Sunday, June 17, 2018


Hoping to resume regular posting here soon. Have been busy with other concerns and other projects.

There is always much to write about concerning a topic as wide and interesting as the one this blog attempts to address - African languages in the information society.* Which is to say that there are numerous active topics and trends at any given time, as well as a few older but enduring issues, and usually more than one angle to approach each. Many of these are, I believe (as a non-African), important to discuss in the public space. Some are just fun to explore.

Blogging is, in my experience at least, a peculiar kind of writing exercise. It is neither journalistic nor academic in any formal sense. And with a few exceptions like the present post, I am not that comfortable with it slipping into the zone of entirely personal reflection, like an online diary or journal. But it can have elements of all three (newsiness, scholarship, and personality).

Writing regularly on Beyond Niamey, which I only did for brief periods until the 3 years from late 2014 to late 2017, both consumes time and energy, and generates energy. Time is the critical limiting factor in that equation, as it must of course be shared with other important activities.

There is also another limiting factor that intervenes periodically in any creative enterprise, and that is when the perpetual motion machine of writing both taking and generating energy just needs a break. I don't want to make too much of that, since this is only a blog (or actually one of two I write), and not a major writing project, but it is real. Part of that relates to re-tuning the vision - after writing a while you are not in the same place, of course, and you may not even be along the same line you had imagined when setting out. Some ideas in the hopper, as it were, don't seem to have the same allure or urgency. Some others do, but also require a lot more time than available, and a few of those because issues are complex (and not so easily divided into bite-sized portions). Time for reflection is needed.

But often intervening factors - the need to attend to other matters - are are the main reason for pauses in the blog. Most recently those included some personal transitions (including a move) and other writing projects (more about those another time).

Current plans (this is 2018)

Without committing myself to too much at this point (never good to overpromise), my hope is to post some short items and then to bring out some longer pieces that have been in draft for shorter or longer periods.

On the latter, for me writing, and the researching that goes into it, inevitably generates tangential avenues. Sometimes those are of sufficient interest to pursue at least to a certain point, with the hopes of bringing them to a conclusion. Some "present" themselves at a later opportune time (serendipity to have begun work already), but others require deliberate intent and effort to locate, resituate, and complete (have quietly doing this with a few side projects over the last couple of years).

Another need that others have brought up as a question at various points, is to return to various items in African Languages in a Digital Age (ALDA), in particular those discussed in the conclusion. That issue, and the future of ALDA as a book, are matters to discuss in another post.

Finally, a major consideration that is that this year, 2018, marks 40 years since the 1978 Niamey conference on transcription and harmonization of African languages. I had hoped that a follow-on meeting could be organized this year, but that did not work out. So I would like to take some time to consider the meaning of that meeting (and the series of expert meetings it was part of) for the future of written African languages.

* I interpret "African languages" fairly narrowly, and "information society" fairly broadly. That is, languages native or "indigenous" to Africa, including creoles, and those "indigenized" by generations of use by African populations (specifically Afrikaans, Arabic, and Malagasy). Europhone languages established on the continent, and languages brought from other regions are of secondary interest. In other words, the linguistic focus is more "African languages" than "languages of Africa." As for "information society," one could argue that that describes the contemporary condition anywhere, at least indirectly if not directly.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

International Mother Language Day 2018

This year's International Mother Language Day (IMLD), observed as always on February 21, is focusing on multilingualism and linguistic diversity, with mention of their importance for sustainable development and peace.

I would like to share the UNESCO director's message for IMLD, which makes some important points about why mother languages, linguistic diversity, and multilingualism are worth our attention in schooling, technology, and public life in general. With the mention of multilingualism, these points seem very relevant to the situations in African countries.

First, it important to remember that while UNESCO plays a central role in the annual observance of IMLD, having brought it to an international event from one originating in Bangladesh, IMLD is most importantly an occasion for local, national and regional communities around the world to celebrate the "unity in diversity" of human languages, beginning with those we first learn in families and communities. I hope it will be possible soon to compile some examples of IMLD events across Africa - or pass on the references if someone else takes that task on. 

