Friday, December 31, 2004

A quick note to conclude 2004. Currently I'm working on two items: a French language section for the 27th Internationalization and Unicode Conference (IUC27) in Berlin next April and a project proposal with IDRC that would seek to advance localization in Africa.

I continue to contribute to the lists listed in the left hand column - note in particular the A12n lists, Unicode-Afrique, and AfricanLanguages.

It is my hope to put more on this blog, since there is worthy news and I expect will be much more in 2005, but time constraints and access to this site are a problem...

Monday, December 06, 2004

I will return later to the topic of work on localization (or localisation - that's why logograms such as l10n are useful) efforts later, but wanted to mention two New York Times articles - one on education that didn't mention African languages and the other on ICT that did. The latter, "Using a New Language in Africa to Save Dying Ones" (Marc Lacey, 12 November 2004) was a welcome recognition of localization. I posted some comments on it on the A12n-forum (link to the list in the left hand column).

Re the article on schools, "In Africa, Free Schools Feed a Different Hunger" (Celia Dugger, 24 October 2004), it brought up the jump in primary school attendance in many African countries following governments' elimination of enrollment fees. This is certainly positive, but unfortunately the article did not mention the issue of language of instruction. My letter to the author, Ms. Dugger, follows. It is the third time that I've noted similar oversights in the NYTimes - by Somini Sengupta on girls' education in Benin, and Nicolas Kristof on schooling in Chad (for the latter, see my entry in this blog for 25 March 2004) - and the third time I've written...

I appreciated your article on primary education in Africa but wish that you had brought up the issue of language of instruction in it. In most of the continent, instruction is in a second language, generally English or French. There are reasons for this, and there are costs. Unfortunately the reasons are unquestioned (some are unfounded negative assumptions about bilingual education and about African languages themselves) and the costs are not calculated (starting learning in a second language is an additional challenge to students - no wonder so many need to repeat and, as you point out, in Uganda "more than half of third graders still performed poorly in math and English"; it reduces potential parental & community involvement in their children's education, and arguably has longer term consequences for the very development goals education is meant to address). 

The case of Giriama [the article featured a visit to a school in a Giriama-speaking part of Kenya] might have been a particularly good one to consider. With about half a million speakers according to Ethnologue, it is neither a major tongue nor negligible. The issues of cost of materials and training teachers are valid concerns - though even in the case of more widely spoken languages these are often excuse by donors and governments to focus uniquely on the official language. The issue of medium of instruction has been around for years and merits at least mention.

If you come back to the education in Africa topic it may be interesting to look at the efforts to establish education in indigenous languages in a bilingual system in Mali. (Save the Children has worked a number of years on this.)

Thanks for you attention to this and all the best.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

In Warsaw now. The localisationDev meeting was a lot of work and a great learning experience. I'll be preparing a proposal for a workshop in Africa (March). Also working on proposals for the Unicode IUC27 conference in Berlin in April ...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

"LocalisationDev Sprint"

Travelling to Warsaw for this short event. More as time permits to add it, and perhaps also some catching up. The webpage for the event is:

Niamey news

This blog is not for Niamey news, but since some folks may come across it with that expectation, I will mention a few items that have been in the news over the last half year or so.

1. Rains were good, and an early rain in Niamey was too big.
2. A fire in the artisan center in Wadata a few months ago destroyed much of the center.
3. Locusts. The return of a plague - not as bad there as in some other parts of the region, though, from what I've heard.
4. Presidential elections. The first round completed, the second to happen. I've been out of touch with the latest...

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

La lutte continue ...

Aside from contributions to various lists (see column at left), I'm also communicating off-line re various items (as usual).

I've had touble accessing Blogger/Blogspot, but now that that appears to be slved, hopefully there'll be more soon...

Friday, May 28, 2004

Focusing most efforts now on the newly incorporated Bisharat, Ltd. Also some messages on the various lists (see bar at left). More in time, so Alla jaɓii ...

Saturday, April 03, 2004

At the Annual Conference of African Linguistics(ACAL) - the 35th - this year at Harvard University. Had an opportunity to present on African languages and ICT, network, and learn quite a bit about other research relevant to my work and that of Bisharat. I will try to post more on observations and ideas in some next postings.

