Languages, Part 4
In 2013, “Google Translate” would translate text from and to the following languages:
These languages are 71 in number, and they include only one indigenous African language: Swahili.
In 2014, the number of languages on the “Google Translate” list has increased to 81, but still there is only the one indigenous African language on the list: Swahili.
The advent of free, online, automatic translation services is a great boon and a help to people a lot of the time. In our continent, where hundreds of languages are spoken, it opens the prospect of people being able to communicate much better than before across language barriers, if they have written text.
Printed text can be scanned and rendered into digital text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). Once in that form it can be translate by Google Translate or by similar software.
But none of this works for Africans, within Africa, if only one African language is available.
Whereas automatic translation is in general progressive, the absence of indigenous African languages works regressively for these languages. It means, at this stage, that the selected, languages are even more privileged than before, and the African languages relatively even more disadvantaged than before. The “playing field” of automatic translation is less level than before.
Computer translation is a great assistance, but it is not perfect. Computer translation has to be corrected, because it always contains errors, and serious errors at that.
Computer translation assists because it quickly gives you a draft to work on.
To correct, you must apply your own knowledge of the languages, or use an old-fashioned dictionary, or the computer equivalent of an old-fashioned dictionary.
Translation is an art. Computer translation cannot complete the artistic function of the translator.
South Africans have not come to terms with translation, yet. This is not only true in terms of the eleven official languages, and other languages spoken in South Africa, but also in terms of international languages used in other parts of Africa such as French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Swahili.
This becomes at some point a political problem, because politics relies on communication, so that anything that inhibits communication can have a political effect.
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