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By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist


Google Translate expands SA languages to include TshiVenda and siSwati

These follow the addition of 24 languages in 2022.


Google Translate now supports translations in nine official South African languages following the addition of Tshivenda and siSwati.

The search giant said the addition forms part of the expansion of the Google Translate service to an additional 110 languages.

“This AI-powered expansion is Google’s biggest ever, geared to help people better communicate and connect,” it said.

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Part of Google’s 1 000 Languages Initiative, which uses AI models to support the 1 000 most spoken languages around the world, the latest expansion uses the PaLM 2 large language model. It follows the addition of 24 languages in 2022, which used Zero-Shot Machine Translation.

Google SA’s communications manager Siya Madikane said the expansion also represents the largest addition of African languages, with about a quarter of the newly-supported languages coming from the continent.

“Language is an essential part of how people communicate, understand, and interact with the world around them so we are very excited about this latest expansion.”

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TshiVenda and siSwati

Approximately 1.2 million South Africans speak TshiVenda, while siSwati, a Nguni language, is spoken by about 1.5 million people living in Eswatini and South Africa.

Their addition brings to nine the number of South African languages available on Google Translate, with Afrikaans, English, Sepedi, Sesotho, Xhosa, XiTsonga and Zulu having been added in previous expansions.

Madikane said a lot of consideration goes into new language additions for Google Translate, ranging from which languages to include to the use of specific spellings.

“Many languages do not have a single, standard form, so learning the specific dialect that is spoken the most in an area is more feasible. Our approach has been to prioritise the most commonly used varieties of each language,” he said.

Sign language

Google said the 110 new languages, which include Fon (primarily spoken in Benin) , Kikongo (Republic of Congo, Gabon and Angola), Luo (Kenya and Tanzania), Ga (South Eastern Ghana) and Wolof (Senegal), represent more than 614 million speakers, making translation available to an estimated 8% of the global population.

Setswana and isiNdebele are not included on the platform.

Sign language, which became South Africa’s 12th officially recognised language in the country is also not part of the translate feature due to the technical difficulty in translating the hand gestures.

The National Assembly on 2 May 2023 approved Section 6 of the Constitution be amended to include South African Sign Language (SASL) as an official language to promote the rights of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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