Travis, the Dutch startup that has developed a ‘universal translator’ called Travis the Translator, has launched the Travis Foundation. This initiative desires to digitize all 7,000 languages so that dying languages don’t become extinct, more people have access to technology, and more people can understand each other.
Travis starts with a donation of 300,000 euros to the Travis Foundation. Between three and four percent of the turnover of the translation devices sold will proceed to the Travis Foundation.
“Everyone has the right to be understood. That’s not just our opinion, but also one of the UN-objectives. That’s why we designed a translation device, Travis the Translator. We discovered that unfortunately, not every language is digitally available. That’s why we launch this foundation. By digitizing languages, ‘language inequality’ disappears between regions and cultures. It also has to prevent inequality in access to technology”, Brend Kouwenhoven, founder of the Travis Foundation, states.
Tigrinya: the first language to be digitized
One of the first languages to be digitized is Tigrinya. Unfortunately, due to a long-standing conflict, there is much work to do for doctors and other aid workers in its region of origin, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Because there are no digital sources of Tigrinya, it is difficult for them to communicate with the local population.
Kouwenhoven: “Together with technicians, language experts, and grassroots organizations, Tigrinya is the first language that we will digitize. The impact of our work is the most visible in this situation. We will then focus on other languages, which are relevant in the context of the refugee crisis and other crises.”
2,800 endangered languages
Research shows that forty percent of the 7,000 languages in total are threatened with extinction – that equates to 2,800 endangered languages. The Endangered Languages Project Foundation states that the disappearance of languages is not a new phenomenon, but that the pace at which languages are currently disappearing is alarming. The foundation explicitly states ‘tools and technology’ as a solution to this problem.
“As soon as a language is available digitally, this language is protected against extinction, and the associated culture also has a better chance of survival. About half of the population has a mother tongue that does not belong to the ten largest languages. Will they soon have access to talking cars, artificial intelligence or other innovations? That is another urgent problem that we want to tackle with this foundation.”