Page 1 of 8Sarmad Hussain and Ram Mohan
The world Internet population crossed one billion users in 2005 (Computer Industry Almanac 2006). However, Asia Pacific continues to lag behind North America and Europe in diffusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Compared to 69 per cent of the North American population and 38 per cent of the European population, only about 10 per cent of the Asia Pacific population accesses the Internet (Internet World Stats 2006a), even though China, Japan and South Korea have comparatively high Internet penetration (Internet World Stats 2006b). Low Internet penetration in Asia Pacific's developing nations limits their potential to exploit the benefits of ICT.
Asia Pacific is lagging behind in the use of ICTs not only because of the unavailability of affordable hardware and connectivity, but also because computing is still primarily in non-Asian languages. The Asia Pacific region is home to about half of the world's spoken languages: more than 3,500 languages are spoken in Asia Pacific out of about 6,8001 languages spoken in the entire world (UNESCO 2004). These languages employ a variety of writing systems (Omniglot.com 2006). Twenty-one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world are also from this region (Katsiavriades and Qureshi 2006). Therefore, enabling ICTs in the local languages is necessary for effective access to information in Asia Pacific (Pimienta 2005). To cite one example, a recent study published in Korea Times reports that due to insufficient adaptation to local needs, Google serves only 1.5 per cent of the Korean Internet search market (Wagers 2006). Most Koreans use the Korean search engines which meet their requirements better.
The adaptation of ICT to local needs is called localization. Localization can be defined as the process of developing, tailoring and/or enhancing the capability of hardware and software to input, process and output information in the language, norms and metaphors used by a community. The localization process must also capture the variances in the use of a language. For example, English speakers in the United States spell words differently from English speakers in the United Kingdom, and Punjabi speakers use Gurmukhi script in India and Arabic script in Pakistan to write the same language. Even more challenging is enabling ICT for oral or unwritten languages like Jatapu and Koya in India (Daswani 1998), as it would be completely dependent on a localized speech interface.
The terms internationalization and globalization are also used in the context of local language computing but with subtle differences from localization. Internationalizing ICTs requires designing the technology in a generic fashion so that it has the ability to support multiple languages. However, internationalization does not enable any particular language. Enabling technology for a particular language is called localization. Globalization of ICTs in this context refers to first internationalizing and then localizing technology to support multiple languages.2
Localization is conventionally defined or understood in a narrow sense—that is, it is usually limited to interface translation and other basic changes in the computing platform. We suggest that localization has a broader scope that includes the entire range of script, speech and language technology to enable access to information for the end-user.
This chapter provides a brief overview of localization and the process required for enabling it. In addition, the role of regional and international organizations in localization is discussed and the level of localization achieved across different countries within the region is summarized. The chapter concludes with a discussion of policy and planning considerations to achieve wider localization in Asia Pacific, highlighting some of the issues and choices in making localization policy decisions.