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CTexT releases four new spelling checkers

The North-West University (NWU) is making a considerable effort in the promotion of multilingualism, language empowerment and human language technology (HLT) in our country.  With the upcoming launch of spelling checkers for four South African languages, CTexT (Centre for Text Technology, NWU) is not only sustaining HLT in South Africa, but also fighting the battle to ensure that every citizen’s language rights are upheld.

Thirty academics and developers from the NWU, the University of Pretoria and UNISA embarked on the project, aiming to produce spelling checkers for Microsoft Office in five South African languages:  Afrikaans, Setswana, isiZulu, isiXhosa, and Sesotho sa Leboa.

The Afrikaanse Speltoetser 2.1 & Woordafbreker has been available at retailers for almost a year and the four remaining spelling checkers was sold commercially for the first time at the ALASA Conference in Johannesburg from 4-7 July 2005.

“Our experience in developing the Afrikaans spelling checker gave us the necessary technological background for efficient sharing of knowledge with the other languages” says Prof. Gerhard van Huyssteen, head of CTexT.  However, the involvement of mother tongue speakers in this project was of utmost importance, Van Huyssteen points out, as it set the pace for empowering local languages and language users.  The involvement of the CEO of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), Dr. Cynthia Marivate, and cooperation with members of PanSALB’s National Language Bodies will also further the validation of the final products.

“Microsoft has an ongoing commitment to local software development, and our Local Language Program is the next step to broadening our outreach and empowering customers. It fosters the important development, growth and proliferation of regional language groups that enable them to promote their language and culture while benefiting from continuing IT advancements.  An essential initiative driving this momentum in South Africa is our partnership with teams like CTexT and the Pan-South African Language Board to create a multi-lingual computer environment,” says Gordon Frazer, managing director for Microsoft South Africa.

All the spelling checkers will be fully integrated with Microsoft Office 2000/XP/2003 and can be easily installed.  Free telephone support is offered.  Extensive research at CTexT ensured that spellchecking and hyphenation are effortless within the parameters of the standard written variant of each language.

Other products developed at CTexT include two language acquisition software packages: Ngenani! (isiZulu) and Tsenang! (Setswana).  These multimedia software programmes will enable a learner to acquire the basics of a new language in about 45 hours in the comfort of his/her own home or office.  Included are vocabulary and listening, speaking, writing and reading skills in the target language, and even insight into the culture of the specific language.

HLT is a fast-growing but relatively unknown field in South Africa.  CTexT strives to maintain and strengthen South Africa’s HLT activities.  In this way, Information Technology will no longer be limited to an advantaged few, but will be made available to everyone.  And, who knows, in the near future every South African citizen might be able to communicate in the language of his/her choice wherever he/she goes.

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