Centre for Internet & Society

Odia getting the "classical" status last year was certainly a proud moment for the people of the state, but, it is yet to feature among the languages available in Google's popular translation service.

The article by Anwesha Ambaly was published in the Telegraph on April 6, 2015. Subhashish Panigrahi was quoted.

Over 90 languages, including nine from India (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu) are part of the service.

Odia, which is spoken by over 45 million people globally, is yet to debut here.

Techies working in the field attribute the reason to the lack of web presence of the language.

"Google has set parameters on the basis of which translations are available. Only those languages that have a wide use on the Internet and have enough online content are included in the list. The online presence of Odia is quite insignificant," said Subhashish Panigrahi, programme officer at Centre for Internet and Society and a regular contributor to Odia Wikipedia.

Among the limited data in Odia available online, Odia Wikipedia and Odia Wikisource have emerged as important reference sources for all kinds of information.

The Odia Wikipedia serves as an online encyclopaedia that was initiated in 2002 and hosts over 8,000 articles in Odia. The Odia Wikisource was launched in the state last year and is run by volunteers and communities. It is a sister concern of Odia Wikipedia that makes rare Odia books available on the Internet.

However, a Google spokesperson said: "We value all Indic languages and search and Gmail are available in 16 Indian languages with more languages to follow"

Recently, the entire Odia Bhagbata by Jagannath Das was made available on Wikisource. Also, Bhubaneswar-based organisation Srujanika, in collaboration with NIT, Rourkela, has digitized over 750 books. But these apart, there are no major online portals available in Odia.

Panigrahi and his contributor friends are presently working at promoting the Google Translate community, which is a platform for language enthusiasts and volunteers interested in improving translation quality for their language or help Google add it to translate.

"To ensure more availability of online content, people should be encouraged to share information on the web. More Odia content on the web will get a wider reach," said the techie.

"We are quite hopeful that the translator would be available in Odia soon."

The universal web-compatible Unicode font for Odia language was developed in 2000. Despite the Unicode standard having been made available over a decade ago, Odia language is not used actively on the Internet.

"We are still stuck to using outdated fonts such as Akruti and Sreelipi for typing text in Odia and most of these are not compatible for using on the Internet. There are thousands of book and articles available in these fonts. Most of the important content available on the government portals also uses the older fonts. Unless content is available in Unicode, it will not be searchable, sharable and reusable on the Internet," said Panigrahi.

One of the earliest websites in Odia was developed by Ganesh Mishra in 1999 for a popular Odia daily. But the website was shut down after six years when the concept of e-paper came into being.

"These days, most of the publishers of Odia newspapers and magazines have come up with e-papers which are nothing but the scanned images of the original pages. But an online search won't display them as results. Online content in Unicode is accessible through search engines," said the website developer.

He said that people have so many alternatives on the Internet that the absence of Odia language is not felt. "Customers often initiate commercial websites in Odia but soon request us to change it to English because it was inconvenient for users," said Mishra.

Some youngsters in the state are coming up with online portals to promote Odia literature. Jyoti Prasad Patnaik, a doctor by profession, has been running an online Odia literary magazine since 2006.

"The Internet is the most powerful medium of communication these days and there could be no better way to popularise our language other than this. When I started out, there were hardly any readers. Today my website has around 5,000 visitors every month. The number is growing slowly and I hope it will increase in the future," said Patnaik.