You probably have never heard of the Hmong people, but the infinitely more familiar Microsoft is collaborating with a unique population of displaced Southeast Asians in the United States to help keep alive their thousand-year old language.
The Associated Press, reporting from Fresno, California where some 33,000 Hmong people currently live, today said a Hmong language translator is now online, the first step in saving the language of the Hmong who were indigenous to Laos in the old Indochina peninsula.
Community leaders in Fresno told AP that the step is significant because the Hmong language could survive, following fears that it could be lost through assimilation and disuse after the migration of thousands of indigenous Hmongs from Laos to the US during the turmoil of the Vietnamese conflict of the 1970s.
Some 260,000 Hmongs reside in the United States, but a large percentage of the population consists of children born in America, and only a few understand the language – much less speak it.
Phong Yang, a Hmong language teacher at California State University in Fresno, said the new Hmong online language translator would bridge the widening gap between the young Hmong population and the few elders who still speak the language.
Surviving members of the Asian ethnic minority group fled war-torn Laos in the 70s; first to refugee camps in Thailand, and then to the US.
The Microsoft role in developing the Hmong translator follows the company’s earlier efforts to promote easy and available online language translations with its Bing Translator.
Bing Translator, however, together with the Google Translate, does not cover numerous minority and indigenous languages.
The new indigenous language translator—as it is doing for the California Hmongs– could fill the gap.