Localisation in Pakistan
Dr. Sarmad Hussain & Sana Gul take a look at the localisation industry in Pakistan
Originally published in December 2004 issue of Localisation Focus. To learn more about Localisation Focus, click here.
WITH 150 million people speaking more than 60 languages,
localisation has become an important requirement for the IT
industry in Pakistan. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and
also the lingua franca. Other main languages include Punjabi,
Siraiki, Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi, all of which are written in
Arabic script in Pakistan. Local language computing in Pakistan
dates back to the early 1980s, when DOS based word processors
first started emerging. Eventually, systems were developed for
Microsoft Windows 3.1. Most of these systems were based on
Naskh style of writing and supported Urdu and many other
Pakistani languages. However, the preferred style of writing (especially
for Urdu) has been Nastaleeq. As the latter style is very complex,
because, for example, it is much more cursive and context sensitive,
initial word processors could not support it. Commercial
level Nastaleeq support first emerged in the mid-1980s when
Monotype released the Inpage Urdu word processor. This software
is still widely used and is now slowly being replaced with the advent
of Open Type Font technology based software.
At first, most of the word processors developed were not based on
any standards. However, the advent of the internet forced encoding
standardisation. Most of the existing software now is either based
on Unicode or provides export and import facilities to it. The
Unicode standard has also been updated by a proposal from Pakistan
to include initially missing characters of Urdu and other major languages
of Pakistan. Although it has minor problems (for example the
letter Hamza joins in Urdu, but is defined as a non-joiner in
Unicode), Unicode 4.0 supports these languages fairly well. Work is
also underway to develop other computing standards in joint efforts
by the National Language Authority and the Ministry of IT within
the Pakistani Government. Work is already in progress on locale
standardisation including the definition of keyboards and collation.
Work is also underway to translate and standardise terminology on
the interfaces of Information and Communication Technologies
(ICTs) like computers, mobile phones, and handheld devices.
Internet and email have widely triggered the need for localisation
in Pakistan. Local language internet, email and chat programs have
also developed the expectations of the user to have other applications
in local languages as well. This increased demand from users
has encouraged the localisation industry, which was earlier limited
to desktop publishing, to develop. Having realised this necessity,
multiple large projects are also being initiated by the public sector
for its internal use and for providing services to citizens through egovernment
programmes. This is giving a further boost to the localisation
industry in Pakistan.
One of the major public sector localisation initiatives has been the
National ID cards project. Hand-written manually made National
ID cards were previously issued in Pakistan. In 2001, the National
Database and Registration Authority (NADRA, www.nadra.gov.pk)
was specifically commissioned to automate this work. Their task
was to develop a complete Urdu language database of Pakistani citizens
and issue them with computerised local language ID cards. To
date, over 18.3 million Pakistanis have been issued these identity
cards. Most recently, the Pakistani Government commissioned
NADRA to develop computerised Pakistani passports as well as
managing birth certificates and other similar national projects.
Though many of these projects are developed in-house, some work is
also out-sourced to national and international localisation companies,
for example, NCR’s TeraData is being used by NADRA for
development of multilingual (English and Urdu) data storage systems.
Another large-scale initiative of the Punjab state Government
includes the automation of land revenue records. Similar projects are also being started in Pakistani states. Smaller projects include recently
developed software that records Senate and Government proceedings
in Urdu. Recently, work has also stared on converting parts of
the official Pakistani Government website (www.pakistan.gov.pk)
into Urdu. Most of this work is being outsourced to private localisation/
web-development companies by the Ministry of IT. Many of
these companies are also involved in developing localised websites in
other languages such as Spanish and German for European businesses
requiring e-commerce portals.
The Pakistani Government is also eagerly supporting Research
and Development projects to help develop local language support.
At the moment, the Government is supporting an Urdu Localisation
Project (www.e-government.gov.pk) which aims to develop an
English to Urdu Machine Translation system to help enable citizens
to access English centric information on the internet in their local
language. The project also aims to develop an Urdu text to speech
system to target the illiterate and disabled population. This three
year project will end in June 2006.
Due to the increased usage of computers and the internet,
localised operating systems are also under development. Work is in
progress to localise both Microsoft Windows, Mircosoft Office
suite and Linux. In addition, the localisation of hand-held devices is
also being completed by the private sector. However, except for
Urdu, little work is being done for other local languages.
With incredible development in the mobile sector, there is high
demand for localised handsets and services. Companies like Nokia
and Samsung are already providing localised interfaces in Urdu,
though work in other languages is still missing. Only limited services
are being provided by telecommunication service companies at the
moment but there is presently huge potential in the market, from
local language SMS messages to more advanced localised services.
The last few years have seen an immense realisation and focus
shift from earlier English-centric work to localised tools and technologies.
With increased customer demand and technological possibilities,
the localisation industry in Pakistan looks more promising
and dynamic than ever.
About the Authors:
Dr. Sarmad Hussain heads the Center for Research in Urdu
Language Processing (CRULP) at the National University
of Computer and Emerging Sciences (www.nu.edu.pk) in
Lahore, Pakistan. His interests include local language computing,
including script, speech and language processing. He can be
reached at sarmad.hussainNOSPAM@nu.edu.pk (remove NOSPAM to email).
Sana Gul is Regional Research Officer at the Center for Research
in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP) for PAN Localisation projects
focusing on Asian localisation. She is actively involved in document
localisation for Asian languages. She can be reached at
sana.gul@NOSPAMnu.edu.pk (remove NOSPAM to email).