Translating the technology words

The Kamusi Project has just tossed their hat in to the ring of folks who are working to get African languages adapted to 21st century technology terminology. They made the official announcement about a site they’ve set up to try and further the goals of getting Swahili words adapted to computers. I mean, after all, according to Google Translate, ‘computer’ in Swahili is ‘kompyuta’ which for some reason I don’t really buy as being a terribly Swahili word.
This frustration is further belied by Rebecca in a recent tweet:

Just done an interview abt @iHubNairobi with #BBCSwahili; I need to practice Swahili more….whats a domain in Swahili? More research needed

Again, according to Google Translate, ‘domain’ (as in web domain name) is ‘miliki’, which does sound like a proper Swahili word, but I’m assuming it has a completely different meaning probably having to do with rule of land or something. And that’s the issue, do you adopt some “3rd party” loan word for these purposes or do you come up with a new word because let’s face it, no one is probably going to call the ‘web’, ‘mtandao’ as it’s just too long and everyone knows the word web now.
Let me emphasize that this doesn’t just affect African languages. The problem exists everywhere which is why a word like ‘web’ is just ‘web’ in Spanish despite there officially being no ‘w’ in the alphabet. It’s also why Speakers of Croatian will say SAD instead of Sjedinjene Američke Države for the United States of America due to the length.
I suppose that in the end there needs to be a balance of ease with authenticity when it comes to adding new words to a language. I just hope that efforts like the ones from Kamusi and ANLoc (site appears to be down?) gain some traction because it’s a problem that isn’t going to go away and will only get worse as time goes on. Just look at German, which currently has 8,000 loan words from English. At what point is your language (and thusly, your identity) no longer yours?

2 Replies to “Translating the technology words”

  1. very interesting Miquel!!
    Indeed it affects all languages (other than English of course). I think it boils down to either the French model (i.e. we translate everything!) or the German one (i.e. as you note, we borrow everything or even worse, we invent an english word to use in german! the hilarious case of the word Handy (used for mobile phone, because it sounds english!)
    In Spanish we’re somewhere in between – we do use web (although for THE Web in general, you can use “la red”) and things also vary from one Spanish-speaking country to another (computadora / ordenador for computer).
    PS I think W is officially a letter!

  2. I think, once a foreign word has entered a language and is widely used, it should be accepted. The French succeeded replacing the English words “computer”, “software” and “hardware” by respectively “ordinateur”, “logiciel” and “matériel” because at that time the computers were not yet a mass phenomenon. By the way, there is another localisation server in which many African languages are represented:

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