Already translated into more than 40 languages, the latest version of the Mozilla Firefox web browser now sports an Afrikaans interface thanks to Translate.org.za, a non-profit organisation working to give local flavour to open-source software.
It translates software into all 11 official South African languages, and the Afrikaans version of Firefox 2.0 is the first completed for this version of the browser. "We think our Afrikaans users will appreciate the time and effort that we have taken to ensure quality," says Dwayne Bailey, director of Translate.org.za.
"This is the most extensively tested translation release of ours to date," he says, adding that Mozilla is "pedantic" about ensuring quality in the translation of its programmes.
Developed under the umbrella of the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving web experiences around the world, Firefox — which is used by 15% to 20% of South Africa’s one million internet users — relies on an international community of contributors to assist in translation.
Bailey says the latest Afrikaans version was translated by one man, Samuel Murray, and rigorously tested thereafter. The quickest that Mozilla can translate a program is about one month, but Translate.org.za "went through a lot" to complete the Afrikaans version, which took about a year. "A lot of people used it and tested it; it is of really high quality," he says.
"Imagine a piece of software that has English everywhere. We have to have systems that extract that language … We have to have a human processor, a person looking at every message and translating it," he says. The language also has to be checked for context, so that the phrases and messages all make sense.
Other programs such as Open Office and Mozilla Thunderbird have previously been translated into Afrikaans. Firefox 2.0 is already available in a native-language version for more people globally than any other web browser, according to Translate.org.za, and Firefox 1.5 can be used in all 11 South African languages.
"Firefox 2.0 delivers the best possible online experience for people today," says Mitchell Baker, CEO of Mozilla. "The improvements Mozilla has made to the ease of use, performance, and security in Firefox 2.0 reflect our ongoing, singular focus on meeting the needs of web users all over the world."
Bailey agrees, saying: "Firefox is one piece in the puzzle of creating a fully Afrikaans computer," something he hopes his organisation can achieve in two years’ time.
Open-source and Linux-operated systems are also better to work with, he says. "With programmes like Windows you don’t have full control over what to translate; it is easier with Linux."
In 2006, Translate.org.za won the African ICT Achiever Award for bridging the digital divide. "We are a strong believer in all the 11 official languages," Bailey says, adding that initiatives such as these are important "because technology sometimes undermines people’s human value of language … There is a subliminal message that comes through that says your language is not compatible with the digital age.
"We really believe that technology is just an enabler; it’s a tool. And translating [programs like Firefox] makes it an enabler for that 80% that doesn’t speak English."
He adds: "It is about empowering people, and taking the spirit of the Constitution to heart, to emphasise the importance of culture."