In Bijawar, the language is Bundelkhandi (or Bundeli), a quasi-dialect of Hindi. The written languages, in Devanagari script, are exactly the same. The comparison, for example, between “English” as a concept and the English specifically spoken in California might be apt.

I speak some Hindi, although not very well and not very fluently. I basically can’t read or write at all, although some attempts were made at teaching me when I was younger. My parents both speak Hindi (and my dad sometimes reverts back to Bundelkhandi if he spends enough time around his mother). A major challenge for me is going to be amassing the proper vocabulary and developing the confidence to speak intelligently about computer and education issues in Hindi.

Spoken language aside, I’ve been looking at some material about Hindi computing. There’s some ill-organized information on Wikipedia, some of which is in Hindi.

As far as the Internet goes, Google is offered in Hindi.

The terms “internationalization” and “localization” are thrown around a lot in developing software for other languages. The best definition of the two I’ve found is this: Internationalization, or globalization, is the development process that creates technology used to work with language content (text editing, formatting, printing; culturally-correct formatting of dates, times, currency, collation and linguistic casing). Localization is the development process which translates the whole user interface into a local language. Internationalization must happen before localization.

First up was trying to get Microsoft Windows and Office in Hindi. The information is confusing, sometimes out-of-date, and not all in the same place. I’ve broken down some basics here.

Windows XP has not been fully localized in Hindi yet. At the operating system level, you can download and install the XP Language Interface Pack (LIP), which is basically as far as they’ve gotten with the localization process. A lot of the user interface and some context menus change to Hindi, but I’m not using this option because it’s incomplete and sort of useless if engaging people who cannot read English at all. It’s also impossible to easily switch between English and Hindi support; you have to uninstall the LIP to get back to English and then reinstall it if you want Hindi again.

There’s also something called the Multilingual User Interface (MUI), which apparently allows the user interface to be changed to other languages, reversibly and easily, upon installation. It’s only available through volume licensing programs, so I have no idea how good it is.

The actually useful bit starts now. XP has been internationalized, so I am planning on enabling Indic language support at the operating system level. This change allows input in Devanagari and changes some small bits of information around the OS, like the date and time formatting. You’ll need your Windows XP CD to install these plugins.

Office 2003 and 2007 have been released fully in Hindi for retail purchase, so there’s no free plugin option to get a Hindi user interface. I did enable Indic language support at the Office level in order to input in Devanagari. The keyboard layout is available here.

As far as other applications go, Firefox is available in Hindi, which was pretty cool when combined with Google in Hindi. Adobe has a beta Hindi version of Reader. Open Office purports to be available, but the installer link was broken. There are probably plenty of other online resources in Hindi, but I wasn’t interested in much else besides what I’ve listed here.

This whole process got me thinking about the issues facing computing in Hindi (and more generally, languages other than English). How do big software companies enable such translations? Some of the current translation of Windows context menus and options and such into Hindi is pretty clunky. Even Firefox in Hindi employs arch language that’s never used on a daily basis. And what about enabling third-party support? What happens when the software that runs drivers, for example, isn’t available in Hindi? I know that most end-users, even ones who are native English speakers, don’t ever touch such software, but it’s still a question that confounds the notion of total accessibility.

I’ve resigned myself to the knowledge that on this trip, the people who I’ll likely be helping with computer literacy will have to possess at least some basic English reading skills. This is unfortunate, but I think unavoidable for now. They will be able to produce Office documents in Hindi, which is pretty great, especially for teachers who want to prepare lesson plans and handouts.

Update (January 19, 2009): The font Kruti Dev 010 (available for free download at many sites) is a Hindi Remington keyboard mapping. Stickers are available for something like Rs. 0.50 in India to show you where the corresponding Hindi alphabet is on the QWERTY keyboard. If you’re not familiar with this new layout, Hindi typing is a huge pain, but there are some people who’ve been trained on the Remington system for typewriters, and those skills translate to the computer.