Which Languages Can OCR Software Read?

State-of-the-art OCR software is multilingual and easily supports over 100 languages. (In the beginning of the 90s, an OCR package supported something like 10 to 15 languages, all of them Latin-based!)

Control panel with supported languages

With the major OCR packages, you can now read the American, Western European, Eastern European and Baltic languages, the “Cyrillic” (Russian) languages, Greek and Turkish.

Some of the languages that are supported may seem so exotic — are you familiar with Bislama or the Philippine language Kapampangan? — that you’ll doubt they even exist! Here’s a sample from both languages to prove you wrong…

Bislama
´╗┐Mifala i stanemap Saot Pasifik Projek Fasility blong mekem se ol praevet bisnis we ol bisnisman blong ol aelan blong Saot Pasifik nao oli sponsarem mo oli onem oli save kam antap kwiktaem moa, blong mekem se ikonomi hemi gru mo i gat wok blong ol man blong Saot Pasifik long wan wei we hemi save gohed oltaem. Fasiliti hemi mekem wok blong hem blong givhan long ol bisnisman blong ol aelan long Saot Pasifik we longtaem finis nao oli harem se i gat nid blong wan samting olsem. Hemi givhan long saed blong mekemrere wan projek mo blong karem lon, hemia blong ol smolsmol bisnis wetem ol medel bisnis we mane blong olgeta i no naf blong mekem hemia bifo i kam.

Kapampangan
´╗┐Lebagan do ring karapatang pantau ding dakal a tau. Ding gera at aliwa pang kararaptanan ilang bibie pasakit karing tau agpang king istorya at king mabilug a yatu. Ing yatu a nung nokaring ding tau atamasa ra ing karapatang magsalita nanu man ing a isip da, mamili king sarili rang kapaniwalan, at mangabiyayang alang takut at alang pamikakunu king nanu mang kaburian yang dapat mag-ing peka maulaga king keka tamung kapagnasan.

Here’s a nice bit about the “lingua franca” or “pidgin” language Bislama, the official language of the Republic Vanuatu, formerly known as the “New Hebrides” and located to the east of Australia. This Creole language is English with a broad accent and a simplified grammar. The words “bisnis” and “bisnisman” in the first line mean what you think they mean! Complex ideas and new concepts are described functionally. Historically, some objects were so unfamiliar to everyday use that their functions are described in full. The classic example is a piano: “Wan bigfala blak bokis hemi gat waet tut mo hemi gat blak tut, sipos yu kilim smol, hemi singaot gud.” Literally, this means the following: “One big fella black box, him he got white tooth and him he got black tooth, suppose you kill him small [strike or hit lightly], he sing out good.”

(Not that it has to be that exotic: even “traditional” languages can be weird sometimes. What do you think of the 51-letter German word Bundespräsidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung? It refers to the court-ordered postponement of the rerun of the run-off of the election of a federal president. That really happened in Austria in 2016, by the way! Ultimately, the green candidate Alexander Van Der Bellen became president…)

Austrian president Alexander Van Der Bellen (Green Party)

That doesn’t mean that your OCR software comes with a lexicon for each supported language — although one OCR solution does exactly that. Another leading OCR package has 36 lexicons a the third one ships 20 lexicons. And when no linguistic database is included, the linguistic phase has no role to play in the recognition process, so the accuracy may drop (substantially) in those languages!

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