Message from Ms Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day, 21 February 2018

Today, UNESCO marks the nineteenth International Mother Language Day. This is an opportunity to recall our Organization’s commitment to defending and promoting languages. 

A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it. It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life. 

In order to preserve and vitalize this essential component of the intangible heritage of humanity, UNESCO has been actively engaged for many years in the defence of linguistic diversity and the promotion of multilingual education. 

This commitment concerns mother languages in particular, which shape millions of developing young minds, and are the indispensable vector for inclusion in the human community, first at the local level, then at the global level.

UNESCO thus supports language policies, particularly in multilingual countries, which promote mother languages and indigenous languages. It recommends the use of these languages from the first years of schooling, because children learn best in their mother language. It also encourages their use in public spaces and especially on the Internet, where multilingualism should become the rule. Everyone, regardless of their first language, should be able to access resources in cyberspace and build online communities of exchange and dialogue. Today, this is one of the major challenges of sustainable  development, at  the  heart of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

Every two weeks, one of the world’s languages disappears, and with it goes part of our human history and cultural heritage. Promoting multilingualism also helps to stop this programmed extinction. 

In the wonderful words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. On the occasion of this international day, UNESCO invites its Member States to celebrate, through a variety of educational and cultural initiatives, the linguistic diversity and multilingualism that make up the living wealth of our world.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Two questions as the Language & Development Conference concludes

The 2017 Language and Development Conference (LDC) in Dakar wraps up tomorrow, 29 November. This blog featured a post about it last May.

As one who has long been interested in the importance of languages in development - which in Africa means attention to African languages (as obvious as that sounds) -  I regret not being in a position to attend. However I hope in the future to highlight some aspects of this LDC, the twelfth in a biennial series, and the third to be held in Africa.

In the meantime, here are a couple of questions for the conference as it concludes:

First, are there terms that participants think make sense to use for (a) the languages that need more attention in development work and research, and (b) for the languages that tend to dominate, often to the point of eclipsing first languages and local lingua francas in development processes and the developnent discourse? And how would one distinguish between one and the other?

Part of the reason for this question was reference to "colonial languages" in a tweet from the LDC:
While this is historically accurate, is it the best term today? I've tended to use "Europhone" in discussing those same languages (in the African context mainly English, French, and Portuguese) - is that more helpful? Or is Prof. Eyamba Bokamba's term "European languages of wider communication" (ELWCs), which I borrowed in African Languages in a Digital Age, better?

The point is having clear categories and names for them as a way of facilitating analysis and discussion of languages in development, education, etc.

The second question is an attempt to see progress in using diverse languages in the development process through the lens of concern about misuse of social media in widely used and well resourced languages such as English: Is there a point to which African languages - or more accurately content expressed in African languages - might become a problem?

There have of course been instances of inflammatory speech in particular languages, generally directed against different ethnic groups. There has also been misinformation, circulated in local languages, such as about the causes of and cures for ebola during the epidemic. But beyond that, could articulate use of diverse languages be directed at deliberately misinforming people in order to manipulate public opinion? Is there a risk that the good of doing more education and development in diverse languages could facilitate undesirable outcomes?

If so, how to proactively address this potential?

Lest this latter question become the gist for suggesting to limit speech to official "Europhone" languages (however we term them), please review the premise for the larger (second) question. We generally don't solve problems in the area of knowledge and opinion by limiting the languages used - and in fact such limitation is the cause of other ills (which I understand to be one of the premises for the LDC).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Extended Latin in Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook

Among phrasebooks for African languages, there are some that focus on individual languages - Amharic for English speakers1 and Bambara for German speakers,2 for example, are in my collection - and some that cover several languages. Among the latter, my personal favorite has Wolof, Fula, and Manding (actually Bambara) for English and French speakers, and has the African languages in their correct orthographies.3

Berlitz, which is famous in this category of publications, first published in 1996 an African Phrase Book with Arabic, French, Hausa, Malagasy, Portuguese, Shona, Swahili, Tswana, Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu for English speakers.4

This post, however, will focus on what appears to be the most recently published multilingual African phrase book, Lonely Planet's 2013 Africa Phrasebook & Dictionary (2nd edition), with particular attention to Hausa, Wolof, and Yoruba, which are normally written in extended Latin alphabets.

