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Odia techies working hard to breach the language divide in Internet – Times of India

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BHUBANESWAR: Odisha was the first state in the country to form based on language on April 1, 1936 while Odia is among the six Indian classical languages. However, with time the strong feeling for language has taken a backseat and technological advancement has pushed it further. Unlike other regional languages Odia has nil or very little presence in the world wide web or internet while linguists blamed it on lack of resources and political will for losing its string in the modern-day technology.
A few individuals have been working on developing tools and contents in Odia, but the efforts are too little compared to the requirement.
“No doubt there is a need to increase Odia content on the internet as the number of internet users are increasing. Language is not confined to writings only but spoken language has more reach through the internet and smartphones. More and more Odia technocrats and linguists should team up and make this classical language more modern and tech friendly so that large number of people can access and read it,” said Debi Prasanna Pattanayak, noted linguist, who has been giving emphasis on formulating a language policy for the growth and development of languages.
Language experts said, there is a lot of talk about artificial intelligence in Odia language, but the work is much less than other languages. For this, at first need an easy-to-type Unicode Odia typing tool. But the Odia Unicode tool has not been prepared to type easily in Odia till now. In this situation, the state government should take special steps and promote this work both government and privately. It is unfortunate that the Odisha government has not taken any steps in this regard so far.
“While there is no initiative or incentive at the government level, some work is being done at the private level. The Institute of Odia Studies and Research (IOSR) has been working on this since 2014. IOSR had prepared an easy Unicode Odia typing tool called ‘Pathisutra’ or ‘Amalipi’ and submitted it to the Government of Odisha since 2016, which is still awaiting the government’s decision. Once approved, other software under AI will pave the way for the manufacture,” said aid Subrat Prusty, a researcher in Odia language and member secretary of Institute of Odia Studies and Research. There are several factors for which a large number of Odia speaking people are using internet are data availability at a low cost, rising disposable income, growth in internet penetration and use of smartphones, and improvements in digital literacy in rural Odisha.
“Our objective is to break the language divide in the internet. Advance voice translation, and recognition technology will help odia internet users to search, navigate and browse through the net and also cater the millennial crowd. However, among many challenges, lack of data and content is one of the prominent. But the days are not far of when Odia will be present in popular search engines and with lots of contents,” said Bhupen Chauhan, a Natural Language Processing (NLP) expert working in Reverie Language Technologies that has developed several tools in Odia starting from odia keyboard to a free web platform for odia contents.
Ajit Nayak, a professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at SOA University, who has been working on developing a corpus of speech text and image using NLP. “We need language specialists to built the corpus first after which technocrats will pitch in to make tools and datasets. A lot of challenges can be overcome if we can generate datasets for diverse dialects and tribal languages through crowdsourcing exercises,” Nayak said.

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