OpenOffice.org and linguistic diversity

We were talking with our son in Dubai on the weekend, and he pointed out how striking it is over there that English is the worls's lingua franca now. Dubai is a mashup of people from dozens of cultures, and they all communicate with each other in English. As my son pointed out, the British Empire started this trend, and the pervasive influence of media has only strengthened it.

I think it's clear that the computer is one medium that has accelerated this trend, through the Internet, but I think there is a happy counter-trend, too. Yes, the computer has solidified the place of English as the world's language of commerce, but it has also had the beneficial effect of preserving and encouraging the use of suppressed and waning languages. I like to think that OpenOffice.org is playing a useful role here. OpenOffice.org is one of the most globalized pieces of software in existence, with ongoing community-based localization projects in more than 80 languages. Take a look here at a list of the projects.

I was particularly impressed with OO.o's level of commitment to native language support when I read about the upcoming OpenOffice.org Conference (OOoCon 2007) in Barcelona. As the conference site notes, over the last seven years, the Barcelona-based OpenOffice Catalan localization team has distributed over 2 million copies of OpenOffice.org in Catalan. When you realize that Catalan was actively suppressed under the Franco regime, you can see the important role that our profession can play in the preservation and expansion of the world's cultural and linguistic diversity.

  

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