Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

African Languages Grow as a Wikipedia Presence -- article by Noam Cohen, the NYTimes reporter I ran into at Wikimania. It's good. (Sidenote: apparently, the Tanzanian guy at the languages session was not only the only african to attend the conference but the only african-american. Depressing.)

There's an interesting followup on the mailing list:

The questions that the people working on African language Wikipedias (who have a new discussion list, ) are asking are more like these:

* Can some of Africa's entrenched economic difficulties relate to the fact that many of her people do not have access to literacy in the languages they speak and use on a daily basis?
* How much of the lack of literacy in many languages is related to the lack of a systematic effort to produce written materials in those languages?
* If a critical mass of written materials were produced for a given language, would it create the necessary foundation for widespread literacy in that language among speakers of that language?
* If speakers of a given language were to develop literacy in that language, rather than having to learn an entirely different language (such as English or Arabic) in order to engage in written communications (send emails, write blogs, read newspapers, get commodity market and weather reports relevant to the crops they grow, apply for jobs, evaluate the truth claims of politicians, etc), might that literacy be a key to overcoming the continent's persistent economic difficulties?
* Given the certified failure of print publishers and government agencies (colonial and post-colonial) to produce literacy materials in most African languages during the past 150 years, and the rapid success of the Wikipedia model in producing vast amounts of knowledge material quickly, might the resources of the Wikipedia world be a way to address the issues of creating literacy materials for those languages?
* If One Laptop Per Child is indeed a foreseeable reality, and if Wikipedia is going to come prebundled, and if having literacy materials in the language a child speaks is a key to the ultimate success and usefulness of OLPC, isn't creating a good Wikipedia in that child's language an issue of somewhat immediate concern?
* If any or all of the above, but also given the slow pace of African language Wikipedias to date, what have the barriers been thus far, and how can those barriers be overcome in a timely and systematic way?

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