Project of the Month: the Irish community

Recently at we have decided to give more highlight to our many native-language communities, who are in charge not just of localization, but also QA, users support, documentation translation and marketing. Each month, we will interview teams, blog about it, include it in the, newsletter, etc. This month, we start with the Irish native-language project, lead by Kevin Scannell. You can find more about the Irish language here.


Conas atá tú Kevin? How are you doing Kevin?

Tá mé go maith, go raibh maith agat. (I’m doing well, thanks)!


When was the Irish native-language project founded? Why? 

I started translating into Irish during the summer of 2004. I work as a professor at a university here in the USA and I had a sabbatical leave during the 2004-2005 academic year – working on the localisation was one of my projects for the year. In fact, it was just one piece of a more ambitious plan to provide a fully-localised desktop system in Irish. Around the same time I started translating KDE and we had an energetic team working on Firefox 1.0 as well. In hindsight it was an overly ambitious goal for one person in one year, but as more people have come on board we’ve made good progress toward that goal. I worked alone on for the first year or so and I completed about 75% of the UI, after which five additional translators helped me finish the job and we released OOo 2.1 in Irish in December 2006. I’m proud to say everyone on the team is a volunteer – it’s a true community effort.


What is its primary interest?

I think everyone on the team is working on because we care about the Irish language and want to do something to help secure its future. Even in the strongest remaining Irish-speaking regions in Ireland (theGaeltachtaí,mostly on the west coast), it is difficult to live your life entirely in Irish. The vast majority of TV and radio programming is in English. The only two Irish language print newspapers closed in the last year. By creating a fully-localised desktop, we’re allowing people to live (at least) their virtual lives entirely through the medium of Irish. It seems to be working: there is now a vibrant community of online news sites, social networks, bloggers, etc. in the language.


How many Irish speakers are there in the world? And can we tell how many of them use

Most people in Ireland learn the language in school, so in the last census more than a million people claimed some knowledge of the language. But really not this many can speak it well – in Ireland it’s a cliché to talk about having the “cúpla focal” (just a couple of words). So it’s a much smaller number who use the language on a daily basis. It was estimated, for example, that in the Gaeltachtaí only about 70,000 people are using the language habitually.

Because the Irish version is freely available from several mirror sites, we don’t track the downloads and so it’s hard to say exactly how many users we have. We have better numbers for how many people have downloaded the Irish language spell checker for – more than 5500 to date. This is comparable to the number of people who are using the Irish version of Firefox, so it’s a plausible guess for our user base. Relative to the French or German or Chinese teams this number probably seems amazingly small, but really I’m quite happy with it. Because there’s never been a lot of software available in Irish, native speakers aren’t always completely comfortable with technical terminology in the language and may still prefer the English versions. But I think that having and Firefox available for the last few years has helped turn the tide a bit.


Does any company or public administration use in Irish?

There is a growing number of Irish-medium primary and secondary schools (gaelscoileanna) inIreland, both inside and outside of theGaeltachtaí. We know of several of these schools that are using on their computers, as well as some universities and small companies as well. There may be government agencies that are using as well, but honestly I’m not sure. An “Official Languages Act” was passed in 2003 that requires public bodies to provide services in Irish, so this is an area where we see a lot of potential for growth. It’s just a matter of spreading the word more effectively.


Do you think Free and Open Source Software is useful to help the Irish language survive and strive in the 21stcentury?

It is essential, and not just for Irish. My academic work involves collaborating with minority language groups around the world on language revitalization projects, focusing on technology and computing. I’ve argued elsewhere that free software is the only realistic way for small language groups to sustain long-term development of language resources, given the lack of funding and commercial interest. Free software effectively ensurescommunity ownershipof resources. Without community ownership we are dependent on the goodwill of large corporations that have no real interest in minority languages or cultures.


What do you like the most about the community? 

I enjoy the way the localisation community brings together like-minded people from many different language communities around the world. I’m sure that a lot of what I’m saying here about open source and language revitalization will ring true with the other “small” localisation teams – I’m thinking particularly of good friends I’ve made from the Kurdish, Haitian Creole, Oromoo, Chichewa, and Mongolian teams. We’re all in the same boat!


Question to the users/developers/Irish Gaelic OOo community:

What would you like to see improved in both as a software and as a community? 

  • More advertising. Let people know it’s out there.

  • Getting the word out is imperative.

  • More exposure and information about what OOo is all about. Many people doubt open source software and probably don’t realize that there is an alternative… which is just as good.

  • It would be good if free CDs were available for all Irish localized software so we could distribute these more easily.


Do you see a growth in usage of in Irish Gaelic?

  • Yes. Now that we are seeing Irish language on mobile phones, etc. the Irish speaking community are becoming more aware that we can have technology that works in our own language.

  • Potentially. I don’t know how many organizations in Ireland use OOo but I suspect there are a lot of organisations/schools/businesses who could be persuaded to use it. I think few people realise there is actually software available in Irish.


What would you like to do inside the project, not just as an user but as a contributor?

  • Helping with translating and testing.

  • I’ve distributed OOo (+Firefox, Thunderbird & Sunbird) to grateful members of my Irish class.





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