Microsoft is gearing up to support more languages through Project Bhasha, an initiative aimed at accelerating local language computing in India, according to Meghashyam Karanam, product marketing manager (vision and localisation), Microsoft Corporation.
The Redmond, US-based IT bellwether started Project Bhasha with Bill Gates announcing it in 1998, in an effort to stimulate local language computing and take IT to the masses, driven by the fact that 95 per cent of Indians use local language rather than English in their work and personal life.
Over the years, Microsoft has localised Windows and Office (providing localised user interface as well as user assistance) in 12 Indian languages that include Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu.
“It is difficult to pin-point which other languages that we intend to add. But yes, it is very much on our roadmap. We are working closely with various government agencies to see which are the languages that they are pushing for encodement in unicode,” Karanam said.
Unicode is an international encoding standard that is used with different languages and scripts, by which each letter, digit or symbol is assigned a unique numeric value that applies across different platforms and programs.
Speaking to Business Standard on the eve of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)’s International Mother Language Day, being observed since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism, Karanam said: “We are working with various government IT departments to understand which are the languages of priority. And, depending on what those processes are and depending on whether that particular language is encoded in unicode, it will be a prerequisite for vendors like Microsoft to support it. We are constantly looking at how we can expand this initiative.”
February 21, in 1952, represents the day when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
The concept of mother language complements that of multilingualism, which Unesco strives to promote, by encouraging the acquisition of at least three levels of language proficiency – a mother language, a national language and a language of communication.
“Information and communication technologies (ICT) is used in a major way for promoting mother languages. Additionally, Microsoft's local language programme aims to empower individuals in local communities to create economic opportunities, build IT skills, enhance education outcomes, and sustain their local language and culture,” said Shigeru Aoyagi, director and Unesco representative (Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka).
According to Pradeep Parappil, senior lead product manager (Windows), government departments are primarily the heavy users of localisation given the fact that it is mandatory that the government technology processes should support the local languages. And, next comes consumers who do email or blog in local languages or people who want tools to input data into local languages. “So, the trend is more towards input tools,” he added.
Replying to a query, Parappil said Microsoft's Project Bhasha currently offered Language Interface Packs (LIPs) for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 2007 in 12, Windows Live in seven and the Microsoft Visual Studio CLIP (Captions LIP) in four Indian languages, besides a bilingual (Hindi-English) and trilingual (Hindi-Gujarati-English) dictionary.
“Local language usage has fundamentally increased and each state has what is called a three-language policy. Value addition (local languages) is always a part of our overall product plans and localisation will also have product updates,” Parappil said.