Microsoft has joined the cause of linguistic diversity. The software giant just announced that it will be releasing its new product, Windows 7, in 10 different African languages by 2011.
The software will be available in languages including Sesotho sa Leboa, Setswana, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Afrikaans, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, kiSwahili and Amharic.
Previously, according to an article in The Industry Standard, important technology was mostly available in English and French, to the point that Africans who could not read and write in one of these two languages are considered illiterate, even though they may be quite capable of reading and writing in their native tongues.
The lack of inclusion has also encouraged software piracy, as legal software that supports these languages is not available. Microsoft mentioned “fighting piracy” as one reason for expanding Windows 7 into different languages. However, it may be too late for that, as the Industry Standard notes that pirated software is so readily available in Africa that the native language support may simply become another selling point for pirates.
Still, nobody should be considered illiterate if they can read and write in the language that they grew up speaking. Microsoft’s introduction of local language support for African languages is a big step forward. As Francis Hook, manager at IDC East Africa, states in the Industry Standard article:
“The localization will most certainly increase content from Africa by allowing expression in local languages, it will help with the survival and continued relevant of African languages amidst globalization.”
In addition to benefiting African computer users, this move will likely also benefit Microsoft, even if it does little to curb piracy. As Hezron Mogambi, a linguistics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, explains:
“Language has the power to draw more people into a product and internet use more than advertising can do. People want to see and feel a product that represents their community and settings.”