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PCs, websites to decipher all Indian languages soon
Kirtika Suneja in New Delhi
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March 19, 2009

By the end of September this year, the Department of Information Technology will have readied software tools and fonts which can help personal computers and websites decipher content in the country's 22 languages recognised by the Constitution.

The DIT currently has tools and fonts -- like True type fonts with keyboard drivers, Unicode compliant Open Type fonts and Unicode compliant Open type Keyboard drivers -- in 16 languages with Bodo, Dogri, Maithali and Nepali languages being recently added to the list.

"The department plans to develop tools for the remaining six languages by September this year," Jainder Singh, Secretary, DIT, told Business Standard. The initiative assumes importance since it's mandatory that state governments' operational activities are documented in at least two languages.

Till date, around 3.1 million compact discs have been shipped in 12 languages and the department spends around Rs 9 crore (Rs 90 million) every year on this vernacular initiative.

For the current financial year, the department has earmarked Rs 8 crore (Rs 80 million) to fund the R&D projects of the Technology Development for Indian Languages. Besides, the government also introduced the registration of websites in Indian languages (popularly known as Internationalised Domain Names) since January 2008.

The Common Service Centres and rural knowledge centres (part of the government's e-governance projects) are major hubs for beneficiaries of such local language software.

Moreover, with different government ministries and departments deploying e-governance, application of local languages becomes more important.

For instance, the external affairs ministry's e-passport Seva project with Tata Consultancy Services [Get Quote] can be more relevant to the passport holder if the forms are made available to him in his/her (local) language.

A report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India has outlined major types of content available in Indian languages -- for instance, search engines, portals (mainly email and chat), user generated content (eg. social networking sites) and vortals (vertical industry portal). It estimates the local language IT market in India to grow between 30- and 60 per cent and touch $100 million (around Rs 500 crore) in 2010.

Vernacular content, the report notes, will help accelerate PC penetration, relevance of telecom and broadband revolution in rural areas. In spite of the high popularity of Indian languages in the traditional media, these languages do not show a significant performance when it comes to the World Wide Web. Email and news are the top two applications used in Indian languages.

With more websites coming up with localised content in multiple languages, a search engine capable of searching the web documents written in languages other than English, is the need of the hour. The main features of the search engine are phonetic tolerance, compression and indexing, leading and trailing substring matches for keyboards.

The report quotes I-Cube 2007 data, by saying that almost 35 per cent of the Internet users are not aware of the availability of content in the Indian languages online. This number increases to 53 per cent for Internet users in non-metros.

As Swaran Lata, director and head, TDIL programme, DIT, said, "Vedic Sanskrit will get encoded in the next release of UNICODE standard and the enormous knowledge embedded in our ancient Vedas will become accessible to modern generation. Under the TDIL programme, we are working towards a wired world www which shatters the English barrier," the masses will have to be made aware of the content and applications available in their language "to facilitate human-machine interaction without language barrier; creating and accessing multilingual knowledge resources; and integrating them to develop innovative user products and services."

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