Lonely Planet's publication covers 13 languages, and a slightly different selection than Berlitz: Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, French, Hausa, Malagasy, Portuguese, Shona, Swahili, Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu.5 It is apparently in revision for a new edition due out in mid-2018.

What is extended Latin?

Extended Latin is a technical term from Unicode (characters in several blocks of characters beyond the basic Latin we use in English), but it basically refers to modified letters and some letters with accents (diacritics) to indicate a wide range of sounds that are either not used or don't distinguish meaning in West European languages like English or French.6 Many of these are important in writing some African languages and have been adopted in standard orthographies in Africa since the 1960s, or in some cases earlier. A sampling of extended Latin characters with some languages they are used in include:
  • ɓ and ɗ in both Hausa and Fula
  • ɛ and ɔ in Bambara, Lingala, and many others
  • and some other "subdot" letters in Yoruba and Igbo
  • ŋ in many languages from Wolof to Dinka (and some outside of Africa)
Such extended Latin characters and diacritics presented problems on older computer systems because of limitations on font encoding, but since Unicode became standard some years ago, these characters (and non-Latin scripts) are readily displayed.

Nevertheless, some publishers and webmasters don't seem to have completely caught up. Lonely Planet seems like an example. The extended Latin script of Yoruba, including subdots and tone marks, appears to be all correct, and they seem to have had no problem with the more difficult non-Latin scripts for Arabic and Amharic. But Hausa and Wolof do not fully conform with standard usage in the countries where they are most spoken (Nigeria and Senegal, respectively, although both are cross-border languages spoken in other countries). In these cases, Lonely Planet may have repeated non-standard usage by earlier Berlitz publications (checking).

Lonely Planet layout

A company publishing phrase books will follow a set format, which facilitates readers finding the right information in different languages - whether these are in separate books, or sections of one book as in this case.

In its Africa Phrasebook, Lonely Planet introduces the pronunciation for a language in a page at the beginning of the section on it (as in the image on the left from the Hausa section).

From what I can tell, the orthographies used for most of the languages in the book are correct.  Again I am focusing here on three languages written with extended Latin orthographies that have been and sometimes still are mishandled in print and on the web.


Hausa's consonant system includes some sounds (implosive b & d, and ejective k & y) that are not conveyed by the traditional Latin alphabet. In the standard Latin-based "Boko" orthography, these are denoted by "hooked" consonants -  ɓ, ɗ, and ƙ - plus either 'y (in Nigeria) or ƴ (in Niger). There is also a strong ʦ sound that is represented by the digraph ts (much like the sh digraph represents a sound familiar to English speakers).

In its presentation of Hausa, Lonely Planet uses letter combinations with apostrophes in its pronunciation guide to denote these 4 consonants, and the ts digraph. However it also uses these rather than the Boko hooked consonants in the Hausa text. (As a rule the pronunciation guide includes word/phrase in the language, how to pronounce the word/phrase, and the English meaning.) In the blow closer look at the pronunciation page for Hausa I have circled in red their symbols and added the standard characters after (the 'y and ƴ are alternatives, as indicated above).

It is not clear why Lonely Planet decided to use these non-standard "apostrophied" combinations for the Hausa text in a 2013 publication. Their parallel use for pronunciation in a publication like this, on the other hand, can be argued. (Worth noting that Xhosa, which is included in the phrasebook, also has an implosive b and ejective k - but while these are not distinguished in its current orthography, providing a pronunciation guide for them using b' and k' is certainly helpful.)

