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updated 8/25/2006 2:36:20 PM ET 2006-08-25T18:36:20

Just click "Qallariy" to begin.

Pronounced "KAH-lyah-ree," the word replaces "Start" on Microsoft Windows' familiar taskbar in the program's Quechua translation, which debuts in Bolivia on Friday.

President Evo Morales, the South American nation's first Indian leader, has found an ally in the world's largest software company as he promotes the native tongues of his country's indigenous majority.

(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal News.)

Some 2.6 million Bolivians — nearly one third of the country — speak the Incan language, and Morales sees empowering these people as his primary mission. Among the first users of the Quechua software will be Indian members of a constituent assembly meeting in this colonial city to rewrite the nation's constitution.

First launched in Peru in June and now freely available for download online, the software is a simple patch that translates the familiar Windows and Office menus and commands into Quechua. For now, it works only with the Spanish version of Windows XP and Office 2003, but it and other languages will be built-in to Microsoft's next operating system, Vista.

Microsoft Corp. teamed up with several universities in Peru's Quechua-speaking south to create the translation program, joining 47 other versions of Windows in such languages as Kazakh, Maori and Zulu.

"More than anything, I was surprised," said 21-year-old Dilma Arancibia, a Quechua speaker invited to a Thursday preview of the program. "If they hadn't done this with Quechua, and if we don't teach it to our children, the language would definitely cease to exist."

And while few of the estimated 10 to 13 million Quechua speakers in South America have regular access to a computer, the project is already paying dividends for Microsoft: The company recently won a contract from the Peruvian government for 5,000 Quechua-equipped computers.

Linguistics professors spent nearly three years reconciling 22 dialects of the language — many without a formal written form — to compile a vocabulary fit for Microsoft's programs.

For "file," they chose "kipu" (KEE-poo), borrowing the name of an ancient Incan practice of recording information in an intricate system of knotted strings. "Internet" became "Llika" (LEE-ka), the Quechua word for spider web.

The Quechua translation also includes many English words, as well as a few in Spanish.

The greatest challenge was likely finding a balance between the use of foreign words and the creation of new terms, said Serafin Coronel-Molina, a linguist at Princeton University and native Quechua speaker.

Borrowed words "are one way that a language evolves," he said. "But you can't just fill up a language with borrowed words, because then what have you got?"

It seems the computers are also still trying to figure out Quechua.

Sandra Picha was one of a dozen Quechua speakers invited to type out a letter to Morales at Thursday's preview. As she filled the screen with Quechua words, Microsoft's automatic spell-checker underlined every single one in red.

"It says I've written it all wrong," she laughed.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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