In our ongoing effort to empower language communities to preserve their languages and cultures, we are excited to introduce Yucatec Maya and Querétaro Otomi to Microsoft Translator’s ever-growing list of supported languages. These language systems were developed in collaboration with community partners in Mexico, who created the automatic translations systems to permanently bridge the translation gap between these endangered languages and the rest of the world. The systems themselves were built using the Microsoft Translator Hub, a Translator product which is available for free to allow any group to create its own unique translation systems.
|Photo courtesy of Instituto Querestano de la Cultura y las Artes|
Using the Hub, our community partners took important steps to preserve their language and culture. The Yucatec Maya translation system was built by the Universidad Intercultural Maya de Quintana Roo (UIMQROO), a university in the southwestern Mexican state of Quintana Roo that was created to provide higher education to the Maya population of the region. Native to the Yucatan region of Mexico and Belize, Yucatec Maya is spoken by fewer than 800,000 people, with less than 59,000 monolingual speakers. The language is descended from the language of the ancient Mayan empire, which is well-known for its art, architecture, as well as its expertise in astronomy.
The Querétaro Otomi language system was created by the Instituto Queretano de la Cultura y las Artes (IQCA), an institute in western central Mexico whose mission is to encourage artistic and cultural development and to promote equity and equality of opportunity within the State of Querétaro. Querétaro Otomi is an endangered language from the region that is only spoken by 33,000 people and has fewer than 2,000 monolingual speakers.
The release of Maya and Otomi helps to celebrate the UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day, an annual international event which aims “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.” According to UNESCO, “if nothing is done, half of 6,000-plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century.” Maya and Otomi are indigenous languages from Mexico which are both currently threatened. Although they are still in use, the number of speakers is decreasing and younger people are not speaking them as actively as their elders. The new automatic translation systems will help the Maya and Otomi people safeguard their language and culture for generations to come.
Over the years, Translator has worked closely with a variety of language community partners to encourage language preservation and, through it, intercultural communication. In the past, these community partners have used the Hub to create translation systems for languages such as Hmong Daw, Welsh, and Urdu.
The Hub allows organizations such as UIMQROO and IQCA to leverage the computing power of Microsoft Translator’s machine-learning back end as well as its existing translation models to create unique and customized translation systems. The Translator Hub is a powerful tool for organizations that have specific translation needs, such as language preservation. It also allows organizations to create domain-specific systems, including industry-specific translation systems (for instance, for the medical or financial sectors) and business-specific systems that are customized to the company’s internal style and terminology.
In addition to the Hub, Translator also supports a wide variety of products to connect individuals across language barriers, including the Translator API, which can be used to translate web pages and apps in real time into 45+ languages, as well as powering the translation features in the Microsoft Office suite of products. Most recently, Microsoft Translator and Skype introduced Skype Translator, a next–generation speech-to-speech translation platform which allows users to converse in different languages in near-real time.
To learn more about International Mother Language Day, and what Microsoft is doing to support technology on this front, please visit the Official Microsoft Blog.
Learn More about the Translator Hub and Language Preservation: