According to statistics compiled by German linguists in 1979, there are 5,651 identified languages in the world, and, according to the French Academy of Sciences, 2,796 of these use written script. NiuTrans, a machine translation system that supports most major languages in the world, has recently added 84 new languages to its database, bringing the total to 388.
The newly launched languages in NiuTrans cover 50 countries and regions across six continents, including 49 languages from Africa, 14 from Asia, eight each from North America and Oceania, four from South America and one from Europe.
With the implementation of the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy, the country is expanding its cooperation with other countries in the world, especially those in Africa, Latin America and the Indo-Pacific region. According to data by China’s General Administration of Customs in 2021, the total trade volume between China and Africa exceeded $250 billion, a year-on-year increase of 35.3%, while that between China and Latin America exceeded $450 billion, up 14.4% year-on-year.
While many people use English, French, Spanish and Portuguese as official languages, they may speak other dialects for daily communication. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a population of nearly 90 million, of which more than 10 million use Swahili in Katanga and Orientale. It’s more convenient for Chinese enterprises to use local languages to start business there.
In fact, a considerable number of Chinese enterprises in Africa have launched local language training programs. However, there are many local ethnic groups. For example, there are more than 250 local languages in Congo, while there are more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, such as Hausa–Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba. Facing actual needs, NiuTrans included these minority languages one by one, making cross-language communication smoother.
Among the 84 languages introduced by NiuTrans this time, there are 45 Niger-Congo languages, involving 16 countries including Congo, Ghana and Cameroon in Africa, 19 Austronesian languages involving six countries including Tuvalu and Solomon Islands in Oceania, 21 Mayan and Arawak languages, involving 14 countries and regions such as Indonesia, Suriname and Chile. The new languages in NiuTrans are expected to cover more than 120 million native speakers.
Du Quan, CTO of NiuTrans, commented, “We hope that NiuTrans can support all languages in the world and use its own machine technology to help all people in the world communicate equally across language barriers. The newly added languages this time are all with scarce resources used in Asia, Africa and Latin America. We will further develop better machine translation technology, supplement the corpus of these languages, and achieve more accurate translation.”