On Localization of Linux

An interesting press release was forwarded to the India-Gii mailing list this morning by Venky. He wrote:

IndLinux.org has launched a Hindi Interface for GNOME, the GUI for the GNU/Linux operating system. We request users to download the software from http://www.indlinux.org and give us their comments and feedback. Those interested in volunteering are requested to go through the web site–we need volunteers with technical skills as well as volunteers with skills in translating from English to Hindi, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada and other languages.

I responded saying that it was a commendable effort. I had a look at the screen shots. I suppose that it is a work in progress and therefore the screen shots show a hybrid of Roman and Devnagri fonts.

Also, upon reading the press release I thought that the operating system was being localized by changing the language from English to Hindi. Upon viewing the screen shots, I realised that I was mistaken. It appeared to me that Devanagari is being used for transliteration of English words (mainly technical words) and held together in a sentence with Hindi syntax and structure. For instance, one information pop-up says:

“is folder ki sabhi executable files script menu mein dikhai degi. menu say koi file chunnay pur vuh chalnay lageygi…”

It feels as if our dear departed Rajiv Gandhi is speaking directly to us

“is country ki development kay liye, humay bahut effort laganey ki necessity hai”.

Hey, that’s a thought. Since Indians love to name every bloody thing after their idiotic leaders (Rajiv Gandhi this, and Indira Gandhi that, and Jawaharlal Nehru the other), perhaps this IndLinux should be named “RajivLinux.” And if and when a Hindi language OS (as opposed to a Devnagri font OS) comes about, it should be called “DesiLinux” or some such thing.

Seriously though, it is a great beginning and I hope this effort is successful in lowering some of the many barriers to entry to the world of IT for some Indian non-English speakers.

To which Rishab responded with

perhaps you would like to suggest a “truly hindi” alternative to this sentence? i don’t know if there is an extensive usable vocabulary among hindi-speaking computer users that has hindi alternatives for most technical words. after all, there’s no point inventing words of the kanth-langot variety.

I am neither a linguist nor do I play one on the usenet/internet/web. So I cannot suggest a ‘truly Hindi’ alternative to English technical words. But that does not mean that no one has the expertise to do so. Indian languages — Hindi included — have rich vocabularies and I am sure a rich mine of roots from which one can derive all the specific words that one needs to describe concepts that are new. What we have to do is to intelligently use the roots to create appropriate equivalents now.

It is important that we don’t repeat the idiocy of kanth-langotisms. That is a braindead attempt at translation of specific words into descriptive phrases. Such as translating the word steam-engine into the Hindi equivalent of the phrase humongous iron machine that runs on iron roads while puffing clouds of vapor and making loud clanking noise as it pulls wagons behind it.

There are alternatives to wholesale importing of English words on the one hand, and the silly unimaginative direct translations of descriptions into hindi on the other. For instance table tennis in Hindi should not be table kay upar, batti kay neechey, lay thaka thak, dey thaka thak. It could be a word that is constructed from some Sanskrit root (probably) or could be an entirely new word that enriches the language and is invented out of the blue but has some resemblance to the existing set of words in the language. Import the concept but localize it to fit into the existing scene, so to say.

Hebrew is an entirely reconstructed language and it not only serves the Israelis well, it creates a sense of belonging and ownership among them.

The time is now when we can have a discussion about what to do regarding this issue. The vast majority of Indians have little or no access to computers. We don’t have the burden of a legacy of the sort that is represented in the qwerty keyboard. We can, after due deliberation, decide to go one way or the other. It will be too late to change once about 100 million users with Hindi as their mother tongue come on board.

I cannot agree more with Mahesh when he wrote in the ensuing discussion that:

“I think there is a need to comment, to praise and condemn, to discuss and decide, to change opinions if we can. That’s why we’re here. Because we have this medium. And regardless of whether we can actually change things or not, we HAVE to try.”

The question of whether we can burden people with new words or not is not really relevant. If the made up Hindi word for ‘file’ is ‘limi’, then to a person who is learning the concept of a file, it does not matter whether the concept is called file or limi. It is too late to change the qwerty keyboard now. But it is not too late in the life cycle of the Hindi or other Indian language OS to discuss what should be done regarding technical words.

To which Venky wrote back to say

The challenge for us with localization is–How far do we go with keeping the language pure? If we take this to the extreme, we should call the computer “sanghanak” but even Hindi speaking people would wonder what a “sanghanak” is. At the same time, the example that Atanu pulled out from one of the Indlinux Hindi dialog box veers to the other extreme!

Always willing to help, I dug up an old piece that I had first seen in 1997 on the usenet. So here it is — for the record.

Windows Commands in Hindi version shoonya bindu shoonya ek (0.01).

Phile = File 
Kholo = Open 
Bandh Karo = Close 
Naya = New 
Khatara = Old 
Bachao = Save 
Aise Bachao = Save as 
Paise Bachao = Save money 
Bhaago = Run 
Chaapo = Print 
Dekh Ke Chaapo = Print Preview 
Paise Deke Chokri Dekho = Pay Per View 
Phirsay = Edit 
Kaapi = Copy 
Kaato = Cut 
Kato = Stupid Houseguest 
Chipkao = Paste 
Payshul Chipkao = Paste Special 
Goli Maaro = Delete 
Nazaara = View 
Bakwaas Nazaara = View From My Apartment 
Hatyaar = Tools 
Hatyaar Khamba = Toolbar 
Uh Buh Kuh Duh Thik Thak = Spell Check 
Isko Kya Kehte Hain = Thesaurus 
Khuli Chaadar = Spreadsheet 
Iska Bhi Naam Nahin Aaata = Database 
Futaas Ki Goli Kha = Exit 

{Reposted from April 2003}

Author: Atanu Dey


3 thoughts on “On Localization of Linux”

  1. why is it important to translate every little bit into hindi ? if its a concept that a person is learning (say that of a file), as long as that concept is accessible to a person who knows only hindi, it should be fine. IMO, things required would be

    1) A good hindi keyboard
    2) Good Hindi fonts
    3) Help files, how-tos and man pages in hindi

    btw.. a more intuitive translation of files and folders would be kitaab, basta 😀 spreadsheet = bahi.


  2. Most of the above mentioned components are already there.
    for more check out http://www.indlinux.org/wiki
    & the downloads page.
    We do lack lot of Hindi documentation, some people have started taking initiative in writing few, if you would like to join you are welcome

    wrt translation terminology, the example taken are pretty old ones, we have already had about 6 revisions to them, most recent ones are more natural.


  3. “table kay upar, batti kay neechey, lay thaka thak, dey thaka thak” is just funny. and i have seen such examples in other cases.

    i am using indlinux now and it is good. as far as translations go – i think having equivalents in hindi would be nice. if a translation can communicate the concept without losing the idea, it would be good. otherwise sticking to words like folder is not such a bad idea.

    some of the good conversions that i saw in indlinux are
    aage for next
    peeche for previous
    pragati for progress

    i think using words like these would result in faster acceptance rate.

    do paise


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