Thursday, February 7, 2008

A tale of dictionaries

My sister is a student of the (Western) Farsi language. She has been studying the language and the culture of Iran for several years now and for me it has been an education for me as well. I have learned new dishes, I have met wonderful people and listened to beautiful music. When she came home from her fist visit to Iran, she brought with her a dictionary by Mr Afshin Afkari. This Farsi Dutch and a Dutch Farsi dictionary has been an important resource for her study.

At a party a few weeks ago, I met Mr Afkari for the first time. Talking with people who are interested and involved in dictionaries is a rare treat for me, so I had a splendid time. We promised to meet again and we did. We talked long into the night and I was happy that I could help him with some (minor for me) issues with computers and Internet.

The most relevant thing I was able to do was to help him with his dictionary. The last time he was able to work on it was in the day when he still worked in Wordperfect 5.1. These days were long gone, and in the more then 10 years that passed he was not been able to convert his data into a contemporary format. He had asked many people before me but the problem was that the standard conversion programs do not deal with a text with mixed Latin and Arab script.

All that I did was ask a friend who I deals quite regularly with such issues. He found me a 43 EURO program and this program did the job. The dictionary has now returned from its slumber and Mr Afkari is considering again what next he will do with his dictionary. He wants to do an update, build a spell checker and maybe making it available under a Free license.

I told this story to friend of mine. His question was if I had a dictionary Sorani -English for him. I had to disappoint him but it does not mean that I cannot ask around about the existence of such a dictionary. I expect that such a resource exists somewhere in an ivory or other tower. When it does, and when it can becomes available, many people will be as happy as my sister is with her dictionary.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Update on the MediaWiki localisation

BetaWiki is a success. The numbers prove it; in a year the number of supported languages has increased from 266 to 307 and all the indicators have been steadily improving. When you consider that this is a project run by volunteers, it is pretty amazing. It is for this reason that I am so happy that UNESCO acknowledged BetaWiki for what it is; a community success story. BetaWiki is doing really well for the major languages but also for languages like Telugu, Marathi, Northern Sotho and Tajik. Martin's stirling effort for Swahili is not reflected yet in these numbers, his contributions will be life on all Wikimedia Foundation's wikis in the coming days. :)

I think you will agree with me that with improved localisation, it will be easier to reach out with MediaWiki to the readers of the world. We want more people to read and write in Swahili, Comorian, Maithili, Basque, Piedmontese...

In 2008, the year of languages, we have to celebrate our achievements. I am sure that projects like BetaWiki will help languages improve their presence on the Internet. Wikipedia, wikis are geeky, they attract young people. When young people continue to express themselves in their mother tongue, their language and culture is alive and well.

This week a Wikipedia was requested for Mingrelian and Maithili... As communities continue to form to write their Wikipedia in their language, we will be able to bring more information to more people in their language.

This year is still young :)