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Language and Translation Industry of India: A Historical and Cultural Perspective (XVIII FIT World Congress 2008, Shanghai, China). Ravi Kumar President Indian Translators Association, New Delhi, India E -mail: A Glance at Languages of India.

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Language and Translation Industry of India: A Historical and Cultural Perspective(XVIII FIT World Congress 2008, Shanghai, China)

Ravi Kumar


Indian Translators Association, New Delhi, India


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A Glance at Languages of India

  • As per Census 1961 count- 1652 mother tongues belonging to five different language families. Apart from them 527 mother tongues were considered unclassifiable at that time.

  • As per Census 2001 count -1635 mother tongues were classified as 1635 rationalized mother tongues and 1957 names which were treated as ‘unclassified’ and relegated to the ‘other’ mother tongue category.

  • The 1635 rationalized mother tongues were further classified into 234 mother tongues and grouped under 122 languages.

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A Glance at Languages of India

122 languages have been further grouped under

  • Indo-European: 24 languages, with a total population of 76.89%, divided into Indo-Aryan (21), Iranian (2) and Germanic (1);

  • Dravidian: 17 languages, with a total population of 20.82%;

  • Austro-Asiatic: 14 languages, with a total population of 1.11%;

  • Tibeto-Burman: 66 languages with a total population of 0.01%;

  • Semito-Hermitic: 1 language, with a total population of 0.01%.

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A Glance at Languages of India

Twenty-two Indian languages, namely

Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri,

Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri,

Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit,

Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Maithili,

Santhali, Dogri and Bodo are spoken by 96.56% of the population of the country and the remaining 3.44% of the population speak the rest of the languages.

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A Legacy of Multi-lingualism

  • Ancient writers used to switch between Pali, Sanskrit, Tamil and Ardhmagadhi.

  • During medieval period, many scholars had mastered Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic.

  • Throughout the history, scholars have been concerned about use of simple language to reach common mass in their local languages, on the other hand languages of the scholars have been different than those for common mass.

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A Legacy of Multi-lingualism and Bi-lingualism

  • Linguistically India, with its States and Union Territories, is made of many mini-Indias. Those who are multilingual constitute some 20% of the total population.

  • Mobility between different states within India makes it mandatory to be multi-lingual.

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A Legacy of Recorded Bilingualism

  • “One of the significant features of Indian bilingualism is that it is complementary. For example, an individual may use a particular language at home, another in the neighborhood and the bazaar, and still another in certain formal domains such as education, administration, and the like”. (J.C. Sharma)

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Language Policies in India

  • The Constitution of India listed fourteen languages (Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu) into its Eighth Schedule in 1950.

  • Since then, this has been expanded thrice, once to include Sindhi, at another time to include Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali.

  • and most recent one to include Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri. The 100th Constitutional Amendment which added these four languages into the Eighth Schedule was supported by all the 338 members present in the Parliament.

  • It has been stated that claims of 33 more languages for inclusion are under consideration.

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Language Policies in India

  • It is worth mentioning the encouraging reports by UNESCO that has appreciated India’s stand on "maintaining linguistic diversity” ... (when) about half of the approximately 6000 languages spoken in the world are under threat, seriously endangered or dying, "it does appreciate that "India has maintained its extensive and well-catalogued linguistic diversity".

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Digital Divide

  • It is interesting to note that though the Information Technology boom has brought a revolution to India and Indian computer wizards are making waves in the Silicon Valley, yet the Digital Divide continues to plague the nation.

  • The pace at which Indian society is trying to absorb these technologies through its organs such as language has added one more divide to those already in existence - the "digital divide" resulting in the disparity in access to information and to the means of communication in 21st Century India.

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Digital Divide

  • Computer penetration in India is estimated to be 7.5 per 1000 people but at the same time, the internet is able to reach only about one percent of the total population of the country.

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Government Initiatives

  • The Technology Development for Indian Languages (TDIL) is the initiative of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. TDIL has been mandated to bridge the digital divide by developing IT tools in local languages in India.

  • Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) is government of India run organization involved in research and development of computers, known of development of super computers

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Role of TDIL and CDAC

  • Translation Support System

  • GyanNidhi

  • Dware Dware Gyan Sampada - Mobile Digital Library

  • Chitraksharika

  • Lekhika

  • On-Line Hindi Vishwakosh

  • On Line IT Terminology

  • Swarnakriti

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Private Initiative

  • In addition, many private players including Indian and multinational giants like Microsoft, IBM, Infosys, Wipro, TCS, Reliance, Airtel, Vodafone etc. are developing software and applications in Indian languages.

