ELL: Q: Computer Localization for Minority Languages

Eric Brunner-Williams in Portland Maine brunner at NIC-NAA.NET
Sat Sep 22 01:44:16 UTC 2001

Kwai kwai && Oki Chuck,

There are some l10n lists, and some i18n lists. Professionally I do i18n
work, having contributed to making Solaris and HP-UX capable of handling
character encodings taking variabel length byte sequences in the mid-90s
and now working on the problem of DNS, SMTP and sundry other protocols
handle "names" in character encodings other than a restricted subset of
ASCII. Vocationally I do l10n work, Siksika and Wabenaki locales for *nix
host operating systems, and the Mozilla browser.

You want to localize computers (host operating systems, imput methods, and
applications) for Hualapai, Cahuilla, Luiseno or Cupeno and so on. Great.
I can't help you, if you want to localize a Microsoft product. I can point
you to some people if you want to localize a modern Apple computer.

> what I would like to know is:
> 1. Has anyone else already done this for minority languages anywhere in the
> world? I don't want to spend my time reinventing something that already
> exists.

Historically the industry first "cherry picked" the big languages, for cost
and benefit reasons, but in the mid-90's we moved to Unicode, which in theory
has the cost for incremental language addition down to the noise level. As an
acquaintance notes, "in theory, there is no difference between theory and

> 2. Is there a need for such a product? If I did develop localization
> "modules" for minority languages, would anybody have an interest in using
> them? I envision the product being used by people trying to revive a
> disappearing language. I don't want to waste my time developing something
> that will never be used.

Milage varries. Consult your tribal governments, and also your tribal language
program people. You may also want to hit the language revitalization circuit,
and in your neck of the woods (SoCal) I suggest you take a look at News from
Native California.

> 3. Does anyone have any thoughts about developing localization "modules" to
> support minority languages? I already know that the audience for such a
> product would be very small and specialized.

If your charset is covered somewhere in the iso8859-* series (e.g., barred
"l" for Dineh (Navajo) available from Polish), then fonts aren't your main
problem. If your charset isn't, e.g., syllabic forms for Cree, Inuktitut,
etc., then fonts are a profound headache.

People have "localized" systems by providing bitmaps-as-pseudo-characters for
native-speakers to sort-of-use, HP did that about 6 years ago for Inuktitut.
Sorting and searching (collation) is not possible for bitmap "characters", so
it is sort of gloss without substance.

You may want to look at a more tractible problem for an individual to attempt,
the localization of a web browser. Increassingly new users view the browser as
the computer, and even so, it is a reasonably hard problem.

If you want to do a localization for one or more Indian languages of the
Mozilla browswer, point your browser at www.mozilla.org and follow the clues
to the localization project and begin to scope the task (requirements).

key to abbreviations:
l10n as l ocalizatio n (ten characters between "l" and "n")
i18n as i nternationalizatio n (eighteen characters between "i" and "n")

I'm Siksika (Blackfeet/Blackfoot) and Abenaki.

Adio && Kitakitamatsino (fonts pending, neh?)

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