Microsoft Releases Maori Language Software

Microsoft New Zealand launched its reo Māori versions of Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Office at the recent World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WiPCE), held in Hamilton, New Zealand at Waikato University from November 27-December 1.

The education conference, which meets once every three years in order to celebrate and share education strategies for indigenous peoples, was heralded by this year’s host, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, as "an occasion for bringing interesting and innovative ideas that evoke inspiration and pride as indigenous peoples."

Attended by indigenous educators, researchers, and students, the event brought more than 3,000 indigenous people to Hamilton. The themes discussed were Leadership, Research and Development, and Horizons of Knowledge.

The release of Microsoft Office and Windows XP software in reo Māori fit well with the themes of this year’s WiPCE. The software was developed in collaboration with the Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori), an organization established under the 1987 Māori Language Act for the purpose of promoting the use of Māori as a living language and as an ordinary means of communication, as well as with Waikato University’s School of Māori and Pacific Development.

Haami Piripi, Chief Executive of the Māori Language Commission, told Microsoft’s press center that because the numbers of people studying and speaking in reo Māori are on the rise, "access to Māori language versions of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows will create an opportunity for Māori language users to work totally in a reo Māori environment at the cutting edge of global technology."

Piripi added that the new software will "[enhance the ability of Māori language users] to achieve academic and personal goals in an environment that hasn’t previously been made available."

The software, called a Language Interface Pack (LIP), works as a "skin" over existing installations of English-language versions of Windows XP and the standard Microsoft Office applications of Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. The LIP translates most of the text that appears on screen, such as the contents of drop-down menus, dialogue boxes, and error messages.

LIPs are available for free download and may also be distributed on behalf of Microsoft by participating third parties such as governments, local language authorities, and universities.

The reo Māori LIPs are part of Microsoft’s Local Language Program, a global initiative that began in March 2004 that fosters the development and expansion of local IT economies and regional language groups so that communities can preserve and promote their language and culture while benefiting from IT advancements.

Microsoft develops LIPs in cooperation with local governments and communities in a two part process. In phase one of the project, a locally chosen project moderator works with volunteer translators in order to create a Community Glossary. The glossary ensures that the local language is defined and standardized so that the technical terminology remains consistent.

Phase two involves a collaborative effort among local governments, linguistic authorities, and universities, in which the LIP is developed using the glossary created by the Community Glossary Project. In New Zealand, Waikato University’s School of Māori and Pacific Development was appointed as the technology partner to work with the Māori Language Commission and Microsoft in order to develop the Māori LIPs.

The Māori Language Commission is excited by the prospect of this new technology, as it provides a new domain for total language immersion. The project has been poorly received by groups in other regions, however.

The Mapuche peoples of Chile were disgruntled with Microsoft’s development of a Language Interface Pack for their language, Mapudungun. In an August 12, 2005 letter addressed to Bill Gates, traditional Mapuche authorities expressed their concerns over the agreement between Microsoft and the government of Chile to create a Windows operating system in Mapudungun. They believed that the development of this software by non-Mapuche organizations, such as the Ministry of Education, constituted a violation of their human rights to their cultural and collective heritage.

The Mapuche also took issue with the fact that the agreement calls for State-appointed specialists to create a Mapundungun grammar, while the Chilean education system both fails to provide Mapuche children with an adequate education in their own language and prevents the Mapuche people from establishing its own education system.

Traditional Mapuche authorities acknowledged Microsoft’s good will in supporting the linguistic-technical development of Mapudungun, but concluded their letter by expressing the belief that the Mapuche peoples have sole ownership of their cultural heritage. The Mapuche have also urged Microsoft to revise its agreement with the Chilean government.

Microsoft has developed approximately 40 languages as part of its Local Language Program, including Inuktitut, Quechua, and Mohawk, among other indigenous languages.