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Interview: Aynu Localization Team

Louis Suárez-Potts


Last month, HIRANO Kazunari notified the Native-Lang Confederation that Aynu localization had begun. Aynu is the language spoken by the Aynu (or Ainu), the indigenous people of Japan, especially its northernmost island, Hokkaido. As Mr. Hirano pointed out, the localization effort is important, both for technical and social reasons. To me, it demonstrates quite clearly's ability to bridge differences and give voice to silences, to provide all people the tool that enables them to engage on equal footing with others. Below, is a brief interview I conducted via email in English late last April.

Tell us about your team, who is on it, how they got together....

YOKOYAMA Hiroyuki: Mr. Hirano started this project. He sent me an e-mail to ask me to cooperate in creating an Aynu version. I agreed. Then I asked Mr. Tazawa to cooperate on the project because I was acquainted with his skill for the language in an Aynu speech contest. He agreed. Although I am not Aynu, I am a member of the Aynu PEN CLUB, a voluntary organization which both Aynu people and non-Aynu people can join. The organization publishes the Aynu Times, an Aynu newspaper, for the rehabilitation of the Aynu language. I help make this newspaper. For example, here are my articles in Aynu and Esperanto:

HIRANO Kazunari: Yokoyama-san has told all about how the Aynu localization team was formed. They go to Aynu language classes near their locations. They give themselves Aynu names, Yokoyama "Kumanesir," and Tazawa "Aysirosi." "Kumanesir (kuma-ne-sir)" is an Aynu location name, which literally means "Crossbar Shaped Mountain (drying pole - copula - mountain)." "Aysirosi" was a "mark carved on the tip of a bamboo arrow to show proof of one's ownership." I am not yet. I have little knowledge about Aynu. I would like to learn it hard and give myself an Aynu name in future. We are inviting Aynu people to join this project and other people who are interested in it.

Why Aynu?

TAZAWA Takashi: There are three main reasons for me to think that it is important to make Aynu localization of a success.

First, this project is very important and urgent to move ahead on the struggle for self-rule of the Aynu people. As you may know, the Japanese government has not given an official recognition to their ethnic identity. The history provides incontestable evidence that their ancestors suffered persecution and discrimination from their neighbors, Japanese. To establish their ethnical identity not only in Japan but also all over the world, the success of this project is absolutely imperative, I believe.

Second, this project will generate a great hope to the other people whose languages are the most endangered along the Pacific Ocean. Even if an ethnic group that does not have any characters or letters, they should have the rights to enjoy the benefit of the advancement of computerization. They can build up their own self-confidence. They should not suffer from a widening gap between the information-rich and the information-poor in the age of computerization.

Third, this project will enable the Aynu people to revive their language, the core component of their culture. Recently the number of the Aynu language learners is increasing. It is undoubtedly difficult to revive a culture once almost lost. But a lot of the Aynu people have never given up the revival of their culture. Not a few people has done their best to keep their dream come true some day.

There will be a lot of obstacles to realize their dream. But it is doubtless that the success of this project makes their dream a reality.

YOKOYAMA: Because I am an Esperantist, I regard the language rights and the language diversity as important: the human rights to enjoy the language of one's own choice (LANGUAGE RIGHTS) and the language variety as indispensable source of enrichment for human (LANGUAGE DIVERSITY). Just for reference, here is Prague Manifesto of the movement for the international language Esperanto.

Aynu are the indigenous people in Hokkaido, Sakhalin and so on. As I am a member of the Hokkaido Esperanto League, it is natural for me to work with Aynu people on activities concerning Aynu language.

My biggest reason, why Aynu, is that I myself am very interested in it. Aynu culture embraces the symbiosis of human and nature, which people today almost forget. Just for reference, here is an explanation for Aynu culture.

HIRANO: I want to prove that can be localized with any spoken language, even if they didn't have their original letters or they have very few native speakers.

What are the difficulties that you've encountered in localizing (OOo) to Aynu?

