulary acquisition.
    3) Both human and computer languages are created as tools, even if they end up embedding some culture along the way. And if variety is so inherently wonderful in this situation, why don’t we all invent our own language? That would really enhance diversity. Why don’t Google and Mozilla encourage that? Or invented languages just taught to one’s family… It gets ridiculous to cherish diversity as an end in itself when no one else can actually enjoy it. Do you spend your free time listening to people speaking other languages which you don’t understand and find it interesting, and have no interest to learn the actual content? Please be honest here…
    4) Living locally doesn’t mean there are not immigrants locally, or those without a shared language when one travels abroad. And it is hard to believe a connected person does not spend some time living globally as well. I’m not sure I get your point about your not using the languages you know in certain ways.

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  10. Brett wrote on :

    Ok, I see the relevance now of your discussion of lingua francas. But ry telling that to the innumerable language learners (today or historically) struggling with either Chinese, English, Japanese, French, etc. Just because you may choose to use one language locally does not mean others are not very active and appreciative of learning such a lingua franca. As someone living in China myself, I see the benefits not only of having some international language (now it is English) for not only myself as a visitor, or for Chinese I can communicate with (when my Chinese fails me), and even among Europeans or others I meet here. How you can say that is of no relevance is really beyond my comprehension… The logical extension of your argument (if I understand it correctly) is really that everyone should speak their own different mutually unintelligible language (or at least speak in their local fiefdoms without benefit of maybe even a national language). Sorry, but I see the world as a family, and I want to communicate with my family members–any of them, without restriction. And to the extent we have global English (or whatever candidate can be embraced globally), the better off we all are for not having to struggle and waste time with other lingua francas.

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