The making of an open source dictionary
“This is not a post on fintech, or even technology for that matter. This is the story of a product of tenacity, selflessness, and passion; a product that will transcend and outlive most technology we know of. This is the story of a massive dictionary that will become the window to a language spoken by tens of millions of people for generations to come, a resource its author has donated to posterity. This is the story of V. Krishna, Alar, his Kannada-English dictionary, and its accidental discovery and open sourcing at an unlikely place, a stock brokerage, Zerodha.”
The author is the CTO at Zerodha, a company known to have used technology to disrupt the world of discount broking and is the largest retail broker in India by number of accounts. Through this story of building an open source dictionary, he brings about importance of using technology for public good:
“I shudder to think of a world without Wikipedia. The open data movement shares strong parallels with the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement. The gist is that certain knowledge should be freely available to everyone with no restrictions and with one goal—collective advancement of humanity.
I consider dictionaries to be on top of that list. The stepping stone to language, the underpinning of civilisation. Dictionaries should be open, free, and easily accessible to everyone, everywhere. If we cannot share something as fundamental as language without motives of profit, we ought to do some serious introspection as members of an advanced civilisation.
An open data dictionary for every Indian language, the largest collection of open source dictionaries in the world, would be an immense resource for not only India but for humanity in general. Ideally, this is the kind of project governments should do. State governments could very easily partner with local universities and undertake the creation and maintenance of open data dictionaries.
That said, at Zerodha, we would be happy to fund projects to create high quality open data dictionaries if there are scholars out there working on them.”
Bengaluru is a melting pot of people from all over India, and English is the glue that holds the “IT sector” together. I can comprehend Kannada speech reasonably well and speak rather poorly, but cannot read the script, thanks to the lack of opportunities to learn over the many years spent between home, where we speak Malayalam, and work, an English speaking environment.
I presented the idea of having an open source Kannada dictionary created from scratch to Nithin. He was immediately on board to commission the project. A perk I enjoy, the privilege of having a resourceful backer who believes in public good.”
He then goes on to narrate the story of how collaborating with Krishna to build Alar showed “the incredible and infinite ways in which tiny, random events such as an overheard conversation, changes timelines, the Butterfly effect.”