September 18, 2009

African Languages and the World of IT


In a bit of tech-nerd glocal news, Afrigen and the ANLoc are hard at work making the web accessible for hundreds of different African languages and locales. Why is this important? I will let them explain it:

The first step for any localization project is to ensure that all users and computer systems can identify underlying language and country parameters. A locale is a master file that can be used across applications to specify meta-data for each language/ country pair. Data include language information such as how to express dates and Unicode font support, as well as country information such as currency names and symbols. When a locale is implemented properly, documents can be identified by language of origin, facilitating features such as search, spell-checking, and application-specific user options. Having a completed locale for a language is fundamental for the success of all future localization activities for that language.

On the ANLoc website, they write:
ICT is necessarily adapted to human languages in order to enable its use by non-specialists. For historic and economic reasons, however, certain languages dominate in this role, regardless of where ICT is used. So, when technology is used where the language and culture are different, it will exert an unintentional influence on the latter that could be negative. Localisation – the adaptation of ICT to the language and culture where it is used – allows that cultural pressure to be reduced, eliminated or even reversed. By addressing the issue of localisation this network and its sub-projects aim to address these dimensions to indeed turn ICTs into a positive force for all of the above dimensions.
In other words, they aim to make the web more multilingually friendly, especially for speakers of languages like Kikuyu, Zulu, dialects of Berber, Amharic etc. Of course this raises the question of whether these languages are actually being utilized to any great degree in cyberspace at present, and if so, is there a demand for them emanating from somewhere? I suspect of the languages I listed that there is in Amharic, but to what degree in the other languages? How will online interaction 'change' these languages, many of which are primarily oral to begin with? All in all, this is a great and overdue effort to make the global more local.

1 comments:

BcomingQ September 19, 2009 at 9:07 AM  

Great to hear about this project. Beyound the potential to offer the web to more people (or making it easier for people to navigate)this brings in the possiblity of reviving some of the lesser used languages. You make a great point about the fact that some languages are mainly oral. I know that there has been an uprising of Berber poeple in Morocco who are developing written Berber. Some of the issue with this is that many of the people who speak Berber have never been literate. So there is a complexity to the birth of written languages and this project will likely have similiar complexitites but would be worth it.

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