Ulan Djumashev dropped another sugar cube into his tea and looked around the café, a popular meeting spot for Bishkek’s educated elite.
“See everyone here? I’d say 95 percent of them are Kyrgyz,” he said, looking out at the mod clientele seated in plush armchairs, tapping at laptops and tucking into hamburgers. “And what language are they speaking? Russian.”
Djumashev is one of the initiators behind “We Want Kyrgyz Language in Google Translate” [www.enetil.kg], an ambitious grassroots effort to do exactly what the name says: add Kyrgyzstan’s state language to the 58 tongues made mutually comprehensible by Google’s powerful online translation tool. Adding the language could help render the Internet accessible to Kyrgyz-speakers, as well as offering non-Kyrgyz access to vibrant local blogs and media. According to recent surveys, 81 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s 5.5 million citizens never use the Internet. Those who do rely heavily on Russian, with 99 percent of respondents in a recent national survey using the language to access information online, as opposed to 22 percent for Kyrgyz.
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