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Right-handed Language Technology

No company in their right mind would focus on technologies that excluded right-handers - they would miss 90% of the market. Yet this oversight is exactly analogous to the language industry focus on English, Spanish, French, and German. The languages with the dominant technological resources are spoken comfortably by a relatively small percentage of the world's people, generously 15%. The dominant number of people in the world - collectively, the right-handers - speak the many other languages that Kamusi seeks to serve.

We often talk about the right-handed languages in confusing terms that tend to hide their tremendous reach. Calling them "minority" languages ignores the fact that many are spoken by tens or hundreds of millions of people: Chinese! Hindi! Arabic! The vague phrases "less-resourced", "under-resourced", or "low-resourced" languages define them in terms of their technological development, not their daily use. "Less commonly taught languages" is an even more reductive classification of a few dozen languages that have some classroom presence in the US. "Lesser-used languages" is the European Union misnomer for languages other than the EU's official 24, which sweeps in major non-national languages such as the 9 million speakers of Catalan. At Kamusi, we often refer to languages spoken by economically disadvantaged groups as "non-wealthy", and languages that do not flash rapid profits as "non-lucrative", but these are judgements of current economic might, not fixed in size or long-term potential.

"Right-handed languages" puts the focus squarely on their preponderance within the world's population. Technologies that meet the needs of a particular finger on the right hand, such as Japanese or Russian, already have powerful consumer bases that are hungry for innovative language products. Technologies that can span languages across the right hand have a market as big as the planet itself. Kamusi is working with partners on both individual languages and cross-cutting technologies, with the aim of producing cutting-edge resources across the board. By shifting the discussion from the ways most languages have been historically underserved, and instead framing our vision in terms of their predominance in vibrant and emerging economies, we can understand where language technology has failed to find its true markets. Today, language technology is a multi-billion dollar industry centered on the small left-handed minority. The profits to be found in language will surely multiply many times over when we put the glove on the other hand.


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•c = Data 🔢 elicited through the Comparative African Word List
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•w = Data from 🔠🕸 WordNet teams

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