TED.com volunteers translate talks into many languages, from commonly used (like Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) to a few less expected (like Klingon). And two new languages just joined our library: Latgalian and Tatar.
Latgalian is officially the 104th language on TED.com. It’s spoken in Latgale, a region in the eastern part of Latvia, by about 165,000 people. Because Latgale was an outpost of Roman Catholicism, the language became part of a thriving literary tradition, but it was banned in 1865, along with any other language with Latin letters, in favor of Russian text. From 1920 to 1934, the language was revived and used in Latgale’s local government, but today Latgalian holds no official status. Its use is rapidly declining, especially among younger people.
Volunteer translator Kristaps Kadiķis, who is the OTP language coordinator for Latvian, wanted to translate talks into Latgalian in an effort to preserve and popularize the language by giving it more presence online. He teamed up with the Latgalian news site LaKuGa to translate three TED Talks into the language. They selected Matt Cutts’ “Try something new for 30 days,” Derek Sivers’ “Weird, or just different?” and Murray Gell-Mann’s “The ancestor of language” to give Latgalian speakers a taste of TED.
The latest addition to TED’s language repertory reflects a similar story. The 105th language on TED.com, Tatar, is spoken about 1,700 kilometers away in the Republic of Tatarstan, within Russia’s federation. Tatar is used by an estimated 5.4 million people—it’s a Turkic language with a writing system based on Cyrillic script. The Tatars, like many other ethnic groups, suffered discrimination under the imperial Russian government and, as a result, usage of Tatar declined in the 1930s. This continued through the Soviet era.
Rashat Yakup, a middle-school teacher in the Republic of Tatarstan, wanted to bring Tatar to TED.com. “As I got acquainted with TED Talks about half a year ago, I noticed subtitles in different languages,” he says. “I’ve found that there is a big lack of information about self-development in Tatar. So I searched for talks on self-improvement and ways to improve life, which I think is so necessary for youngsters.”
Yakup also found himself very moved by Matt Cutts’ talk, and similarly opted to make that his first translation. “He has such a simple idea for how to change our routines and build useful habits,” he says.
Yakup used to be a Wikipedia editor in Tatar, and now plans to work with his students on translating more TED talks into the language. He says, “The Tatar language, unfortunately, is not used in many spheres. A lot of people know Tatar, but they usually use it for talking at home, and they use use Russian or English languages for other spheres of life.”
He hopes that having TED Talks available in the language will help change that.