Inspiring talks, European languages and technology

Oct 23, 2012
The Euskarabildua conference recently held in Donostia (the Basque Country) was an occasion to talk about Lesser Used Languages and technology. Inspiring talks by Davyth Hicks from the Eurolang network and Albert Cuesta from Catalonia.

Last week we attended a local conference, Euskarabildua in which we heard, besides experiences from local Basque tech developers and experts, insights from other European languages.

Davyth Hicks from Eurolang gave us some interesting numbers. Approximately 55 million people, 10% of the population in the European Union speak a minority language. Regional or minority languages are spoken in all European countries, except for Iceland. In continental Europe it is estimated that there are over 330 different nationalities with over 100 million (nearly 14%) living as a national minority. So, put together, we are not so insignificant.

Obviously, the techonological and sociolinguistic situation of these languages is very different, and as Hicks remarked, in his particular area of knowledge (Celtic languages), Welsh is much better situated than the rest.

It was a pleasure to talk personally to Hicks, who is also part of the  European Language Equality Network and is contact with the European Parliament Intergroup for Traditional Minorities, National Communities and Languages. We agreed that the overall catastrophic tone of the MetaNet report recently published (talking about the digital death of most European languages) was too exaggerated, an eye-catcher for journalists. Anyway, we need more tech resources for our languages. And I think that developments in one language or the other could be shared in other communities. For instance, work we've done here in CodeSyntax managing the Basque Twitter community in real time, that could be applied in other languages. If we just got more support...

Coming from Catalonia we also met Albert Cuesta a freelance journalist and technology expert, which has been the main promoter of the Twitter in Catalan campaign (finally he succeded this summer, when Twitter also appeared in Basque, a month later than for the Catalans). However, Cuesta was disappointed that, so far, it seems that only 60,000 people have switched their interface to Catalan in Twitter. Well, it's a number that keeps growing, but more important than that, content is thriving: there's a lot of activity in Catalan on Twitter and many other parts of the Internet, social media included.

Anyway, Cuesta also hinted us about the problems lying ahead. In the mobile realm, for instance, localisation of systems and devices in our languages cannot be taken from granted. Then, even when systems are localised, strange things can happen to data if you are part of minoritised community (he cited the case of Google Maps where TomTom or Google, someone, outraugeously eradicated catalan names from the maps, even translating personal names in streets!). Finally voice-recognition systems embeded in everyday machines or even cars... well, will they be available for recognising Catalan?

As in the Twitter in Catalan case shows, Cuesta remarked that conscious campaining, defending language rights in the tech realm, its vital for our communities. I absolutely agree with that, and I do think that you can do that doing technology work properly, developing with free software, serving your commercial customers as well as the community we are part of.

So, a bunch of good examples that we got from Euskarabildua, and inspiration as well to keep pushing for technology in Basque!

 

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Luistxo Fernandez

Project manager.