At this point I will modify the heading/description of this weblog to add a different take: "Beyond Niamey" will also have the sense of the implications of the Niamey 1978 "expert meeting," one of several in Africa on the topic of harmonization of transcriptions, and emblematic of the efforts to standardize scripts for the languages of the continent. Much of the work that was done in such conferences going back to before the seminal Bamako 1966 expert meeting and continuing after, has implications for discussions today about African languages and ICT.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Mi eggii, yaltii Niizer gilla balɗe sappo. Korka duu timmii gilla balɗe nay. Joonin miɗo waɗa jahangal ley Ameriik, fadde hootude galle amin ley Assiin.

Well beyond Niamey now. Events moving quickly, and too much to do, to maintain this blog regularly.

Some interesting meetings in DC when I was there. Mostly my time in this part of the trip is spent working on refining a presentation and paper.

In the meantime some other writing. One quick note to the authors of a report from last year, The impact of cybercafés on information services in Uganda, asking about how the dimension of language (multilingual ICT) fir in their research. It was not mentioned that I could see in what was otherwise an interesting article (similar issue to a recent survey of users' evaluati on of content in Nairobi which did not broach the issue of language either - see my posting in this blog of 21 Feb. 2004). My note to the authors of the Uganda survey included the following:

A number of significant questions come to mind that are hard to ignore in a polyglot society such as that of Uganda: How are maternal and vehicular languages such as Luganda and Swahili used currently in cybercafés and in local web content etc.? What are user practices and preferences in this regard? What are the attitudes and knowledge levels of cybercafé operators, governmental authorities and development projects to exploring and utilizing the multilingual potential of the technology? What different uses might different languages have in the evolution of cybercafés and MCTs as they respond to the realities and needs of the country?

Another letter was in response to part of a dispatch "Is there any hope for Africa" by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. On a trip to Chad and Sudan he commented on, among other things, education and its importance. Like so many who evaluate the African development situation, he sees the importance of education, but not some of the complexities in the issue brought about by the way education is approached. I offered the following (edited slightly here):

I just looked at your dispatch re education in Chad with great interest. You touch on some important aspects of this vital issue but there's one missing factor - that of the language(s) of instruction.

Since colonial times in most of Africa, formal education has tended to be approached as a monolingual agenda, relying entirely on European languages. There were and are various reasons and rationalizations for this then and now, but relatively little attention I'm aware of to discussing the costs for individuals and societies of ignoring people's first languages in education.

For one thing it is a sink-or-swim thing for kids arriving in school the first day to encounter an unfamiliar or little heard language. For another it puts up a barrier to greater parental involvement in their children's schooling. I've also been working on the hypothesis that this monolingual approach means for most school leavers what amounts to an impaired bilingualism/multilingualism, where they plateau at a certain functional level in their first language(s) and never attain a high level in the school language. (Education is not my field of specialization - that is rural development - but I've become increasingly interested in the language & basic education issues over the course of several years work in and study of West Africa.)

The oft cited main reason for not having any instruction in any African tongue is that there are "too many" languages. This is so often repeated that it is accepted as dogma even when the local realities would not prohibit use of relevant local languages at least in the first years of primary ed. From that flow other justifications like the cost of producing materials in diverse maternal languages or the fear that teaching children in anything other than the language inherited from colonization will lead to divisiveness.

All such questions and issues need to be examined critically and fairly, but at the moment it seems that the topic of language of instruction is largely omitted from the discourse. Odd, to say the least, in as multilingual a region as sub-Saharan Africa. I previously wrote Ms. Sengupta about this following her story on girls' education in Benin. One of the leads I gave her was Lynn Lederer, director of Save the Children in Mali, which has been deeply involved in Mali's successful program for first language primary education in that country. There are certainly other programs of this genre and I would think a very interesting article or two on what the choice of languages of instruction means for students and communities.

A quick addendum - lest there be any misunderstanding, the issue is not monolingual African language education instead of monolingual French or English, but rather effective bilingual approaches that incorporate at least early instruction in first languages, such as what is being implemented in Mali. There are other approaches that may use African languages for instruction or as subjects at higher levels. Africa is complex and various such solutions could be adapted as appropriate in different places.

Part of the reason for this concern is that outside interest in advancing basic education in Africa seems mostly to ignore the multilingual nature of African societies. The role of African governments (elites) in this tends to be to more or less passively reinforce the status quo (monolingual instruction in French or English). Between the two, it is hard to generate positive evolution in educational approaches.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

First day of the Baha'i fast today. Went better than the usual first day (surprised). For those not familiar, this fasting means not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset (similar to the Muslim Ramadan). The Baha'is in this part of Niamey (as elsewhere) marked last night the end of Ayyam-i-Ha - the intercalary days corresponding with the end of February - and the beginning of the 19 day month of fasting.

