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Google in Your Language Project: Afaan Oromoo Goes Global

By Qeerransoo Biyyaa

The Google in Your Language Program is a program launched by Google to help translate Google services (products) into world languages.

The Google language products include Main Search Site, Google Map Maker, Group UI, Knol, Main Site Help Pages, Orkut Frontend Templates, Orkut Mobile, and Picasa3. Each of the products have thousands of technology terms to be translated. Don’t let the jargon confuse you. The pleasure of seeing one’s language go global has been what, I think, made the voluntary translation a huge success for Google. Often, poor people have devoted hours and years of translation for Google, without compensation. Imagine marathon human translators in Africa, making sacrifices for Google and themselves. Within each country, I have witnessed groups competing to make their own languages go global and technological on Google.

I was part of a Google Translation Group known as the Gumii-Dagaagina Afaan Oromoo, established in the US to translate Google products into Afaan Oromoo or Oromo, the language spoken by nearly 50% the Ethiopian population. It struck me to see how the political competition among nationalities in Ethiopia also translated itself into competition to be the first to make one’s language part of the giant search engine on earth. This feels like technological nationalism.

The Afaan Oromoo group started translating Google products in the year 2005. The team was composed of about 40 people. High-profile college and high school students, linguists, and technology geeks were involved. Nevertheless, the high dropout rate of volunteers was a major problem down the line. Qeerransoo Biyyaa persevered to complete two important products 100%, Google Main Search Site and Main Search Help Pages — both important for accessing Google Interface. I congratulate members of the Gumii-Dagaagina Afaan Oromoo for the wonderful work they have done as a team and as individuals. The translation was a huge struggle as a person needs to integrate concepts from technology, language and culture simultaneously. It was sometimes hard to find equivalent technological terms in Oromo or other language from Ethiopia. This is simply because technological terms are as foreign as the technologies themselves to Ethiopia.

So far, Google users from the Horn of Africa have the options of accessing the Google Search Interface in Afaan Oromoo, Amharic, Tigrigna and Somali languages. Healthy competition is okay, folks. We must realize we are using Google’s innovations, not our own. It is okay that every language gets represented so that linguistic plurality will be achieved.

To access Google Interface in your language, all you need to do is go to and click on the link ‘Language Tools’. Then, select and save your preferred language setting. It is fun for multi-lingual people to switch between the original and the translation versions of searches.

For example, Oromo users may want to access Google in their language at the following link:

Note that the typos and inaccuracies across many of the Horn of African languages I mentioned are still annoying, but working options.

Among the Horn of African languages, the competition among languages is as fierce as the competition for power-sharing and representation in a national government.

One hopes that the availability of Google in African languages will play a certain role in improving the unfair New World Information Order, where information flows predominantly from the global NORTH to SOUTH. When Google fully develops support for languages like Afaan Oromoo, Amharic, Tigrigna and Somali etc., information may gradually start to flow in both directions, from South to North and vice versa. If that happens, it can be dubbed ‘the Grand Information Justice’. Naively speaking, information justice can lead to better understanding among world’s nations, peoples, cultures and languages. It can foster more co-operation and friendship among peoples, nations, and ethnic groups.

California Chronicle

Tigrigna Somali Afaan Oromoo Amharic

Horn of African Languages


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