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September 2, 1998


Mother tongues for motherboards: SAARC nations meet to discuss tech for multilingual computing.

Michael Gonsalves in Pune

Discord over nukes has not prevented a Pakistani contingent from attending the first seven-nation SAARC meeting on technologies for multilingual computing here.

Email this story to a friend. Dr Ijaj Khawaja, director-general, Pakistan Computer Bureau, Islamabad, and Dr Khalid Javed, senior officer, ministry of foreign affairs, are among the over 50 officials and software professionals from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives and India that are attending the meeting.

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The multilingual IT conference, hosted by the Indian SAARC office, has been organised by the Pune based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing from September 1-4.

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C-DAC is responsible for building India's indigenously developed supercomputers, now being sold internationally under the PARAM brand. C-DAC has also been involved in the localisation of computing platforms in India.

"This is the first-ever attempt to bring together in Pune all the SAARC countries to create a shared vision of SAARC nations for development and application of multilingual and multimedia information technology for national development," R K Arora, executive director, C-DAC, said.

He added that the IT meeting assumes significance as the Maharashtra government has in the first week of August, 1998, declared its decision to make Pune the IT capital of Asia.

Arora said the other objective of the SAARC conference is also to arrive at a decision to set up a National Centre for SAARC Information Technology to deal with multilingual informatics, computing as a future course of action and to share and carry the vision of multilingual computing technology.

A proposal to set up an NCSIT centre in each of the SAARC countries would also be considered, he added.

Arora said "The language technology development in India over the past one and half decade has resulted from concepts to products that require to be pollinated. The Infotech meet will create a platform for different languages which are the diversified identity, pride, and a common heritage factor of these nations."

He said we have preserved our languages and scripts in various literary forms that have migrated from vocal to hand-written to the print media.

The print media itself have changed from paper publishing to CD publishing to Internet publishing and the language technology solutions developed by C-DAC are aimed at preserving national heritage so that it does not get Romanised one day like many extinct languages and scripts of the world have, he claimed.

Arora said C-DAC, which had taken the responsibility of developing multilingual information technology for the country and had successfully achieved its goals, also realises its neighbourly duty towards other SAARC nations.

According to Shashank S Pujari, programme coordinator, C-DAC, if the fruits of modern information technology revolution are to be reaped by the masses of our country, then it must be accessible to them in their language.

"This will definitely require bringing together a variety of expertise developed within the SAARC region so that language adaptability on information technology gains speed," he pointed out.

Pujari said the advent of information technology through computers is having a profound effect on the way we communicate and document our feelings and thought processes.

And although English is the predominant language of computers the world over, C-DAC's language technology mission has eliminated all language barriers and provided a complete solution for applications such as data processing, word processing, DTP, UNIX, MAC, Windows and custom hardware, he said.

"While giant IT multinationals can set up their shops abroad and sell their software packages, C-DAC, being a government of India undertaking, is ensuring participation from SAARC nations to make available to them C-DAC's language technology at an affordable price," Pujari said.

He said C-DAC's over one-and-a-half decades of research, culminating in developing and delivering language based products and solutions for the general masses that have access to PCs, has broken the monopoly of the English language in computer technology.

"Undoubtedly, the SAARC meeting will be a significant milestone for C-DAC as during this meeting, SAARC language word processor on Windows in Bhutanese, Sinhalese, Tibetan, Bengali and Arabic, ISM publishing solution in Urdu and multilingual computer designed jointly by Oracle India and C-DAC for all Indian languages will be launched," Chandrashekhar Raje, group coordinator, C-DAC's business division, said.

He added that the Urdu word processing software would be ready by December 1998.

Raje said the software developed by C-DAC in the 10 basic Indian scripts of Assamese, Bengali, Devanagiri, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu covers all the 18 languages recognised by the Indian Constitution.

He explained that the products with cross-compatibility and common phonetic overlay for all the Indian scripts enables one to type the way one speaks.

Pujari claimed that already C-DAC's language based products are being used by over 2 million users in India.

"This inspires us to promote our integral expertise in multilingual technology towards social, cultural and economic frontiers to generate employment and develop expertise at grassroots levels and bring about regional cooperation by interface of collective experience and expertise," he said.

India's initiative in advanced computing has made inroads into areas of supercomputing, language technology development and advanced computer training.

C-DAC-s language technology mission in multilingual and multimedia computing and communication is the most intensive initiative of its kind, setting standards for living languages and development of language tools and products that have eliminated all language barriers.

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