After a hot spell over Ayyam-i-Ha, the sky was very dusty and the temp more moderate today. Hot season is on its way though.

Balɗe sappo e tati heddi faa mi egga.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Had an interesting exchange re the Gutenberg Project's interest in including works in African languages in its collection of e-books. I've long thought that weblishing older published material in various African languages, such as the old Classiques Africaines series, would be an easy way to get some good quality content on the web. This may seem somewhat far from applications related to development, the long-term focus of Bisharat (link at left, under "Other Links, Work"), but in fact any quality African language material in my opinion helps achieve a kind of "critical mass" making the addition of other temporary, current and targeted material easier. In the case of some of this material, it may also serve to help set the high-end standard for web-content in some languages.

There's a fair amount, from my recollection of some bibliographic work, but mostly it's tucked away in university libraries in the north, inaccessible in any form on the continent.

This all seems to be the result of connections made by Djilali Benamrane, formerly of UNDP, with a very positive response from Michael Hart, the director of Gutenberg. More on this later, hopefully.

The NYTimes Magazine had a piece yesterday on disappearing languages, "Say no more." I posted the following quick reaction on a small MSN list on which the link was posted, Language and Development (the link was also posted later on ILAT). If you understand Bambara, the first line attempts to play off the article title "Say no more":

N'ka kan ka kuma kelen fɔ...

But first, thanks for this article, which I had not seen.

We hear a lot about disappearing languages, those that have 6 speakers like Kawesqar, some with 30-some speakers others with a few hundred. These are important matters, but most of us cannot do much directly.

At the same time I'm convinced that there are dangerous processes at play for languages that have tens or hundreds of thousands, or even 1 or 2 million. When languages are not taught at school, when people don't bother to teach the mother tongue to their children, when the popular idea is that the indigenous languages are somehow inferior, then the writing is on the wall. In the meantime, long before language extinction becomes a concern, I think there is a certain amount of "language impoverishment." I've known native speakers of Bambara and Fulfulde who have baldly stated that there is no word for such-and-such in their language, when in fact I as a language learner know that there is one or more. Two examples:

1. A Bambara speaker, telling me that Bambara was not suited for science, only "dialogue" gave as an example that there is no word for research ("recherche" in French, the language he was comparing it to) - but in fact one can say (correct me if I'm wrong!)
ɲini, literally to look for, or sɛgɛsɛgɛli, which has the sense of really getting to the bottom of things.

2. A Fulfulde speaker who didn't know the word for "blind person" -
bumɗo - but instead only knew how to say neɗɗo mo yiyataa - person who can't see.

3. A Hausa agricultural researcher in Niger who spoke impeccable French, but mastered her first language less well than an American colleague who had spent 3 years in the country.

Many times I've chatted with people who've been through the formal schooling system (almost all in Africa use only English or French) who have remarked how their elders could talk above their heads in their common maternal language.

It seems that this is a process happening all over. As an outsider looking at it, it is tragic (the consequences of colonization) and puzzling. Many African languages are numerically as important as official languages in Europe like Dutch, Danish, Catalan, and many in East Europe, but are not used in education. There are probably more webpages in Basque or Welsh than in any African language. Etc.

There are a lot of disadvantages Africa and its socio-economies, that is to be sure, but ultimately it's up to Africans to decide about aspects of language and culture on the continent.

It may be helpful to know that there are ways to revitalize African languages and keep the usefulness of the international languages. Bilingual education - at home, in the community, and in school - has been shown to benefit children. And there is international interest in bolstering education in Africa, which African authorities can direct toward approaches that include use of children's first languages.

All that said, there are certainly minority languages in Africa that are in danger of disappearing. Some of this in Africa as elsewhere is ultimately unavoidable. But a beginning point to dealing with this part of the situation is to understand how many such languages there are, and before that even, to understand what is a separate language and what is a dialect of a larger language.

N'y'a sɔrɔ yan, n'y'a bila yen...

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Rearranged & tinkered a bit with the lefthand column links. In particular added RSS feeds for several lists. Part of what interests me with this weblog medium is to facilitate access to active info across fora. This technique was just discussed by Andy Carvin on the DigitalDivide list (link at left, under More interesting lists) - thanks to him for sharing the info.

