More Than 1 Billion Speakers of Endangered Languages Get Access to Technology

REDMOND, Wash. — Feb. 22, 2010 — It is estimated that every 14 days a language dies. This means that during the Winter Olympic Games, currently happening in Vancouver, B.C., one more of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth — many of them not yet recorded — will disappear, taking with it centuries of knowledge about history, culture and the natural environment. Half of those languages are expected to disappear by the end of this century.

As UNESCO celebrates International Mother Language Day 2010, Microsoft Corp. is renewing its commitment to help reach more people worldwide with the benefits of technology, while assisting in the attempts to preserve local languages and promoting cultural identities through the Microsoft Local Language Program (LLP). In support of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential mission, the LLP is part of a worldwide initiative dedicated to providing individuals with access to desktop computer software in their native language. Beyond providing fully localized versions of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office in nearly 40 languages, Microsoft currently supports 95 languages through the LLP. More than 1 billion people speak the languages that are supported by this program.

“Linguistic diversity is under threat. This loss not only erodes individual communities and cultures, but more broadly, the very makeup of our societies,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO. “Linguistic diversity promotes mutual understanding and dialogue. Access to learning in local languages is of utmost importance for reducing social exclusion. What is encouraging is that a growing number of partners are acknowledging the importance of languages and committing to safeguard them. It is crucial that we bolster these efforts because each language is a treasure.”

Today, Microsoft is announcing three solutions that empower local language communities to discover, share and develop IT terminology in their native language. First, they are announcing the current list of languages that will be supported for the new releases of Windows, Office and, for the first time, Visual Studio:

  • Fifty-nine new Language Interface Packs (LIPs) for both Windows 7 and Office 2010

  • Four new LIP additions for Visual Studio 2010

These new offerings are in addition to the 178 downloads available in 67 different languages for which there are already LIPs and CLIPs for earlier versions of Windows, Office and Visual Studio.

“Allowing for people to use and build software in their native language helps emerging markets build a stronger work force, and ultimately better prepares employees to help grow their local economies,” said Lauren Woodman, senior director of Microsoft’s Government and Education Engagement Programs. “This new CLIP technology will also help people bridge the language gap and, for the first time, use technology in a meaningful way.”

The second piece of today’s news is the Caption Language Interface Packs. The current standard for the Local Language Program, a Language Interface Pack has 400,000 terms and installs over a base language, transforming most of the functionality to the new language. With the CLIP, a tool tip is displayed that shows the term in the specified language, but allows for the base language (which can be a LIP or a fully localized version) to show through, allowing for a smooth transition between languages and greater computer literacy in multiple languages. Microsoft has begun to share the Microsoft Terminology Collection as a whole, making it available through collaborative efforts with governments, sharing of multilingual terminology databases and language preservation projects. This glossary, developed over the past five years of LLP partnerships with governments, universities and local language experts, will allow for the uniformity of meaning of technological terms, independent of who is writing the software.

“Two dozen language hotspots, which contain the greatest diversity and most endangered languages, have now been identified globally. Microsoft’s Local Language Program — which provides an interface for nearly 100 emerging languages, including Maori, Welsh and Inuktitut — seeds future innovation,” said Professor K. David Harrison, a linguist at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, and director of research for the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. “A Torres Straits’ Islander in Australia told me: ‘Our language is standing still; we need to make it relevant to today’s society. We need to create new words, because right now we can’t say ‘computer.’”

Allowing access to technology for indigenous speakers of smaller languages not only helps to preserve the language, it allows the rest of the world to benefit from the innovation and creativity of the community. In addition, it allows indigenous speakers to have a voice in the world community and gives them access to the economic benefits of the Technology Age. In essence, Microsoft’s Local Language Program helps emerging markets build a stronger work force and ultimately better prepares employees to help grow local economies.

More information on the LLP is available at http://www.microsoft.com/LLP.

About Microsoft Local Language Program

The Microsoft Local Language Program is a global initiative that fosters the development and proliferation of regional language groups, enabling them to preserve and promote their language and culture while benefiting from continuing IT advancements. Through this collaboration with local governments to offer citizens the ability to customize leading, value-based Microsoft software applications with local language capabilities, people around the world are able to work with PCs — some for the first time — in their native languages.

About Microsoft Unlimited Potential

Microsoft, through its Unlimited Potential vision, is committed to making technology more affordable, relevant and accessible for the 5 billion people around the world who do not yet enjoy its benefits. The company aims to do so by helping to transform education and foster a culture of innovation, and through these means enable better jobs and opportunities. By working with governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations and industry partners, Microsoft hopes to reach its first major milestone — to reach the next 1 billion people who are not yet realizing the benefits of technology — by 2015.

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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