There is certainly no technical reason today not to use the hooked consonants in Hausa text. Using apostrophes is the same workaround for Hausa found in earlier Berlitz phrase books (not clear if there is a connection). But even in pre-Unicode days, typesetters had ways to include modified letters in text (see also the below comments about Yoruba in this same phrasebook). The hooked letters are distinct even in small print, though more so in some typefaces than others.

Points in its favor: Lonely Planet does appear to use the correct Boko orthography apart from the apostrophied characters; and the latter are better than the "ASCIIfied" approach commented on previously in this blog (a topic to be revisited later).


With one exception, Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook seems to use the correct Wolof orthography alongside its own pronunciation system. That is indicating the velar n with ng rather than ŋ (the letter "eng").

Part of the problem in using the ng in this way is that this digraph also is pronounced as two letters in quick sequence - technically a "prenasalized" g (basically like the ng in mango in English, or in the Wolof example mangi that I circled in red on the pronunciation page above). The whole reason for the ŋ letter was to accommodate the "velar" n (ng as in ring) as distinguished from the n+g combination. In Wolof, as in many West African languages (but not Hausa or Yoruba), ng and ŋ are not the same, so it is not helpful for a phrase book to avoid the distinction.

For example, in the glossary includes a Wolof word spelled as ngemb (diaper, nappy). The pronunciation guide uses the same spelling, so one is left to determine if that is meant to be "n-gemb" or "ŋemb." For an English speaker, the velar n in initial position is unfamiliar, and because Lonely Planet doesn't avail itself of the Wolof ŋ to disambiguate pronunciation in such situations, the user is left to guess. Although the letter ŋ is also new to most users, it is easily explained and then becomes a new tool in understanding this small but not unimportant part of Wolof phonetics.

For info: The only review I found on Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook was a short one on the Wolof section of the first edition, in the Janga Wolof blog.


One of the most complex Latin orthographies in Africa is that of Yoruba. The writing system dating back to Samuel Ajayi Crowther uses marks below three letters - , , and - to distinguish open and closed e and o, and s from sh. The classic form of the marks is a small vertical line, but these days commonly a dot under or "subdot" is used (also in Igbo and some other languages of southern Nigeria). And as a tonal language, it also features tonal marks over vowels. In African Languages in a Digital Age, I called this a "category 4" Latin orthography - the most complex - since it uses extended Latin characters plus additional diacritics (in the same classification system, the standard orthographies of Hausa and Wolof are "category 3").

In this section, Lonely Planet has on the one hand given words and phrases in what appears to be the correct Yoruba orthography, including subdot characters and tone marks, and on the other hand used their own system to explain pronunciation (per the page pictured below). Their bridge between the two is to tell users "not to worry" about the "range of accent marks" above and below the letters.

As a practical approach, this works for the intended audience and purpose. As in the Amharic and Arabic sections, most readers will not make use of text in a scripts they don't read, but having it makes it available for learning, and also for the eventuality one needs to show the text to a person one is trying to communicate with in the other language.


I wasn't sure what to expect before looking at these three sections. In the Hausa and Wolof sections I saw somewhat familiar problems - shortcuts on special characters within otherwise solid efforts.

These may have been the result of lack of information, but that wouldn't be much excuse given how much is out on the web and in print on and in these languages. Indeed, Lonely Planet's success (as it looks to me) with the Yoruba section of its phrasebook - not to mention its presentation of two sections in the more complex scripts used for Amharic and Arabic - shows that they should have no trouble with other complex writing systems.

Or it could have been a determination that some details of orthographies involving modified letters were somehow unimportant - an attitude I've encountered with regard to African languages in other circumstances (which brings to mind a previous post on this blog about how scholars treat "official orthographies"). This would be problematic and ultimately self-defeating.