One problem I'm noting now, though, is that these are not the most recent posts that are displayed...

A new forum - Assimilation - is also included. This is a topic I've begun to think about in other contexts and seems to be worth offering a special place for. Given I don't have much time to promote it, it will double as a kind of experiment I guess, to guage how such a topic fares on its own.

Recently had some interesting exchanges about tapes from the old Sahel Oral Testimony Programme. Happily at least some of these are still extant. They are recordings of 500 interviews done in 1989 with people in the Sahel about their lives and livelihoods, the environment and changes in it. My hope is that connections already made can digitize these resources for safekeeping and that the means can ultimately be found to transcribe (in the original languages) and perhaps translate to "repatriate" these voices - audio + text - to the region via the internet.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Hannde mi winndi batake tati to Multilingual_Literacy. Ndaara to junngo ma nano e "kliku" dow innde mun.

Aujourd'hui ferié au Niger à cause de Muharram hier. On a visité et causé avec les stagiaires qui viennent de compléter leur première visit aux villages là où ils vont travailler pendant deux ans.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Today is International Mother Language Day, an observance established by the UN in 1999. Apparently there will be some ceremonies chez UNESCO on Monday 2/23. More info at En français à

In the panorama of holidays, anniversaries, and observances it may seem quite minor, but it is one of the only events calling attention to 1) language loss and 2) the too often overlooked (esp. in Africa) importance of first languages in education.

A couple of brief articles give more info: UNESCO urges teaching from earliest age in indigenous mother languages and UN's Mother Language Day Focuses On Conserving World's Linguistic Heritage.

There is no observance that I'm aware of in Niamey. A colleague I mentioned this to a while back asked, but there was nothing. And no time to generate something. Unfortunately the advance support from UNESCO for this seems to be minimal - they pull things together nicely in time (webpage, ceremonies), but for advance planning there is little. I did get a nice letter in response to inquiries offering to send materials, but it was too close to the event to allow for mail to arrive.

Problème avec l'affichage du français ici! Sur un autre ordinateur que j'utilise d'habitude pour regarder ce blog j'ai remarqué que les caractères accentés sont transformés en autres choses... Cela arrive je crois parceque ce page est en UTF-8, et selon la configuration du browser, les entités indiqués par caractères accentés veut transmettre d'autres informations que celles qu'on a esperé. A faami?? Franchement, je ne sais même pas si moi je comprends complètement. Une solution est de mettre, par exemple, & e a c u t e ; (sans les espace intercalés) pour e accent aigu dans le texte (html) du "post" etc. - mais c'est gênant. Donc je chercherai une autre solution...

Enfin, a couple of things written to someone re an interesting survey of cybercafés in Nairobi. It seemed to me that the question re language was missing. In fact language of content and access seems to be given little energy by people promoting ICT. Here are excerpts from my two letters; I omit the nice brief reply (basically saying no) to the first letter that I received this morning:

(Thursday, November 20, 2003 6:51 AM)

Greetings! I saw the item on your Nairobi cybercafé survey in Balancing Act's News Update #183 and found it very interesting. Indeed, this is a topic deserving more research and I hope your effort encourages same.

In looking at the News Update piece and the summary at I did not notice mention of any questions in what I think is an area of central interest, that of language. Maybe this subject was discussed in the full report, but I had trouble downloading it.

Some questions I would look for would include the languages people use in e-mail and websurfing (not sure how many sites in Kenya have Swahili, for instance, though there are a number in Tanzania of course) and whether users have any preferences in this regard that are not currently met with regard to content language (i.e., would they like to see more content in Kenyan languages). The latter question would seem to fit with the overall theme of the report that users sought more local content: does the language of the local content matter, to whom, in what ways, and to what extent?

This all would bridge to another set of questions re computer interfaces: although Swahili for example uses the ASCII character set, I understand that Gikuyu has some diacritic characters (see ) and that this may pose an inconvenience to people who might want to use this in, say, e-mail (see for example ). Have cybercafés dealt with this question or even thought about it?

Thanks in advance for any feedback and all the best!

(Saturday, February 21, 2004 10:51 AM)

. . . Re language I think it's always important and the interest is definitely real. Three things tend to submerge the issue in various agendas/discourses (including those relating to ICT):

1) In my mainly West African experience, there are things close to the heart that people don't make a big thing of overtly.
2) Many Africans have more or less bought into the line that their languages are "tribal dialects" or in any event unsuited for science, technology, and learning. This has been reinforced by the formal education systems which at best assign a secondary role to indigenous languages and in too many cases (esp. in former French colonies)
3) Many Westerners tend to assume away African languages, even though their intent be benign, since they generally don't understand them, and the Africans they interact with the most tend to be able to get by in English or French.

