Of rock stars and Wikipedia translation

At the recent iCommons party (which was partly an after-party for the Digital Freedom Expo), held at the Independent Armchair Theatre (normally a venue for bands and other creatives) Jimmy Wales and Lawrence Lessig proved their rock star status by actually standing up on stage and managing to hold the audience with a talk about commons, wikipedia, and so on. Half of the audience were in the know, while half had no idea who they were.

I was extremely pleased to hear Jimmy Wales talking about promoting Wikipedia in the South African languages. As he said, English is doing quite well with over a 1.7 million articles, Afrikaans not bad with 6500 (it’s shot up in the last few days to over 7000, of which about 10 are thanks to some renewed energy on my side), while none of the rest have reached 100.

Seeing Wikipedia as a usable resource in all the South African languages has been a passion of mine for a long time, and it’s fantastic to get some high-level support for that.

It’s all coming together. The translation project I’ve been working on got some extra impetus anyway from the conference, then from Jimmy Wales, and also, purely coincidentally, from some interest from the Apertium project.

Initiatives to link with translate.org.za, and perhaps Apertium are not that easy, as the focus is different. translate.org.za focuses on software translation, while Apertium focuses on translation as a whole. My aims are much less ambitious, and for that reason perhaps much more achievable as far as Wikipedia is concerned.

I recognise that Wikipedia does not support translation as the solution. The idea is not to have the world as seen through the cultural and linguistic filters of a single dominant language. Each Wikipedia language is it’s own creation, not just a mirror of English. However, that goal is not really feasible for the small languages, at least not without help. And so, my aim in translating is to make sure that the small languages contain certain basic articles, such as an entry for each country. With some content already there, new contributers will be encouraged to participate, as loneliness is one of the main issues discouraging contributers in small languages. The first 75 articles of the Swahili Wikipedia were apparently all written by a single person – a real labour of love!

I’m doing so by focusing on template translation, which is really easy to do, as the context stays the same each time, so automated translation is almost error-free. The extras get fed in manually after that.

If anyone would like to make use of the tool, or help with translation, in any language, please contact me!

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