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August 23, 2006

In native Bolivian tongue, 'file' becomes 'knotted cords'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:06 PM

Microsoft has a version of its software in Quechua, the official language of the Inca Empire and still the native tongue of 12.6 million people in South America, including 30 percent of Bolivians.

According to an Associated Press report, Bolivian President Evo Morales will join Microsoft executives Friday for the local launch of versions of Windows and Office in the language. Morales, the country's first Indian president, is an advocate of preserving the language.

"The translation of these technologies into Quechua helps to re-value the language so that it will not be lost over time," Javier Medrano, spokesman for Microsoft's Bolivia operations, told The Associated Press.

Microsoft launched a version in June in Peru, another Andean country with a large population of Quechua speakers.

A software patch translates commands and menus into Quechua. For example, "file" becomes "quipu," after an Incan data-recording system that used colored, knotted cotton cords. The color of the cords, their placement relative to each other and specific knots all had meaning in a numerical recording system, according to Marcia Ascher's book, "Ethnomathematics."

The Incas, she wrote, "can be characterized as methodical, highly organized, concerned with detail, and intensive data users. ... They received many messages and sent many instructions daily."

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