Invention of Open Source Translation Software (Autshumato) for Indigenous Languages

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05 Feb 2014

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), in association with the North-West University (NWU) will host a workshop to train translators in Parliament on the use of Open Source Translation Software from 5 to 6 February 2014 in Cape Town. The Software has been developed through DAC funding. The workshop hosted at Parliament is the second of three workshops scheduled to introduce the software to language practitioners in government departments.

This marks the beginning of a new phase in a project that commenced in 2007, when DAC embarked on a number of Human Language Technology (HLT) projects. HLT refers to technology that can process human language. It enables checking and correcting spelling, translating a document into another language, speech recognition and converting it into text. The Department of Arts and Culture adopted HLT to support its work in the domain of language development and promoting access to information and multilingualism.

To this end, the DAC has partnered with a number of experts in the domain, including NWU and the Meraka Institute of the CSIR. Technologies, developed as a result of this collaboration, include spelling checkers for the 10 official indigenous languages, speech recognition and speech synthesis for the 11 official languages, and a range of translation tools, including machine translation functionality from English into isiZulu, Sepedi and Afrikaans. Development work to add other languages is underway.

The high costs of computer-assisted translation and the growing need for translation services are some of the main factors that led to the development for the software. The software will also assist with the implementation of the Use of Official Languages Act of 2012 which empowers citizens to receive government information in all official languages as per the provisions of the Act. Autshumato has many translation time-saving features and helps improve quality in terms of standardisation since it incorporates glossaries and translation memories. The distinguishing characteristic of the Autshumato version is that it is customised for South African languages.
Autshumato is named after one of the first interpreters in South Africa and it is available for download from the internet at no cost on (

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