Just a few days ago, I read an article in Pashto which basically stated the importance of software localization and most importantly the progress of localization in Pashto language in Afghanistan. It’s a well balanced written piece on the topic but I want to share my own opinion on it and it might be a little different. I am not a localizer or localization expert by profession but I have been involved in developing an app back in the days for Windows 2000/XP and created fonts and developed web content in Pashto when it was not made possible by the major vendors. I was also part of team (along with Rouzbeh Pournader and Michael Everson) to standardize keyboard layouts for Pashto, Dari and Uzbek languages of Afghanistan. The one good thing that I can see in the whole progress of software development in Afghanistan is the standardization of these keyboards at the time when every individual was developing their own keyboard support with their own layout, which helped people to type in Pashto but users were reluctant to adopt a new software because then they’d have to adopt a new keyboard layout as well and learn it from the scratch.
But what’s the status of Pashto/Dari localization today and what seems to be the future is crucial here. I think it’ll be a lot easier to understand if I put everything in a table before I dig into each category.
|Method||Operating System / Application||Pashto||Dari||Uzbek|
|LP / LIP||Windows 8/8.1/Server 2012 R2||No Support||No Support||No Support|
|Windows 7 64bit||No Support||Supported||No Support|
|Windows 7 32bit||No Support||No Support||No Support|
|Windows Vista||No Support||No Support||No Support|
|Windows XP||Supported||No Support||No Support|
|Office 2003||Supported||No Support||No Support|
|Office 2007||No Support||No Support||No Support|
|Office 2010||No Support||Supported||No Support|
|Office 2013||No Support||Supported||No Support|
|Windows Phone 8||No Support||No Support|
|Font support||Mac OS X 10.8||Supported||Supported||Supported|
|Android 4.4||No Support||Supported|
|Windows XP SP3 till 8.1||Supported||Supported|
|Windows Phone 8||Supported||Supported|
|Input Method||Mac OS X 10.8||Supported||Supported||Supported|
|IOS 7||No Support||No Support||No Support|
|Android 4.4||No Support||No Support||No Support|
|Windows XP SP3 till 8.1||Supported||Supported|
|Windows Phone 8||No Support||No Support||No Support|
So there’s three important things in localization of a software, the Language Interface Pack (LIP) or the Language Pack (LP), the Input Method and the font support for the language in the Operating System. If the Operating System has the capabilities being able to read and write in a language i.e. it has fonts and input method or the keyboard layout then you’ll be able to read in your language in any application e.g. Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Outlook, Mozilla firefox, chrome etc., and you’ll also be able to use the OS’s input method to type or write in the language in any application. The LIP or LP as Microsoft defines it “LIP packages provide the desktop user with the most frequently accessed user interface and basic user assistance support (help files)”. There’s a slight difference between LIP and LP but for the sake of simplicity we’ll assume they are the same thing. LIP or LP could come for the OS itself or even for an application like Microsoft Office. The OS has to have the font support in order for LIP or LP to work.
The table above lists a few major OS and applications and their support for font, input method and language packs. For most users font support is the key issue because we want to make sure that when we receive an email or when we browse a website in Pashto/Dari we should be able to read it without having any problems (letters not joining together, direction issues etc.). The second is to be able to write or type in your language using your devices. As you can see you’ll be able to add your language to Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Ubuntu OS out of the box. You don’t need to install any third part application to be able to write. But with most smartphone Oss you’ll be not able to type in Pashto or Dari in Android, iPhone or Windows Phone. Though you might use the Persian (Iran) keyboard to get the job done but not Dari.
So basically most of the major vendors are not willing to provide language supports for Pashto language or even Dari or Uzbek. Dari has shown some progress in Microsoft which is a great accomplishment but I’m sure the credit would not go to the teams in Afghan ministry of communications. Microsoft Middle Eastern team visited Kabul and invested a ton of money back in 2004/2005 to include language support in their coming versions but after spending a lot of time and money, they only managed to develop a LIP for Microsoft Office 2003 and they immediately stopped doing that in their next versions. Microsoft brought their resources and opened their arms to incorporate additional languages (Pashto/Dari/Uzbek) to their next releases but unfortunately our experts didn’t take advantage of that. Instead of helping Microsoft to localize and translate the terminologies into these languages they instead started to create new and very sophisticated Pashto terminologies bringing in a Neologism expert from London, whose work according to most Pashto linguists and writers is referred to as “poisonous” (the Pashto of poisonous ‘zahriat’ rhymes with the author’s last name). The team that worked with Microsoft in Kabul, following their mentor, believed in the purification of Pashto language where they would create sophisticated and complex terminologies which are not easy for common people to understand leading to a disaster where the project never got completed and all we got was a mere LIP for Office 2003. If one calls that an achievement? Sure why not! The team forgot that the language of computer is for everyone or primarily for common people who might not be the expert in the language. The English version of Windows OS or Android or iPhone is based on ‘Simple English’ not Shakespear’s English that is why everyone uses it, understands it and keeps using it. The reason nobody knows nothing about the Pashto LIP for Office 2003 is because it’s targeted for a special group of people who believe in purified (سوچه پښتو) Pashto.
Here’s a little snapshot of a line of text in a Microsoft Office addon installation process. By reading it a few times and having a knowledge of such screens from past installations, I can somehow make an understanding out of it but I don’t think someone with 12 years Afghan education would understand what the software is talking about. The dilemma is that even commonly used terms and buttons like “ok”, “cancel”, “save” etc. are translated “literally” in such complex ways that you would want to uninstall the application as soon as you can.
Having said that, it seems like the Afghan ministry of communications has failed to address the issue of localization in Afghanistan. They’ve failed to get all the languages (Pashto/Dari/Uzbek) experts together and work as a team. Right now Pashto language experts work on their own and Dari language experts on their own. Ministry should understand that a localization process is more than just translating a few words and in developing a locale there are many commonalities among a country’s languages i.e. Pashto, Dari, Uzbek and etc. By having a platform where all experts could use the shared resources to develop fonts, addons, applications and thesaurus in their respective languages but also share their developed resources as a country’s unit localization effort to the vendors. And lastly but most importantly the ministry could use this platform to do research and develop fonts and keyboard layouts for other Afghan languages like Pishai, Balochi, Pamiri, Kirghizi, Darwazi, Domari, Ormuri, Tangshewi, Turkmen, Sanglechi-Ishkashmi, Wakhi etc. in order to preserve the languages and preserve the written scripts of these languages in digital format.
The progress of Dari language localization has improved due to efforts by individuals who had passion and vision for their language and that is a good prospect for Afghanistan. However Pashto language localization progress has been extremely slow over the past 10 years or less. There hasn’t been any major outcomes that the language would be proud of. Vendors are reluctant to include the language in their future releases, Afghan ministry technology experts doesn’t seem to know where to begin and are highly dependent on individuals experts who have been trying to tweak a few plugins here and there, but that’s negligible. If you have a look at the languages support by major OS vendors, Pashto is nowhere in the list.
The table above could need some update and if you think support for a language exist or it doesn’t please feel free to write to me and I’ll update it.