Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blinding with science ...

In a discussion about SignWriting it became apparent that people did not use the same definitions. One reasonable reaction was to point to a glossary of the terminology used and invoke its authority. The glossary in question has considerable authority; it is the glossary on the Unicode website. The implication for me was; shut up and first learn what you are talking about. As I do not have the paper qualifications that prove that I have spend a lot of time successfully mastering esoterica so I did just that.

To me it proved quickly that this Unicode glossary is written without any consideration of non-spoken languages. The definition for alphabet; "A writing system in which both consonants and vowels are indicated." makes it impossible for SignWriting to be an alphabet but it seems to me this is equally true for any of the alternatives given. Unicode does provide the standard for writing systems, but their definitions do not really matter as long as they use the right terminology for character, glyph and all the other concepts applicable to writing itself.

An alternate definition for alphabet has it as: "An ordered set of letters used in a language." This definition is possibly overly broad as it would fit an abugida equally well. To be fair to the Unicode literature and its glossary, it has not considered SignWriting because SignWriting is not mentioned and it is not yet included in Unicode. Then again, Unicode did recognise SignWriting as Sgnw in the ISO 15924 in 2004.


Friday, November 16, 2007

UN Adopts the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Finally, governments have woken up to the need to protect the indigenous languages and cultures of the world!

Does this mean that, at last, the funding pots for language documentation, research and development will become available? I hope so… It has been, and continues to be, a constant battle to find funds for the protection of languages.

With over half of the 7,000+ languages of the world predicted to die out within the next 50 years perhaps this UN Resolution has come just in time.

And… with 2008 being designated as the UN Year of Languages I hope we will see some real action from governments across the world with regard to indigenous languages.

Debbie Garside

The following excerpts are taken from the UN Web Site


The High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomes the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly on 13 September 2007, as a triumph for justice and human dignity following more than two decades of negotiations between governments and indigenous peoples' representatives.

The UN Declaration was adopted by a majority of 144 states in favour, 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine).

The Declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. It outlaws discrimination against indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them. It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and indigenous peoples.
Resolution adopted by the General Assembly
[without reference to a Main Committee (A/61/L.67 and Add.1)]

61/295. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Article 13
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

Article 14
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

Article 15
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.

Article 16
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State-owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity.

Localisation of MediaWiki

MediaWiki, the software that runs, among others Wikipedia, is localised in many languages. Most new projects get their localisation as part of the software, the only thing left after an installation is to customise the system messages where neede. When a language is truly new to MediaWiki, the localisation can be done locally or centrally. When the localisation is done centrally, the messages are merged almost daily into the MediaWiki core and become available in all Wikimedia Foundation projects within a few days and every four months in a new MediaWiki release.

So far all the new localisations happened as a result of a request for new Wikipedias. Yesterday I noticed that the localisation for the Tuvin language, was driven by a project that is not within the WMF. You then ask yourself if there are localisations for languages elsewhere. I asked Angela, and she pointed me to several constructed languages hosted by Wikia. Some of them, like Aeres and Anglish are so new, that the Wikia project is likely the first real effort to realise these languages. A private use code can be used to indicate the language used until there is sufficient maturity for recognition.

There are Wikipedias in over 250 languages. The quality of the localisation of MediaWiki however is still patchy. It has improved a lot with the great work of Niklas Laxström and because no new WMF project is started without a good localisation for the language.

With so many people involved, all volunteers, it is not easy to get and maintain the desired quality. This quality is however essential as MediaWiki is a tool that supports more languages then virtually any other application and has an installed base that is growing rapidly.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kamusi Project at the WLDC

It is with great excitement that we are able to unveil the new home of the Kamusi Project under the auspices of the World Language Documentation Centre. The Kamusi Project is back online at (drumroll please...........) www.kamusiproject.org

The Kamusi Project, also known as the Internet Living Swahili Dictionary, was born and raised at the Yale University Council on African Studies. Over time it has become one of the world's most used resources for African languages, serving over a million dictionary lookups a month to users around the world, including tens of thousands in Africa.

The WLDC will offer the Kamusi Project a home where we can thrive and grow. The project will benefit greatly from the support of an organization devoted specifically to the goals of language documentation. At the same time, the WLDC gives the project the autonomy and flexibility necessary to manage such a complex and diverse project.

I will write in the future about PALDO, the upcoming multilingual dictionary for African languages that is the next step for the Kamusi Project under the WLDC.

Though the new kamusiproject.org site is mostly functional, some places are still a bit rough, with some pages and functionality yet to be activated. We are hard at work finishing the transfer, which involves tens of thousands of pages and numerous complicated computer scripts. However, we welcome you to visit and use the resources as we finish moving in to our new home. (If you find something broken, please let me know the specifics at martin /at\ kamusiproject /dot\ org)

Finally, a mention about financing. We've made the leap to the WLDC without the benefit of any current funding, and no money in the bank. (And with enormous thanks to the Negaunee Foundation for clearing our previous debts, so that we're starting with a zero balance instead of deep in the hole.) We have a number of plans in the works to put the project on the path to sustainability, and we will soon be launching a kick-off campaign to raise funds for the project. If you wish to help, please consider yourself invited to make a donation before we start the formal campaign! Accounting and financial oversight will be provided by the WLDC as a registered non-profit organization in the UK.

I'm looking forward tremendously to developing the Kamusi Project and PALDO under the wing of the WLDC. And I'm thrilled to announce that, after a two month hiatus, the Kamusi Project is once again open for business!

Martin Benjamin
Kamusi Project Director

Monday, November 12, 2007

2nd Internet conference & Standards

With reference to Gerard's hopes in respect of this meeting, I would add the related issue that he generally raises.
This is the extent to which there need to be good strategies in place to bring about universal implementation of the existing ISO/IEC and International Industry Standards as well as looking at the development and implementation of new requirements.
I am thinking that one leg of such strategies would include heightening awareness of suppliers and users alike of the use of declaration or certification as appropriate. I.e. suppliers implement and declare or obtain certification of conformity and users know to look for such demonstration of conformity. IMO it is the users who are the more important of the two with respect to a strategical campaign. When users start to insist on the application of standards to meet their needs - the suppliers will begin to take the issue seriously.
Reagrds to all

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The second meeting on Internet governance

The second Unesco meeting on Internet governance is held from 12 to 15 November in Rio de Janeiro. The subject matter is interesting, it brings together freedom of expression and security to open standards and linguistic diversity.

Highlighting the fact that multilingualism on the Internet is essential to ensure freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas and knowledge in cyberspace, the second UNESCO organized workshop entitled "Towards International Standards for a Truly Multilingual Global Internet" aims at fostering international cooperation in establishing standards for a multilingual global Internet.

In my opinion one basic stumbling block for many languages is that they are not recognised in standard applications. People can not indicate in their user interface that they write for instance in Neapolitan. They can not indicate that their video is in American Sign Language. I hope this issues is raised as it is concrete and relatively easy to remedy. I hope that the workshop will address this issue, I hope that the papers and presentations for this workshop will become available preferably on line.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Welcome to The World Language Documentation Centre

It gives me great pleasure, as CEO of The World Language Documentation Centre, to make this first post on our official WLDC blog.

My first task is to let people know what The WLDC is all about so here it is in a nutshell...

The World Language Documentation Centre (TheWLDC or WLDC for short) was created in May of this year after many years/months of discussion with like-minded people. We have a board of some 25 members from a variety of different backgrounds - although we are all linked in some way or other to either or both the language and standardization industries.

Members are charged with formulating the aims and objectives of The WLDC and assisting, where possible, with strategy and implementation ideas. Some members are more involved than others dependent on the amount of time they have a available; which seems to change throughout the year. Most correspondence is conducted by email with meetings taking place, usually, to coincide with other events that members attend throughout the year.

We launched the WLDC at our inaugural meeting, hosted by UNESCO in Paris in May 2007, and since then we have had two further meetings and a whole host of online correspondence via the members private forums. We are very fortunate to have a dynamic Chairman in Christian Galinski of Infoterm to preside over our inaugural year .

Our aim is... "To achieve international recognition as a reliable and trusted source and facilitator of sources of metadata, data and information about the languages of the world". See http://www.thewldc.org/objectives.php for our full mission statement.

Obviously, The WLDC is in its infancy and we need to establish the role that it will play within both the Linguistic and standardization communities. It is hoped that The WLDC will become the prime mover within TC37 Standards as Databases initiatives; particularly for ISO 639. We also hope to be the focal point for linguistic documentation and research - linking to projects conducted by the multitude of related organizations and universities around the world. Our first project along these lines has been established thanks to Yale University who have most recently passed responsibility for the Kamusi Project (an online Swahili dictionary) to the WLDC. More news on this later when we relaunch the project.

On another note, members have had some discussions with regard to setting up International Research Awards within The WLDC and we are currently discussing this as well as our membership scheme. More news about this coming soon.

The WLDC is very much in its infancy and we could really do with your help and assistance. I hope you will join us once our membership scheme is up and running.

One final note, we are in the first stages of organizing what will become an annual event - The World Language Documentation Centre Conference. It is very fitting that this first conference will be held in Wales as this is where we are based administratively - albeit that our base is in Pembrokeshire in West Wales and the conference is being hosted by Bangor University in North Wales.

Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Debbie Garside