TAZAWA: We do not have enough knowledge or experience to accomplish this project. Moreover, we are now suffering a severe shortage of collaborators. It is true that we are placed in the same situation of Don Quixote. Although we are in the same mission of philosophy, we critically lack the necessary number of collaborators.

YOKOYAMA: Aynu is the people who are losing their own language because of the integration policy of the Japanese government since the Meiji era. Recently there is a tide in the world to protect the rights of indigenous people. In the United Nations a deliberation proceeds on "Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/2/Add.1 (1994)". Following such a worldwide tide, a Diet man from Aynu and other people concerned made efforts to enact "Act for the Promotion of Aynu Culture & Dissemination of Knowledge Regarding Aynu Traditions (1997)" which became a law recently. But the law only focuses on their culture. It does not really address "the indigenous rights". I hope that "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" be resolved in the U.N and ratified by the Japanese government. Then the situation regarding Aynu would be improved.

Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/2/Add.1 (1994).

Act for the Promotion of Aynu Culture & Dissemination of Knowledge Regarding Aynu Traditions in JAPAN (1997)

As a language of indigenous people, Aynu language has not developed along with modernization because of the integration policy and discrimination. It has almost no modern terms, including those for computer terminology. It is very difficult to translate such terms into Aynu because we cannot find right words which fit to terms of user interface with software such as

What elements in OOo made (or make) the localization easier?

HIRANO: Functionally has got a good localization framework including a tool "localize." Even if it is buggy a bit, "localize" can extract all terms which should be translated as a GSI file. (I still don't know why it is called GSI). Translating it, anyone can localize with his or her mother language. And we have the great community. I learn a lot from the list such as dev@l10n and dev@native-lang. Of course l10n Web pages and the IssueZilla help. Localization (l10n) projects are led by the very valuable developers who advise us, give us information and point us to resources.

Where should there be improvements?

TAZAWA: We are in dire need of help from all people on the globe. Especially from ethnic groups who have completely different value concept from European and American countries. We want to learn from hunting and fish catching ethnic groups if we can.

Of course, as a matter of first priority, we must be experts in some field concerning this project. We are three now. Mr. Hirano guides us in the proper direction. Mr. Yokoyama supports us with rich knowledge and experience on computing and the Aynu language. I do translations. Nonetheless, we need help from all over the world.

HIRANO: A ja.oo.o member has found that the “localize” tool is programmed with C++. He says it can be better written by perl. Are we continue using it for localization? Extracting terms, translating them and putting them back? Isn't there a better way to do?

Aynu language doesn't have ISO codes. Should we depend on ISO codes to localize I think localization tools and buildability need improvement.

YOKOYAMA: Aynu localization is in an experimental phase, far from stable. We are doing what we think we can. As for the language code, which Hirano-san mentioned, we are asking the Japanese Standards Association a proper protocol to apply and request for ISO codes. Currently in Japan the Japanese Standards Association deals with ISO639-1 and ISO639-2, which are discussed in the ISO TC37 committee.

How have the OOo teams helped? Where would you like more help?

YOKOYAMA: We want to learn from other localization teams, who paraphrased the user interface terms with simple and understandable words for themselves or created new words for them.

HIRANO: I extracted the user interface terms from the source and put them on the Web, where our team members can see anytime. Also I put parts of them to the Wiki as a localization workspace where our team members can work anytime. But they are not sufficient. I know some native-lang projects introduce a Web translation tool and an Eclipse-enabled tool. Both of them are not easy to get installed and used. It would be appreciated if their installation sets and documentation are prepared.

Finally, what do you see for the future?

TAZAWA: If the Aynu people can use in an effective manner, it will be a great resource for them to make their dream come true, that is, the revival of their culture. Late on in the near future, they will be able to accomplish their autonomy. For that purpose, the localization project of is inevitable in this information age.

YOKOYAMA: Not only Aynu but any indigenous people on the globe can choose a language they want to use, enjoy and develop it without suffering discrimination. This is my wish.

HIRANO: Tens of Hundreds of localized versions of

Thank you all for your time and effort!

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