Contributed by Eoin P. Ó Murchú
I was raised with Irish and English, attended an Irish speaking secondary school and studied some modules in Irish at third level. I have been interested in translation and crowdsourced translation for various online projects for some years now.
Irish or Gaeilge is a minority language − it has state support, but this is often quite passive, and its use is in decline in traditional linguistic heartlands, though there might be hope for the language in urban settings. In our increasingly digital world, one of the big fears for less widely spoken languages is getting left behind. For example, the challenge of ‘voice to text’ is the next big thing, something in which Irish is lagging behind.
I was asked to take part in the translation of the Gmail interface into Irish. A small community has built up to translate various digital resources into Irish. For Gmail we helped with the translation of 60,000 strings (and counting!) − words and phrases used in the Gmail interface. We divided up the work and set about translating the strings, sometimes with the help of machine translation, debating various terms, ensuring consistency and finally proofing for typographical errors.
Having Gmail and other technologies available in Irish is a good way to show that the language has a value and a place in the modern world. It shows people that they can use it online and also helps to standardize technological terminology. It means that speakers can passively learn the language to a certain degree simply by switching their account to Irish, while fluent speakers can achieve a higher level of understanding and linguistic competency. As daily speakers of minority languages may have a lower level of reading or writing ability, this may help to bridge that gap.
Though small, Google Search is also available in Irish, which is a visible and important thing. It says that Irish is still here and despite all the negative stories about the many challenges facing minority languages, Irish will have a role to play into the next century at least.
We are currently translating Twitter into Irish but some common problems pop up as with Facebook – there is a lack of quality control as much of the content is volunteer-generated (though often expert) and there are challenges keeping up with massive amounts of updates. There are also problems with language community take-up − many people simply view it as easier or better to use the original English language version.
It’s important to remember that we are merely passing the language on − our challenge is to not be left behind in an increasingly digital-based and hyper-connected world.