As Google celebrates becoming the most comprehensive translation service on the planet -- by reaching 41 languages (link) and being able to help 98 precent of internet users read any website in their own language -- I'm left wondering why there is still no useful Swahili translation service on the internet.
Students of Swahili will remember that back in the internet old school days, there was "Kumasi: The Internet Living Swahili Dictionary" (link), yet, while it did help me pass a few Swahili tests in school, it is not a translation service -- meaning, it is only useful when you need to know the meaning of words, not sentences. There's a small ray of hope there, though. Especially since Yale University stepped further out of the picture, the project seems to have been improving seemingly due to its new association with the World Language Documentation Centre. Another argument against the University Industrial Complex (link)?
So, my outcry remains valid. In 2009, Swahili is the first (or second, according to some who rank Arabic as an African language) most spoken language in Africa with 85 million speakers (or 100 million, according to some), which includes both natives and second-language learners (link).
But let's go with the conservative argument for the sake of keeping the argument on more solid, more inarguable ground. Tell you what, I'll even rank nations with suspicious estimate ceilings higher than Swahili. No need to see the top eleven because number twelve is a language we're probably all somewhat familiar with:
12) French (113 million)
13) Turkish (89 million)
14) Vietnamese (86 million)
15) Persian (72-144 million)
16) Bhojpuri (26-126 million)
17) Indonesian (23-140 million)
18) Swahili (85-100 million)
19) Filipino (85 million)
20) Pashto (65-70 million)
(source) [bolded rankings are languages that ARE already being translated by google]
Even if we go with the conservative estimate with Swahili, it's still essentially tied with Vietnamese -- a language that Google already provides translation services for. And we could justifiably rate it number fifteen, right after Vietnamese, if we weren't being conservative. Did I mention that Swahili is the most spoken language, not in a country, not in a region of countries, but on a continent -- one of the largest continents on Earth?
Now, I know Google is more motivated by how many people speaking a language are actually ON THE INTERNET, because Google's entire business model relies on people being on the internet to see their advertisements, but I think the case remains extremely valid.
And just in case the rational route doesn't appeal, here's some free public relations consulting fo that ass in pseudo-do-gooder capitalist terms that these Web 2.0 companies can understand -- if Google wants to ratchet up their white-liberal/Bono activism image, what better way to help Africa technologically, than to improve the world's language gateway to Africa through its most spoken language? Swahili blogs and news sites being read by Africans in the diaspora, Swahili video with closed captioning on YouTube? You could even throw a fancy -- just-for-starving-Africans -- name on it: The Google Talking Drum Project To Support African Languages. Swahili could be just the beginning: Hausa, Oromo, Zulu, Yoruba, Igbo, Amharic, Shona, Somali...
At the end of the day, if Google don't get to translating some Swahili somehow someway, I'ma be real upset. Cause for me (and probably other Africans in the diaspora) Google Translate has been an entirely useless service and those 41 languages -- aside from Spanish every once in a while -- don't mean shit.
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