There are only up sides to using the official standard orthography for a language especially if you are also providing pronunciation guides. Hopefully the next edition of Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook will do for extended Latin in Hausa and Wolof what the current edition did for Yoruba.

1. Alem Eshetu, Amharic for Foreign Beginners, of which there are several editions - latest seems to be 6th ed., 2007.
2. Tim Hentschel, Bambara für Mali - Wort für Wort, Reise Know How, Bielefeld, 2009. The Bambara text in this book is in the official Latin orthography.
3. Pathé Diagne, ed. Manuel de conversation - Wolof/Francais/English, Mandeng/Francais/English, Pulaar/Francais/English - Conversation hand-book, Sankoré, Dakar, 1978.

4. There are at least two editions of the Berlitz phrasebook. In addition to the 1996 publication, another edition came out in 2005.
5. The first edition was published in 2007. It apparently had the same 13 languages covered in the second edition.
6. That's admittedly a bit of an oversimplification.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

One's campaign for girls' education & mother tongue-based teaching

Photo from One's girls' education petition webpage
Today is the International Day of the Girl Child, and the NGO One is using the occasion to highlight the fact that 130 million girls are not in school and promote a petition campaign to urge funding by world leaders.

This is an important issue and a laudable effort. It is also an issue that exists alongside the lack of instruction in first languages - and arguably efforts to increase the number of girls in school could work well in tandem with efforts to expand mother tongue based (and multilingual) education. One's campaign seems to miss this dimension.

Medium of instruction important for girls' education

In many countries in Africa school instruction is only in a Europhone official language (from day 1, or from early in primary school). This poses difficulties for all students, and also introduces a linguistic divide between daughters and mothers, who more often than fathers tend not to have facility in the school language.

A pair of UNESCO documents in 2005 for example spotlighted connections between girls education and first language instruction: "the learner's mother tongue holds the key to making schooling more inclusive for all disadvantaged groups, especially for girls and women." These are:

The toughest places

One also has produced a report "The Toughest Places for a Girl to Get an Education" which found that 9 of the 10 most difficult countries were in Africa (starting with the most difficult): South Sudan; Central African Republic; Niger; Afghanistan; Chad; Mali; Guinea; Burkina Faso; Liberia; and Ethiopia. This report, however, also does not mention language of instruction.

Education is one of the sectors in multilingual Africa in which the linguistic dimension of policy and action has been relatively well discussed - even if the quality of debate and policy results may vary. The question of language(s) of instruction is certainly also related to the issue of getting and keeping more girls in school, and it deserves explicit attention from outside organizations seeking to increase that number.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A terminological issue in cross-language qualitative methods

What do you call it when someone hears something in one language, and then writes down the meaning in another language? It is technically not translation, interpretation, or transcription, in their purest senses, even though these terms are sometimes used to refer to the process or its products. Should we have a new term for this practice, especially to distinguish it from the alternative method of transcribing in the one language and then translating into the other?

This is an issue particularly relevant to qualitative research in Africa, where focus groups or interviews are often done in a language other than the one in which research analysis and reporting take place. It is also important in other multilingual countries and regions, and indeed some of my examples below come from experience in Afghanistan.

Two approaches

When I was managing research projects in Kabul in 2013, we handled qualitative data in the form of recordings of focus groups and in-depth interviews by having them transcribed in the source language (Dari or Pashto), then translated from the transcripts. This was standard in the company I worked with, and as a research practice, from all I had learned previously. I have in my possession, for example, a photocopy of a rather lengthy transcript of a recording in Fulfulde, prior to translation.1

It was of some surprise, therefore, to learn from another organization in Kabul that they paid people to translate or interpret into English directly from recordings, with no same-language transcripts. I later found that this kind of shortcut is actually not that uncommon. For example, I am working on a digitization project involving tapes in diverse African languages, plus written translations or transcripts in French or English.2 And see also the following excerpt from a recent position announcement, which does not even involve recordings (emphasis in original):
Notetakers will be responsible for capturing detailed and accurate documentation of focus group discussions and interviews in English, translating from Arabic to English in real time. The notetaker is thus the point person for all qualitative data obtained during the data collection phase.
Although skeptical about what seems like translating qualitative data "on the fly," since there is such potential for loss or distortion of information, and less facility in verifying the end product, I do recognize that there can be reasons - perhaps good ones - for such practice.3

The main issues here, however, are first to call attention to these different methods in qualitative research, which might be qualitatively different in their outcomes, and then to make the case for terminology to distinguish between them.

