For three years a small group of volunteers have given up their time at least once or twice a month to take part in an ambitious and unique project. Camped out in a small office in El Alto, a sprawling city near La Paz, members of Jaqi Aru, which means language of the people, spend hours on their life’s work.
And that is a passion for translating Spanish words into Aymara, one of Bolivia’s thirty six native languages. Aymara is the second most common language spoken by Bolivians and it is also designated as “vulnerable” according to UNESCO.
The aim is to get Facebook to recognize it as a formal language option but in order to do that they have to translate thousands of words into Aymara for the social network.
So far they have painstakingly translated 25,000 words, sometimes spending ten minutes debating the best translations.
What would the online Aymara community say? Is it the correct translation? Is there a better word? “These are all questions we ask ourselves when me meet,” says Ruben Hillari, one of the coordinators of the project.
Making life even more difficult for this dedicated group of translators is that some of Facebook’s most common words and phrases don’t exist in Aymara.
Before 2012 there was no way to express in Aymara how to “share” an image or a link, how to “like” a status or a friends post, there was no way of saying “news feed” and no way to instruct how to turn on “chat.”
Thanks to the work of Jaqi Aru all that has changed. They have re-written the language, made it contemporary and fresh.
And they have done all this without any government support and with their own money. They use their own computers and pay for the internet themselves. “This is so important to us,” says Martin Canaviri, a member of Jaqi Aru. “We want people to chat on Facebook like they do in other languages, to share photos, opinions and other experiences, it’s a special moment for the Aymara community,” Canaviri told teleSur English.
The hope is more young people will learn to speak Aymara once it gets the official Facebook status. “It’s hard to translate some words,” says Elias Quispe Chura, one of the translators. “But we love Aymara and I’m sure people will help us to finish the project,” Quispe told teleSUR English.
Aymara is spoken by 1.3 million people in Bolivia. And there are more than half a million other speakers scattered across Peru, Chile and Argentina. The group says this project will help keep the language stay alive and is a source of pride for Aymara speakers around the world. “They’re happy, they tell us that … They say that’s my language, my parents speak that language and so I want to learn and remember this language too,”’ says Ruben Hillari.
After three years of hard work the end is almost in sight. With just two thousand words left to translate, the project is on course to be finished by Christmas. Facebook’s translation department will then verify their translations and after that the translators say Aymara speakers will finally be able to use Facebook in their own language next year.
Soon they could be choosing to “kusawa” or “like” something they see on the social network. And that’s something the translators thought would never pop up on their facebook news feed when they started out on this project.