One World, Many Voices: Guest Blog from Carla Hurd, Microsoft Local Language Program

by Carla Hurd

[This entry was originally posted on the Microsoft in Education Blog].

Such an appropriate title as it was one of the themes at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this year which I had the honor of attending. As one of the main sponsors, the Microsoft Local Language Program, it was also my pleasure to partake in the festivities. I was blessed in many ways and engaged with the people representing their languages – both literally and figuratively. I proudly wear my beads presented to me by the Koro Aka of India and bracelets from the Kallawaya of Bolivia. I witnessed the ceremonial practices of the Kalmyk of the Russian Federation and listened to Welsh poetry and stories of Wales. I was moved by the music of Tuvan throat singers of the Russian Federation and touched by the dances of the Hawaiians, as well as many other experiences that I haven’t mentioned here. You can see pictures that I’ve posted here, on Flickr.  Carla 1

Carla Hurd (Microsoft) with Koro Aka beads

The festival served as a landscape that produced a mosaic of languages which I think was probably one of the most diverse spots on the planet for these 2 weeks of the event. It was so gratifying seeing the people from different countries/regions, cultures and backgrounds all together in a single location and sharing what is important to them – their language and culture. What they all had in common was that they were all enthusiasts trying to make a difference in revitalizing their languages. They all agreed that education was key to survival as the younger generations were going to make or break the pattern for their future. Since young people are growing up today with technology all around them, embracing technology is of utmost importance.

This is where my passion lies – in bringing together language and technology to bridge the gap. But where to start?  Technology can be scary for some and downright confusing for most. Start at the beginning – with the language and what to call things.  Problem is that many of these languages are very old and don’t have words for technology terms like “computer”, “mouse”, “wi-fi”, etc.  Developing these words in the local language or making a conscious decision to borrow them from another language is one that the language experts should make and own. It is important that the translations are culturally relevant. For example, the Cherokee word for “email” is ᎠᎾᎦᎵᏍᎩ ᎪᏪᎸ (anagalisgi gowelv) and literally translated it means “lightning paper”. That is what makes sense to them as a people with regard to their culture and language.

Carla 2 Carla Hurd (Microsoft) and Michael Sarkis (Microsoft) at the Microsoft table.

I’d like to share with you one of the projects that I have worked on with teams at Microsoft called the Microsoft Terminology Forum.  It is a tool that provides a place where communities can develop technology terminology in their local language.  We have a base collection of about 2,500 terms that are considered the key terms to begin engaging in technology solutions for any language. The finalized project can be downloaded and used by the community as a common set of terms and translations in the development of local software solutions.  Best of all, it’s free!

I was happy to see and hear the reactions of people when I told them what I do at Microsoft.  Most of them had no idea that Microsoft invested in the area of local language or had tools to help languages move forward in the area of technology. One statistic that people didn’t know was that Windows 8 and Office 2013 are available in 108 languages which reaches approximately 4.5 Billion speakers on the planet. Two of those languages were even represented at the festival – Quechua and Welsh. You can get more information about the Local Language Program and Microsoft’s language solutions by visiting the website at http://www.microsoft.com/LLP.  It is my hope that Microsoft’s efforts can make a difference in the world and provide a catalyst for these languages to move in the direction of growth and survival for their futures.

Carla 3

Talk Stage: “Technology and Language Panel” with K. David Harrison, co-curator of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, One World, Many Voices Program; Carla Hurd, Microsoft; Ruben Reyes, Garifuna language expert; Owen Saer, Welsh expert.

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About the Author: Carla Hurd is Senior Program Manager at Microsoft’s Local Language Program (LLP). The program provides people access to technology in a familiar language while respecting linguistic and cultural distinctions. The program bridges the gap to technology through language and culture as well as empowers individuals in local communities to create economic opportunities, build IT skills, enhance education outcomes, and sustain their local language and culture for future generations.

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