I'll begin with brief discussion of three terms already established in this space - transcription, interpretation, and translation - and then return to comparing these two approaches to cross-language qualitative data. I then consider possible blended terms to refer to the shorter approach.


Transcription literally is conveying in writing - "reducing" the spoken language to its written form. By convention it refers to recording in the same language. Ideally a transcription should be verbatim, reflecting the actual words and expressions used.

The way one writes the language is a key consideration, though the general assumption in most cases I have encountered is to use the standard orthography. Transcription may also be phonetic, and this is common for example in linguistic research. There are gray areas between the two, as we found in Afghanistan, where speech in a language may vary in accent or regional variant forms, but which transcribers wrote in standard form - this we felt preserved the sense of what participants said in their languages, while facilitating later text analysis and translation.

The detail of transcription may vary, to the extent perhaps of indicating other sounds and vocalizations in addition to the meaningful speech.


Interpretation is conveying the meaning of a verbal utterances in one language into a verbal utterances in another. Interpretation may be in real time - either sequentially or consecutively, as is commonly done in formal or informal settings where someone interprets for two others who are speaking different languages, or simultaneously.
In any case, the usual assumption is that interpretation is done pretty close timewise to when the initial statement is made - at least when people are speaking directly. When a recording is involved, a spoken interpretation is usually not sought, but a written rendering of the meaning of the recorded speech might be - one of the situations of concern in this posting.

(The terms "interpretation" and "translation" are often used interchangeably, but here the strict definitions will be retained.)


Translation is the conveying of the meaning of text in one language into text in another. Translation may be more literal/word-for-word or more semantic/meaning focused. In the context of qualitative research, attention to the meaning and of the voice of participants is important.

The field of translation has seen a lot of change in recent years with specializations and the introduction and refinement of tools such as translation memory and machine translation.

From spoken source language to written target language

The context of cross-language qualitative data analysis is nicely summarized by Monique Hennink in her handbook on methods4:
In international focus group research, the group discussions are typically conducted in the language of the study participants, which may differ from that of the research investigators. Therefore, the tape-recording of the discussions will need to be translated and transcribed into the language of the research team for data analysis. The process may involve first transcribing the tape-recording in the language of the discussion and later translating the written document. This process will produce two transcripts: one in the original language of the discussion and a second translated transcript.
One advantage of having the two texts - one the transcript of the recorded discussions and the other the translation of that transcript - is in facilitating back checking of the translation. Another that the source language transcript can be used for text analysis.

Prof. Hennink continues4:
However, time and resource constraints lead many research projects to conduct the tasks of translation and transcription simultaneously, the outcome of which is a single transcript in the language of the investigators, with the tape-recording as the only record of the discussion in the original language.
Building on my previous discussion and illustrations above, here (below) is a quick schema illustrating these two approaches ("source language" here being the original language of the discussions, and the "target language" being that of the researchers, their analysis, and the final reporting or publication).
Two ways to get from spoken source language to written target language: In green, (1) transcription &
(2) translation; or in orange, (١) a direct rendering, for which there is/are not yet any specialized term/s.
What happens in the two-step process of transcription and translation (the green arrows, 1 & 2) is pretty straightforward. The transcription process may run into issues alluded to above in how to reconcile different pronunciations and usages with the standard language and its formal orthography, but these are problems common to transcription as a practice. Likewise, translation has its own set of issues such as whether to be more literal or more semantic.

