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‘More people should come forward to digitally archive languages’

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Rajesh-Ranjan

Rajesh Ranjan is the one of the most important figure of Localization Movement in India. He started his career as a mainstream Journalist with reputed national Hindi daily Jansatta. During DotCom boom days of last decade  in 2000 he joined a California based portal Literate World as Content Coordinator of its Hindi section. Later he joined Red Hat for the localization of Red Hat Enterprise Linux in Hindi. Currently he is working as Open Source Community Manager at NeGP, Govt of India. He is the founder of FUEL Project, a project having largest repository of linguistic resources in open domain. Canada based journalist and a Punjabi localizer Amandeep Saini discussed with him recently about his project and passion related to language and localization in India. Here are excerpts of the interview:

You have worked a lot to make computer available in Hindi and some other languages on Linux platform. After more than 10 years, how do you see the presence of Indian languages on different devices?

Thanks. Yes, more than 10 years have passed. I remember, I started to work with some language enthusiasts Karunakar, Ravikant and Ravi and did some very good work during those days. Hindi along with some Indian languages like Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati were introduced for the first time on Linux platform. At that time, Red Hat wanted to have its operating system in Hindi and some important Indian languages. This is how I joined Red Hat in 2004. Before joining Red Hat I looked after and coordinated the operation of Hindi site of California based multilingual portal. I enjoy working with new technology and joining Red Hat was another great opportunity for me after the portal.

Lot of development happened in the field of the presence of languages on desktop and different devices. Everything is localised now, operating systems, desktop environments, browsers, Office Suits. You can use even Linux desktop end to end in Hindi and some other Indian languages now. See, things have changed a lot. All mobile devices are now available in Indian languages. Check all major serious players of ICT domain, every important things are available in Hindi. I am proud that I am able to contribute something valuable in this development.

You have started a project called FUEL. How and why it is important for localization world? 

I think, this is the most important community project from India that is working on localization issues. I started it in 2008 to overcome the problem of inconsistency and lack of standardization in the localization field. Over the years, inspite of being driven by few volunteer contributors only, FUEL project has acquired big community support and now it is working with sixty plus languages worldwide. FUEL has won Manthan award in e-­localization category (2014) for exceptional digital content creation and also been included as a standard in Govt of India e­Governance standard.

The unique idea of FUEL attracted huge support from industry leaders, organizations and government bodies like Red Hat, CDAC, Govt of India, Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, Govt of Maharashtra to name a few. This project is one of the best example of how a ‘standard’ free and open knowledge resources can be created with the help of communities and organizations in a collaborative manner. Over the period, FUEL Project became successful in creating standard terminology, style and convention guide, Unicode Text Rendering Reference System (UTRRS), Translation Quality Assessment Matrix etc. The most important aspect of this effort is that before the FUEL, there was no single place where people of FOSS can take reference of standard linguistic resources as nothing was available under open license. Translation Quality Assessment Matrix released by FUEL is the first translation assessment matrix in open domain. UTRRS is first of its kind in FOSS domain and widely used at so many places for rendering reference. With the help of different like minded organization FUEL became successful in organizing more than 30 events. In software field, it is real example of Make in India as it is born in India and spread over whole world, probably one open source project started in India and later got support from different part of the world. Lot of great and passionate people are contributing for the success of FUEL for example, Aman, Ankit, Satyabrata, Jaswinder, Felix, Chandrakant, Chandan, Krsihna, Ani, Biraj, Nishant and Neha, to name a few. Mahesh Kulkarni of CDAC, Satish Mohan, Karunakar, Ravikant, Harshad Gune, Sudhanwa and several others have supported the FUEL with their great advice.  Without these great support it was not easy to get success for FUEL. We have contribution from several European and Asian languages too.

What does GILT stands for? What do you mean by GILT in Curriculum recently discussed in gnuNify 2016 and on FUEL mailing list? 

GILT stands for Globalization (g11n), Internationalization (i18n), Localization (l10n) and Translation. As per wikipedia, to globalize means to plan the design and development methods for a product in advance, keeping in mind a multicultural audience, in order to avoid increased costs and quality problems, save time, and smoothening the localizing effort for each region or country. Localization is an integral part of the overall process called globalization. While internationalization encompasses the planning and preparation stages for a product that is built by design to support global markets, localization refers to the actual adaptation of the product for a specific market. In general localization addresses significant, non-textual components of products or services in addition to translation. All these combined together is called GILT industry.

For any person outside, I18N/L10n community, topics in GILT are alien, there being little understanding of it beyond literal meaning or definition. Any new person venturing into this domain are coming in this domain due to their passion, since there is no formal course taught in India around it, though there may be learning material on specific topics. But as a whole there is no single curriculum which covers key topics in GILT, so learner can get good grip on it and further work in one of the specializations in it. Since first FUEL-GILT conference in 2013 a need for formal GILT curriculum was felt. Karunakar of Indlinux and Harshad Gune of Symbiosis Institute of Computer Science and Research, Pune gave a talk on the topic as well. We are working on developing a curriculum for GILT industry and hopefully we will do it soon under the coordination of G. Karunakar.

Every year FUEL Project is organizing a conference. What is the plan for 2016 conference?

Under FUEL, we started an annual conference called FUEL GILT Conference in 2013. Now, this conference is the largest conference of FOSS localization world. Again it attracted huge support from community, industry and organizations. Inclusive and transparent approach are adopted in the design of the conference. This year we are planning to do it in Delhi and in the month of September.

You are working for languages spoken by minimal population. What motivates you to do the same?

I tried to motivate so called ‘smaller’ language community to contribute in different open source field for their languages. I tried to create a group called B​hasha Ghar ​that works for less resourced locales. Under this project, I worked with Maithili language community and now it is present on all OSS platform. I started working with Angika community also – one of the endangered language of India. Recently work for Garhwali also has started. Do you know Marie Smith died on Jan 21, 2008. Her death was not just a loss of one human being, she was the last speaker of the Eyak language. Eyak was spoken in southern, central Alaska. We permanently lost one colour from the mosaic of our limited linguistic diversity. With a language, not only a language dies, but with it a part of a community’s history, intellectual and cultural diversity, and cultural identity also dies. In India, 197 languages are on the verge of dying. I have helped more than seven communities to file locales at glibc. I think more people should come forward to digitally archive the languages before it dies. I remember a poem by Alitet Nemtushkin, “If I forget my native speech/And the songs that my people sing/What use are my eyes and ears?”

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