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Breaking the Language Barrier: SIL launches free open-source software at World Summit on the Information Society

November 2005 SIL will launch free and open-source software on a LiveCD* at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia in November. This breakthrough technology allows languages with complex scripts to be written and published on paper as well as in cyberspace. SIL's Graphite rendering engine has been added to various application suites such as Mozilla's Firefox and Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org and Gnome. Now ethnic minority groups can use this technology to write and publish content in their own language.

SIL will present the software at WSIS on 15 November during session two of the Round Table which is being sponsored by New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) under the auspices of the African Union. While the initial focus of SIL's presentation "A Digital Voice for All" is on Africa, the session addresses global issues affecting everyone.

Software to bridge the digital divide for ethnic minority languages

Currently, speakers of major languages such as English, Chinese or Arabic can choose from a wide range of computer software applications. But speakers of ethnic minority languages have to use software not designed for their specific needs. For example, if the software used does not have enough vowels or cannot handle a linguistic feature such as tone, then it is unusable.

SIL senior software developer and presenter at WSIS, Dennis Drescher, states, "We are closer than ever to the day when commonly available computers will be able to work with all of the world's languages; when all languages will have a 'digital voice'."

Endorsed by the UN General Assembly, WSIS-Phase Two-will be held in Tunisia 16-18 November, with preliminary meetings conducted 13-15 November. The first phase took place in Geneva, hosted by the Government of Switzerland, in December 2003. SIL's Permanent Representative to UNESCO, David Pearson, will also be in attendance and participate in WSIS, along with other SIL staff.


*LiveCD: "Complex scripts - Live" is a demo CD of writing system components taking into account the needs of complex scripts around the world. This stack contains the KMFL (Keyboard Mapper for Linux) smart input method, a set of "smart" fonts, Graphite (an extensible and cross-platform complex script rendering library) and various Graphite-enabled applications. This is all FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software). The Live CD also contains links and various documents and publications presenting the work of SIL International with ethnic minority languages (annual reports, illustrations, shellbooks and content samples) as well as the source code for the SIL software. The Live CD is based on Ubuntu.

For more information, visit the Graphite project homepage.