On the other hand, what happens when the spoken source language data is not first reduced to writing in that language, but rather is rendered directly in the written target language (the orange arrow, with Arabic digit ١), is a process that needs more attention. It is clear, as already mentioned above, that the lack of a transcription in the source language makes verification of the product more difficult, and it also eliminates the possibility of text analysis in the source language.

But what about the process itself, what the person making the written target language product from the recording of the spoken source language? Should we think of that person as interpreting internally before writing, meaning perhaps an alternate two-step process? How does the quality of data processed this way compare with that of the formal two-step process above? Is this translation or interpretation, or should we call it something else? 

"Transterpretation," "interprescription," or ... ?

The process of rendering a recorded discussion in one language directly (one step) into a written record in another seems to be at the same time:
  • similar to that of same-language transcription in that the person doing it would likely listen and re-listen to the recording in order to get it right;
  • similar to interpretation in that they are working from what they hear, not something in writing; and
  • similar to translation in that the product is in written form and as such can be revised and edited. 
It yields a product used in the same way as that produced by transcription followed by translation, but as far as I am aware, there have not been any comparative evaluations of the two. 

Still, since the two processes - the two methods to convert spoken discussions in on language into text in another - are different, it would at least be useful to have different terms to refer to them. One possibility would be to simply call the two-step method "translation," understanding that a preceding step of transcription is involved, and to coin a term for the one-step method. For the latter, two possible ways of blending the terms "transcription" and "interpretation" that would convey the sense of writing down one's interpretation of spoken language, are "transterpretation" and "interprescription" (for the latter, the product would logically be an "interprescript" - an interpretation transcript). Of course there may be better ideas, which would be welcome.

Simultaneous interprescription or transterpretation?

As mentioned above, there is also the other scenario where discussions may be interpreted and transcribed (at least as summary notes) in one step in real time, i.e., without a recording. This is another approach to cross-language qualitative data from focus groups or interviews, which also ought to have an appropriate term to facilitate reference and clarity about methods.

1. These were transcriptions in handwritten Fulfulde photocopied by me around 1990, thanks to Prof. David W. Robinson. My intent was to use them for extracting lexical data for future revision of the Fulfulde lexicon.
2. These were produced by a project run by Nigel Cross and Rhiannon Barker that resulted in a book edited by them under the title At the Desert's Edge: Oral Histories from the Sahel (Panos, London, 1992).
3. As discussed below, limited resources and limited time are given as justifications for not transcribing in the source language. Another circumstance that might arise is where participants are not comfortable with being recorded, so a facilitator may make notes of their interpretation of the discussions (rather than attempt verbatim transcription or notes in the same language that need translating later).

4. Monique M. Hennink, International Focus Group Research: A Handbook for the Health and Social Sciences (Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 214).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Boukary Konaté, Malian blogger

Boukary Konaté. Source: Deutsche Welle, 2012
Boukary Konaté, teacher, blogger, story teller, "defender of Malian culture," passed away on Sunday 17 September - too soon (age 40) - due to a critical health condition that deteriorated rapidly. He was laid to rest the next day, yesterday, in Bamako.

I did not know him well, having made his acquaintance via Twitter, where he went by the handle @Fasokan (which means "language of the homeland" in Bambara). Although we never met in person, I appreciated his work and contributions to communicating Malian culture and using the Bambara language on the web. Boukary's production - writing mainly but also photography - and work in the field touched many people.

Here are some tributes from friends and associates who knew him well, along with some news items (this list will be amended over the next few days):

On the matter of serious illness in poorer countries

Boukary Konaté died due to a liver condition that was not identified early enough for effective treatment (despite a late effort to collect funds to permit his evacuation to a country where appropriate surgery could be done). Such a situation can affect anyone anywhere, but the possibility that better equipped health service in Mali might have made for a happier outcome is cause for some reflection. We have benefited from Boukary's presence, but his early departure would probably not have been necessary in a more just world.

Ala ka hinε a la!