Digitalization of Indian Languages – Part 2

Digitalization of Indian Languages – The Past, Present and Future

How many of us stop at crossroads while driving to ask bystanders where exactly a particular restaurant is located in the area? Well, about a 100 million of us smartphone users may not be stopping to ask for directions; but then almost 850 million non-English speaking users still prefer the tried and tested traditional manner, thanks to non-translated, non-localized content on their mobile devices. In order to bring a greater majority of the population online, content generation in their local languages holds the key.

The Past

  1. A 2014 Google India report says that 21% of the Indian population prefers to access internet in Hindi with subsequent content consumption indicating a growth of 94% year on year as compared to only 19% growth for English digital content online.
  2. In the year 2011, India was the third largest internet user base in the world. Fast forward just two years and 2013 saw India rising up to claim the position of the second largest user base in the whole world.

The Present

  1. Of the overall content generated online, a dismal 0.1% of it is in Hindi, which occupies pride of place as one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
  2. In stark contrast, English accounts for almost 56% of the content.
  3. If the estimates from UNESCO are anything to go by, then almost 197 of more than 1652 Indian languages are dying a slow, irreversible death.

The Future

  1. By 2017, India will reach 314 million mobile internet users.
  2. By 2018, India will be home to approximately 250 million online consumers, 200 million rural online users and an e-commerce industry worth close to $70 billion.
  3. A Cisco report says that India is the second largest and fastest growing smartphone market globally with close to 150 million smartphone users and is expected to cross the 650 million mark by the year 2019.

Sundar Pichai, Google Inc. chief executive has proclaimed that the company will make it viable to use Android to type in 11 Indian languages. E-commerce portals like Make My Trip amongst others are on their way to make apps available in Indian regional languages. Mobile companies like Micromax can be seen rolling out phones which support as many as 10 regional languages. The Government has even launched a web domain – .Bharat – to enable web users to key in internet addresses in the Devanagari script. Speaking the citizens’ languages and thus bringing a greater number of people than ever into the digital mainstream seems to be the mantra doing the rounds these days.

The Way Forward

  1. The concept of digital media existing as an offshoot of print media needs an overhaul. Only when digital media assumes an independent existence can it actively expand its presence in the masses.
  2. Websites and social media platforms need to become more regional language friendly, to enable a wider user base. This will ensure ease of access and interaction among erstwhile non-users of the internet that are new to the medium. Wikipedia has shown us the way: The largest and most popular general reference encyclopedia on the internet celebrated its 15th birthday this year with 36 million articles in more than 290 different languages.
  3. Gone are the days when one would physically visit a library and sift through the books lining the shelves. Digitalization can pave the way for a free-to-read, extensive digital library accessible to anyone and everyone, 24×7, at the click of a mouse.

The internet is scaling up rapidly among Indian users; hence, faster should be the digitization of Indian languages to tap the potential of these rapidly growing regional pockets of people who are quickly turning internet-savvy.

The era of digital literacy in our country has dawned. India is estimated to contribute to more than 40% of new internet users in the world over the next half a decade. If the present is anything to go by, the future for Digital India looks pretty promising. The distinguished doyen of the Indian industry Dr. Ganesh Natarajan’s words definitely ring true in this regard:

 ‘Digital platforms help make the India of our dreams happen.’

And the India of our dreams is happening all around us as we talk, right in front of our eyes. But are we ready for the India of our dreams? What could prepare us better for the future than having the technology and services that will help us have content in our native languages.

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