An engineer form north China's Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region has developed a program to translate Chinese into Mongolian.
"My intention was to improve the accuracy of translation," said Ilichi, 32, an ethnic Mongolian who developed the freeware, which can be easily accessed online.
China has just under 6 million ethnic Mongolians, with more than 4 million using Mongolian as their everyday language. To protect the language, regional law requires that all government institutions, all businesses and shops, in the region use both Chinese and Mongolian in public. Many of the mongolian words people see on the street, however, are simply wrong: bad translations from their Chinese counterparts, or vice versa.
"My major in college was computer science and I wanted to design a program to accurately translate Chinese into Mongolian," said Ilichi. The software he designed for both computers and smartphones has filled a gap in the market.
"I've tried the software on many texts and the translations the program provides are quite satisfactory," said Balaji Nyima, an ethnic mongolian linguist who has been working with the language for more than 20 years. His expert opinion is echoed by another 30,000 mainstream users of the program.
Ilichi claims there are nearly 500,000 words in the database, "I thought very carefully about the grammar of Mongolian when writing the code, to try to increase the accuracy of the translation," he said.
Ilichi reads a large amount of linguistic and historical theories. "For example, the spelling of a word is quite different when it appears in the middle or at the end of a sentence. I spent several days working on this single function, and I've learned a lot during the process. It's been an enriching experience for me."
Ilichi has been trying to start his own business since graduating from Inner Mongolia Normal University in 2005, developing the translation software and working as a translator at the same time. He is still working on improvements to the software, and plans similar programs to translate Chinese into Manchu and Korean.
"The program only brings me an annual income of about 50,000 yuan (about 8,000 U.S.dollars) to 60,000 yuan, but the costs of development and maintenance of the program run to more than 100,000 yuan a year," he said.
His biggest challenge now lies in finance. "Although it may only serve the needs of a small group of people, it is a job that has to be done. It is the only way we can preserve our ethnic minority languages in a new technological era," Ilichi added.