  • Needless to say, a major search engine like Google has already started offering search possibilities in Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu, and there are a series of other major players eyeing Indian localization markets.

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CAT Tools

  • Machine Translation in India is relatively young.

  • The earliest efforts date from the late 80s and early 90s. Prominent among these are the projects at IIT Kanpur, University of Hyderabad, NCST Mumbai and CDAC Pune.

  • The Technology Development in Indian Languages (TDIL), an initiative of the Department of IT, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (Government of India), has been instrumental in funding these projects.

  • Since the mid and late 90’s, a few more projects have been initiated—at IIT (Bombay), IIT (Hyderabad), AU-KBC Centre (Chennai) and the Jadavpur University (Kolkata).

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CAT Tools

  • Anglabharat (and Anubharati)MT

  • Anusaaraka MT

  • MaTra HAMT

  • Mantra MT

  • UCSG-based English-Kannada MT

  • UNL-based MT between English, Hindi and Marathi MT

  • Tamil-Hindi Anusaaraka and English-Tamil MT

  • English-Hindi MAT for news sentences

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CAT Tools – Private Initiative

  • English-Hindi Statistical MT - IBM

  • BhashaIndia - Microsoft

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Translation and localization market


  • The Nasscom-Deloitte study on Indian IT Industry: Impacting the Economy and Society says the IT/ITES industry's contribution to the country's GDP has increased to a share of 5.2 percent in 2007, as against 1.2 percent in 1998.

  • And with a growth of 27 per cent in 2007, in 2008, the Indian ITES market is set to cross US$ 25.43 billion.

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Translation and Localization Market - India

  • Based on the reports of NASSCOM that India is sharing 5.2% of the ITES market, and according to the growth pattern depicted by Common Sense Advisory if we take India's share as 5% of the world market, currently Indian language market size may be taken at approx. value of $500 millions which may be summed, in terms of activities, as follows:

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SWOT Analysis


  • Presence of IT giants, IT service providers and the BPO boom create a high demand for Language Professionals. Agencies, Institutions / Universities / Diplomatic Missions, Corporate houses, Government bodies, BPOs, Publishing Houses, E-books, Software companies, etc. all use the services of Language Professionals in a big way.

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SWOT Analysis


Translators are not conversant with CAT tools

No stringent quality control processes

Use of CAT tools has been on the rise : Like TRADOS, SDLX,

wordfast, Across, etc. are costly

Cost effective alternatives can be

Heartsome, XLIFF editor

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SWOT Analysis


  • Opportunities abound in India, one of the largest markets in the world, not only for Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, etc.) but rather for all languages in combination with English as well.

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SWOT Analysis


  • Indian Translators involved in foreign language translation activities face relatively more challenges than their counterparts involved in translating Indian languages.

  • Global competition is a major factor. This fairly unique situation of an Asian country working extensively with foreign languages makes the foreign language Indian translator vulnerable to hostility not only from the “traditional” opponents of “outsourced” work but, more disturbingly, from colleagues within the nation who feel that it is only their work which has “legitimacy”.

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Role of Indian Translators Association

  • With newly formed National Translation Mission by Government of India, ITAINDIA shall play a major role, acting as a communicator between government and translation community of India.

  • Assist in joint ventures

  • Unite translators

  • Create awareness

  • Network with national and international bodies and forums

  • Actively participate in language and translation related activities at national level as well as international level

  • Fight for the cause of translators community of India as well as world in general

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End note

  • The unique cultural diversity of the Language and Translation Industry of India thus provides rich prospects for mutually enriching collaborations across the globe.

  • Accustomed to economize as a philosophy of life, the Indian translation industry preserves age old humanistic Asian values in an age of cut throat competition, thus bringing a two-fold benefit in an era of soaring prices and plummeting human relations.

  • Even with all these valiant endeavors, a lot still remains to be done by individuals and companies, as well as by the government, to promote this nascent industry and incorporate the required changes, to adapt and upgrade skills and to use new technologies

  • but the baseline is set, and I am sure the existing synergy will translate into great opportunities for those who look towards India as potential investment destination.

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For comments write to:

Ravi Kumar, President

Indian Translators Association

K-5/B, Lower Ground Floor, Kalkaji

New Delhi –110019, India

Tel: +91-11-26291676 Telefax: +91-11-41675530

E-mail: Web: