The University of Limerick (UL) in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) today (19th November) launched a unique programme: UL's MSc in Multilingual Computing and Localisation to be delivered through distance learning and co-hosted by UNECA at their Information Training Centre for Africa (ITCA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The aim of the programme is to promote African languages in the Information Society.
Speaking at the launch, UL President Professor Don Barry said; “This is a wonderful partnership which will bring African students to Ireland and support a sustainable knowledge base in the vital area of digital information and knowledge exchange across countries, languages and cultures throughout the developing world.”
Ms Aida Opoku-Mensah, Director ICT, UNECA said; “Africa is the birthplace of humanity with over 3000 languages. However, less than 1% of these languages are local used & represented in cyberspace, effectively excluding millions of Africans from participating effectively in the current information & knowledge society. This initiative can change all this.”
The exchange of information and knowledge on the global networks is only possible if this information is available in the language of the people who need to access it. ‘Localisation’ is the process of translating and adapting digital content (in the widest sense), developing and making available the technologies to do this in the most efficient way.
A US$33 billion industry has emerged to cater for the localisation needs of the 1 billion people on the planet who can pay for it. However, there are large amounts of content and there are a significant number of languages who are not commercially viable and where a profit-driven localisation effort cannot currently be justified.
The consequences of this approach are dire for the content and the languages involved. They have been described more than a decade ago by David Brooks, then Director International Product Development, Microsoft: “Languages not present in the digital world will soon become obsolete”. Should this trend allowed to continue, large populations will be excluded from the digital world and from access to information and knowledge they need to further their education, to secure their economic future and to look after their health.
In addition, the right to access to information and knowledge in your language is as a fundamental and universal human right, in accordance with many national and international laws and agreements, and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in particular (Article 2).
Africa is the birthplace of humanity and of human language. It is the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent, after Asia. Over the past decade, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. There are over 2,100 and by some counts over 3,000 languages spoken natively in Africa in several major language families. This joint initiative will promote African languages in the Information Society.
The University of Limerick was globally the first university to offer a dedicated postgraduate localisation programme, supported by its Localisation Research Centre (LRC), headed-up by Reinhard Schäler.
UL is also home to The Rosetta Foundation - a highly successful, UL spin-out promoting social localisation and providing non-profit organisations and communities with crucial localisation and translation services. The Rosetta Foundation is working with more than 2,300 volunteer translators in over 40 languages and with 50 partner organisations including Special Olympics Europe Eurasia / International, Trocaire, the London School for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and Ruhama. World-leading technology to support this work has been developed by the Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL) CSET at UL.
The launch of this new programme is supported by the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), the world’s largest localisation industry association with around 350 member companies. GALA will provide business mentorship for the students and contribute their vast localisation industry experience to the programme.