How an online platform for children’s books is saving rare languages from extinction

Shrabonti Bagchi July 19, 2016 1 min

In 2015, Pratham Books, a not-for-profit publisher of children’s literature, created an online platform called Storyweaver. The publishing house threw open its entire repository of stories and images, and a set of tools using which students, parents, teachers and educators can read, download, translate and repurpose books. This being an open-source project, they can do all this for free.

The creators of the website, built on Ruby on Rails, also made sure that all its content in various languages was Unicode-compliant, which makes printing and translating the books easy even for those who are not particularly tech-savvy. The platform launched with 800 books in 24 languages, and within a few months this number has grown to close to 2000 stories in 46 languages, with 60,000 downloads and almost 2 lakh reads.

Translations and languages have emerged as a very important part of the platform’s impact. “One of the most interesting aspects for us has been seeing our books being translated into many rare, tribal languages — and not just Indian ones,” says Suzanne Singh, chairperson, Pratham Books.

Languages like Banjari/Lambadi, Kuruk/Oraon, Gondi, Mundari, Sadri, Santhali and Kora don’t even have a written tradition, and in many cases, no script. Interestingly, some stories have even been translated into Sanskrit, which of course has a vibrant written tradition but very few reading resources for children. At the same time, many translators living outside India have used the platform to translate Pratham’s books into their own languages, such as IsiXhosa, Kiswahili, Olukhayo, Khmer, and Farsi. There are also translations into more mainstream foreign languages like Japanese, Portuguese, Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish.

In this video, we take a look at how all this is happening, and its impact.