Monica Newton, Deputy Director General for Arts, Culture, Promotion and Development;
Dr Mbulelo Jokweni, DAC Language Services;
Language practitioners from different disciplines;
Members of the media;
Ladies and gentlemen
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
These profound words spoken by our beloved Tata Nelson Mandela, gives impetus to the celebration of the International Translation Day.
Language is very important and we all communicate to be understood. Language is a vehicle of culture and through a language one can learn the values of the people who speak it. Your experience can be expressed best in your home language.
International Translation Day presents an opportunity for paying tribute to the work of translators, terminologists, interpreters and language practitioners in general who endeavour to make the world a slightly smaller place by breaking down language barriers and allowing great literature to be enjoyed far more widely.
Lest we forget, the International Translation Day (ITD) is celebrated worldwide every year on 30 September. The day coincides with the feast day of St Jerome. A Christian scholar and priest, St Jerome was the first person to translate the Bible into Latin from the original Hebrew, and today he is considered the patron saint of translators.
We are graced today by the presence of past and present language practitioners who will share their valuable experiences of the various eras in this precious profession. Translators, terminologists, interpreters and others are here as part of the celebration of their contribution to the profession.
On behalf of the Department of Arts and Culture, I want to applaud you for the very important work that you do and the contribution that you make to multilingualism. I was recently made aware that the South African National Lexicography Units plan to release thirteen monolingual and bilingual dictionaries for indigenous languages in the near future.
Today we celebrate efforts such as these, but also that of every individual language practitioner doing their little bit for language.
This year’s theme “The Changing Face of Translation and Interpreting” comes at a time when the language landscape in South Africa has evolved considerably, not only in terms of translation, but also in terms of the legislative environment relating to languages.
For example, the Use of Official Languages Act requires all national departments, public enterprises and public entities to adopt language policies and establish language units to ensure that members of the public can access government information in the official languages of their choice. The adoption of such an Act at national level will give further impetus to the adoption of language legislation by all provinces and municipalities.
To date, 15 national departments have gazetted language policies while another 10 have draft policies.
30 national public entities and enterprises have gazetted their policies and another 11 have draft policies. There remains much work to be done, but we are on the right track and for this we need to thank the departments, enterprises and entities, and the translators among you who are doing the hard work of translating documents into different official languages for the benefit of the citizens of our country.
Another positive development within the language sphere is the adoption of the South African Language Practitioners’ Council Act. This Act will regulate the language profession in areas such as the accreditation, training and employment of language practitioners.
On the one hand, this will ensure that government, the private sector and members of the public who make use of language practitioners will receive professional service. For language professionals, on the other hand, it will mean that they will receive proper training, their profession will be protected, and they will receive recognition for their skills when they are employed.
Another notable area of advancement is the impressive technological innovations that have taken translation and terminology development to a much higher and more sophisticated level; the so-called Human Language Technologies (HLT).
The Department has been working closely with various role players in this industry for almost a decade now on this complex multidisciplinary domain in an effort to find solutions to language-related problems through technology. We believe that HLT will become indispensable in effective service delivery and also the better integration of especially those members of society who are vulnerable because they cannot understand English or cannot read.
What we have achieved in this regard is impressive. We now have technologies for all our official languages that include the following:
- The capability for computers to understand human speech;
- The capability for computers to take digital text, for example from the internet, and convert it into audio, so that it can be listened to;
- Translation software that help translators perform their work faster and better.
I am also proud to state that we are competing with the best. Google has developed machine-translation systems for isiZulu and Afrikaans. But the Department has funded the development of machine-translation systems for isiZulu, Afrikaans, Sepedi and Xitsonga, and we already have a beta-version for Setswana. And we won’t rest until we have provided for all our official languages.
I want to reaffirm our Department’s commitment towards the development of all our official languages as well as our allegiance to language practitioners by making a very important announcement on this occasion.
It is my pleasure to announce that the DAC is launching an HLT-driven translation service for language practitioners. It builds on our long-running Autshumato project and includes various components, namely:
- Free software: The Autshumato translation software is available for free and can be downloaded from the internet. It is already in use by the Department of Arts and Culture’s internal translation and editing section with great effect.
- Training: The DAC is offering training workshops for government translation units in the use of the Autshumato translation software, so as to expedite their efforts to implement the Use of Official Languages Act. Translators from various legislatures, the language unit at Parliament, DPSA, GCIS and the City of Tshwane have already taken advantage of this opportunity and we urge all government departments to come for training.
- Machine-translation: Our machine-translation systems will be uploaded on our servers from where they will be accessible to any person anywhere with an internet connection. This means that government and freelance translators using the Autshumato translation software can now get computer-generated translations.
- On-the-go translation: The DAC’s website will soon host a translation service where one can request a translation of an English sentence or paragraph into isiZulu, Afrikaans, Sepedi or Xitsonga. It is also possible to ask for a rudimentary translation of an entire document or even a website. All you need is a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone with internet access.
- Website plug-in: The DAC is implementing an application on its website that provides word-for-word translations for English content in any of the other ten official languages. This means that citizens who are not fluent in English can now browse our website for information in their language of choice.
This is a very proud moment for us as a Department, but we cannot lay claim to it alone.
I would therefore like to thank the Centre for Text Technology at the North-West University, as well as the many translators who have participated on the project over many years, for making it possible to celebrate this wonderful moment for multilingualism in South Africa.
Allow me to call upon the responsible official to take us through the demonstration of the services that we are launching here today.
I thank you.