AR ochpochmak, social network for Tatars and Yandex.Translator: how Tatar language conquers digital world

The appearance of the Tatar language in Yandex.Translator, which was precisely five years ago, became one of the numerous ways to make Tatar poet Tukay’s language online. Realnoe Vremya studied how else Tatar goes online — via messengers, social networks, keyboard and even an Instagram mask, how this helped to make the language popular and save it and why some of digital projects in the Tatar language were ordered to live long. Read the details in our review.

“Room for activity — uncharted territory”

In June 2015, Yandex launched a function of online translation into the Tatar language. Specialists of the Russian IT giant admit that they had to seriously suffer and even invite scientists from the Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan to the development because Tatar is one of the toughest languages for machine translation because of its complex morphology.

The appearance of this function in Yandex.Translator became long-awaited: Yandex users had been making 50-60,000 requests about a Tatar-Russian translator a month. Moreover, the creators considered that about 4,3 million residents of Russia already spoke Tatar, while in the number of people who consider it a mother tongue, it is the second language in the country.

Car owners who speak Tatar have recently requested to complement the service Yandex.GPS. This product of Yandex has already mastered several languages (Turkish and Ukrainian), but it hasn’t yet begun to speak Tatar.

“We need the Tatar language in GPS,” claimed representative of Federation of Car Owners of Russia in Tatarstan Ramil Khayrullin. “Yandex in this respect has room for development — it is uncharted territory, I don’t understand in general why they don’t make such localisations, and not only with Tatar. Probably they don’t see a need — they go by the fact that the official language in Russia is Russian. But it is wrong, a person must have a choice, in this respect too.”

In reply to Realnoe Vremya’s request about the possibility of translating GPS into Tatar, we received a laconic answer from Yandex that the company didn’t have such plans at the moment.

“If something changes, we will certainly let you know,” the IT giant specified.

“Hello to Tatars, sorry to the rest”

Yandex products — no matter if they are real or not — aren’t the only way of penetration of the Tatar language to the digital world. For instance, Instagram masks with a Tatar theme are at the peak of popularity now. A translator mask from Russian to Tatar and vice verse created by Vice Chairman of the Youth Parliament of the Tatarstan State Council Azat Kashapov is especially often found in stories.

Last year, the so-called “Tatar man’s mask” created by Kazan entrepreneur Rafael Yusupov attracted the attention of the mass media. When using it, a user has a national hat on, Tatarstan flag and a “rain of ochpochmak” on the screen.

In general if we insert the word “Tatar” and search Instagram masks, we can find a pile of interesting options. For instance, we have found a mask by the 100th anniversary of the TASSR with the Tatarstan flag instead of the background, at least ten variants of “Tatar girl” and inscriptions “Hello to Tatars, sorry to the rest”, “AUE Tatars”, “Tatars — power”, “Tatar Organised Criminal Group”, “Tatars have fun, the rest look”, “Life without Tatar girl is like tea without brew” and “Ayda inde” (“Come on”).

Some developers who aren’t indifferent to the Tatar language ran the risk of taking up more serious projects. For instance, Futureinapps IT company from Kazan crested its own messenger Telem — with Tatar interface — several years ago. As head of the company Ayrat Galiullin explained to our newspaper earlier, the Tatar language wasn’t the gimmick of the app: it would have Kazakh, Ukrainian, China and English. The project is still developed.

It seems that not such a narrow focus allowed the project to stay afloat, which can’t be said about Tatar Ile (Tatar World) Tatar social network. The project that ambitiously kicked off as early as 2013 and achieved quite modest results with the financing of 15 million rubles was handed over to a new operator in 2016 — the Tatarstan Ministry of Education, and by 2020 it was off the radar in general.

“The penetration of the language via the Internet isn’t a sufficient measure”

Realnoe Vremya reached out to developers of several above-mentioned products and asked them to comment on the penetration level of Tatar to the digital world and evaluate if such products benefited the language. So Rafael Yusupov thinks that this story isn’t about functions but the presence because people who use the Tatar language little in daily life will also use it both in messengers and on other channels of communication little.

“Every time we develop something with the Tatar colour, we focus not only the local but global audience. We have statistics on the use of our products, and we see they are mainly used in Moscow. We also have publications from New York. So people emphasise their identity,” the creator of the “Tatar man’s mask” thinks. “In general I think that the song I am a Gold Beautiful Flower did for the whole Tatar language more than our whole pop culture in its existence. In general it is necessary to put a lot of effort so that people will watch something or listen in Tatar. I think we should learn from Chechnya and Dagestan where TV views in their mother tongue are astronomic. The same translations of series that are done here don’t look good for such a great language as Tatar.”

Founder of Futureinapps Ayrat Galiullin considers that the Tatar language really began to actively appear in translators, interfaces of mobile apps and on websites, in extension for famous social networks, but the number of people who use the Tatar language in the Net is very low.

“So we can conclude that the penetration of the language via the Internet isn’t a sufficient measure for at least Tatars, especially the younger generation, to start actively using the mother tongue in communication or at least fluently speak it. I think that the Tatar language becomes less topical with the growth of the new generation. The cancellation of the language as a compulsory subject in schools helps it too. Family members talk between each in the mother tongue less and less, while it is more profitable for an average Tatar person to learn an international language, for instance, English today,” Ayrat Galiullin comments.

Rafael Yusupov also claims that the appearance of Tatar in translators and other products will unlikely become a stimulus to learn the language.

“It will be better if the money [spent on the creation of messengers or social networks] will be invested in the content. It would be more reasonable. I have a lot of girls in my circle who are now learning the Turkish language because they fell in love with amazing Turkish series. Let’s shoot a cool series in Tatar with the money we have. Yes, might there be a translation, subtitles, but a viewer will certainly want to understand the language better. I will repeat that budget should better be pumped into the content,” the expert concludes.

Founder of Fragency SMM agency Regina Faskheyeva noted that Tatar gimmicks in social networks are means of conservation of not only the language but the Tatar identity in general.

“I think that every person who grew up in Tatarstan feels the cultural identity. It is manifested in our behaviour, relations, in our common childhood memories. It is important to save and hand it over to the next generations. The culture changes, adapts to the external world. Social networks, AR technologies are a part of this world. This is why AR mask in the Tatar language, different services, businesses popularising the Tatar culture are appearing. There were concerts of Tatar singers during self-isolation. I should say that everything is done at a high level from a perspective of both the idea and performance,” Faskheyeva thinks.
By Lina Sarimova