CGNet Swara, IIIT Naya Rapipur, and Microsoft Research Lab have made progress on a new Interactive Neural Machine Translation app during lockdown that they hope will enable the Gond Adivasi community to rejuvenate youth engagement in the Gondi language.
Joint efforts among local Indian organizations and Microsoft Research Lab have developed an interactive neural machine translation (INMT) app that translates between Hindi and Gondi. Spoken by over two million people, the Gondi language is used primarily in several Indian states, including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh.
Although the language is prevalent in many of India’s central regions, it remains a predominantly spoken language. Furthermore, the language varies based on the state, with many dialects passed down orally over centuries.
The absence of written literature in the language, along with a shortage of local teachers who can instruct in the language, has led the non-profit CGNet Swara to develop ways for Gondi speakers to stay informed despite lack of access to Hindi services.
An Indian voice-based online portal, CGNet Swara has worked with communities in central tribal India by providing them a platform to report on local news through phone calls. Seeking more streamlined communications, the organization partnered with the International Institute of Information Technology Naya Rapipur and a Microsoft Research Lab to create the app to translate between Gondi and Hindi.
“We did one workshop at the Microsoft Research Lab office in Bengaluru in 2019. But the app was developed during the lockdown and is likely to be released later this month,” said Shubhranshu Choudhary, a former journalist who co-founded CGNet Swara. Since the onset of the pandemic, the company has worked with community members from several demographics to collect language data. To date, researchers have yielded at least more than 3,000 words and 35,000 sentences and phrases. The efforts come as organizations globally are making an effort to deliver translated resources to communities in need.
“Gondi is a very good language to use as a case study as it has a substantial speaker base across six states. It is not endangered and yet zero resources are available for the same. Through CGNet Swara, we became aware of the various issues that the Gond Adivasis face, and how access to the language could help the cultural identity of the community,” says Kalika Bali, principal researcher, Microsoft Research Lab.
Along with the translation app, Choudhary also mentioned the Chhattisgarh government’s announcement to shift education in the state to include instruction in tribal languages. To contribute to the transition, CGNet Swara has worked with Pratham Books on an ongoing project to translate 400 children’s books.