Developing a linguistic standard for language localization

Rajesh Ranjan’s FUEL is a standard language terminology that can be used across interfaces and translations


Rajesh Rajan, language maintainer at Red Hat India. Photo: Mint
Rajesh Rajan, language maintainer at Red Hat India. Photo: Mint

Mumbai: Faced with the recurring issue of the lack of a common standard for language translation by various software applications, 42-year-old Rajesh Ranjan, language maintainer for Hindi at global open source solutions firm Red Hat Software India Pvt. Ltd decided to formulate a standard language terminology that could be used across all computer interfaces for translation. This idea gave birth to the project Frequently Used Entries for Localisation or FUEL in 2008, founded by Ranjan.

“There was a lot of inconsistency in the translation from English to Hindi of commonly used desktop entries like “file”, “save”, “open”, etc. that was interfering with the translation of various software and applications into Hindi. Thus, in 2008, I began searching on various websites for the most commonly used Hindi terms for various software terminology and began working on the FUEL project to emerge with a single, standardized language terminology platform that could be used as reference by open source software developers across the world,” said Ranjan, a statistics graduate from KMC University, Delhi, who also has a diploma in journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Delhi, and a postgraduate diploma in translation studies from the University of Hyderabad.

“Red Hat started with the localization effort for Indian languages in 2004, and during these projects, we found that there were several Hindi words being used for a single word in English, resulting in a lot of confusion in software translation. This is why we threw our support behind Rajesh who started FUEL and wanted it to be a community project with several contributors who could discuss, suggest and verify linguistic terminology to emerge with one common standard that could serve as a reference guide for Red Hat’s projects as well as other developers in India and globally,” said Satish Mohan, director (software engineering), Red Hat India.

“FUEL is now the official linguistic standard for localization for all Red Hat’s Indian language software interfaces, like Fedora for example,” he added.

Red Hat was a supporter and key funder of FUEL from the beginning, while Ranjan and his team of fellow Red Hat colleagues including Amarpreet Singh, Ankitkumar Patel, I. Felix and Jaswinder Singh powered the project. The project eventually became the FUEL community, in turn part of the larger free and open-source software community. The FUEL community has ten regular global contributors including linguists, translation experts and technologists, besides several occasional contributors.

The contributors have helped FUEL graduate from offering a standard terminology, style guide and assessment matrix only in Hindi, to offering the same in 57 languages, including 23 Indian languages today—all completely free of cost.

Recognizing the effort put in by FUEL, other companies like Mozilla Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation also joined Red Hat in supporting FUEL’s research and various research-related activities like holding monthly conferences for expert evaluation of its language terminology standards for various languages, and yearly conferences for the FUEL developer community to meet and discuss language terminology standards.

However, a major turning point for FUEL came in August 2012, when the Maharashtra government adopted FUEL as its official linguistic standard for all its e-governance projects. This recognition followed FUEL’s three-year partnership with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) Noida. In early 2014, some e-governance projects of the central government also began to use FUEL as a local language terminology standard.

“Given our relationship with the FOSS community spanning 6-8 years, FUEL was on our agenda for standardization of language terminology, as we were doing similar work for the e-governance projects for the Maharashtra government. Thus, we decided to adopt FUEL as it was in existence already and also backed by Red Hat, and with the government’s support, FUEL became the default localization standard for all e-governance projects in Maharashtra,” remarked Mahesh Kulkarni, associate director and head of the language technology group GIST at C-DAC. Gradually, from just a desktop version, FUEL was made available in a mobile version in 2011, web version in 2012 and cloud version in 2014.

Rajan and his team are now also working on a non-information communication technology (ICT) module for specific domains like agriculture, healthcare and public distribution system which should be ready in the next 3-4 months.

Recognizing its accuracy, reliability, transparency and flexibility, FUEL won the Manthan Award in December 2014 “for developing a reference resource for standardizing software translation”. FUEL was also a Manthan Award finalist in 2012.

“The Manthan award saw our social media followers double in just three to four months of receiving the award, and we got a lot more requests to add more languages to the FUEL standard. We are hoping to offer 80 languages as a FUEL standard by the year-end., said Ranjan.

He has spent 10 years at Red Hat and is also the coordinator for independent small projects requiring language translation.

One of these is bhashaghar.in, started by Ranjan six years ago to bring standardization in language translation for several dying Indian languages and remotely spoken languages like Maithili, Angika, etc. Ranjan also published a book in 2013 entitled, Apna Computer Apni Bhasha Mein, meaning “Your Computer in Your Language”. “My ultimate goal is to have a common language standard for all languages, and I am working towards this direction,” he said.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation.

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