ICT adds another dimension to this. The association of English (or French) with technology, opportunity, and the exciting world elsewhere is understandable, but there could and arguably should be the opportunity for some balance. Nobody is suggesting that Africans have to use their languages on computers and the internet, but the current approaches in many ways tell them that they can't - or shouldn't be so foolish as to think of it.

The latter may seem gratuitous, but I've been dumbfounded by some things I've heard occasionally mainly from Westerners working in development here - why would someone want to use something other than French if they can understand that? ; we're a decade and a half away from any localization for African languages ; the plurality of African languages (and the inability to initiate use in all of them) makes it better to stay with English or French...

Coming back to your cybercafé survey, language is worth the question(s). Especially in the case of Swahili, which of course is an important regional language that is even being considered as a medium for instruction in higher education. But even in the case of Kenya for other maternal languages - there has been some significant publication in Gikuyu, for instance, so why not use it on the internet, or why shouldn't speakers of that tongue be interested in seeing some web content in it? The main thing is that behind the apparent "lack of excitement" on the topic there may be, and likely is, a range of opinion and interest. It would be interesting to know what this is currently and also to follow its evolution, if you are planning to continue the study.

. . .

Last item for this entry - I had joked about agricultural linguistics with a couple of our trainees not long ago. It's not as far out a juxtaposition as it might seem: I just ran across the term environmental linguistics looking for something else yesterday. That has a couple of senses it seems - depending on whether it's the built environment or the natural one - a distinction that means more perhaps to us with ag. & NRM backgrounds than to linguists. The latter sense seems along the lines of the operating premises of the NGO Terralingua. I still think that there's a fertile area for research and practice on language and development in Africa, and linguistics needs to be brought into the mix more vigorously.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A few quick items. In the last few weeks I've done some updates to several pages on the Bisharat! site (link on left), notably the links pages and the "basic documents." For the latter I am particularly indebted to CELHTO here in Niamey for the loan of some books and reports that I'm trying to find free time to scan - already done material for Abidjan '64, Ibadan '64 (tous les deux en français), Bamako '79, and la version française de Harare '97 (previously had only the English).

A few correspondence items relating to language in Africa, esp. of education. For instance just recently on the "Africa-oped"* list at:

I also discovered the "Mwananchi"** list - both it and the abovementioned have a staggering amount of traffic BTW - and posted something that was reposted on Africa-oped where you can see it in the latter's open archives:

a response on the topic of culture & development - here I veer off onto the question of language again

Mwananchi, so I discover, has a lot of input by George Ayittey, an American Univ. professor who has published on aspects of African development. His reply to the above I don't have permission to repost here - and the group is closed- archive - but here is my response to him today (in the socially equalizing etiquette of such groups, one is pretty much automatically on a first name basis):

Thank you, George. I'd be interested what you (and others) think of the work of Kwesi Prah and CASAS - - on standardization of regional & transborder languages for intercommunication in Africa. Certainly sets out to challenge some of the conventional wisdom.

The multilingual nature of African societies is a challenge but many argue a resource as well. The trick I guess is to find solutions to have the best of all possibilities, and Africa ends up (for reasons such as you indicate) with the worst instead.

I've been very interested in this regard to go over a number of documents on language policy in Africa from the last 40 years - which I find very thought provoking indeed. It seems that many good and realistic proposals for African languages have been made but never really implemented. See

Of course English, French & Portuguese have roles that are important, I'm not suggesting otherwise, but I do agree with those in other world regions that use of first languages in formal education (in proven bilingual approaches) has a lot of advantages for learning and personal development.

Anyway, that's one foreigner's take on it. Thanks again & in advance...


  1. The "beyond" in Beyond Niamey has been postponed until mid-March

  2. I'll recommence experimenting a little with this medium...

Under item #1, the watchword is "It ain't over 'til it's over and over" - three times Peace Corps / Niger has advertised my position and for the third time the position won't be filled. This time it was no one's fault (a med. issue apparently) but three in a row has got to be some sort of record. So, if you know someone with good agriculture & development background, African experience, and an interest in the Sahel, pass the word to check the Peace Corps site's employment page (link to the site is on the left).

Anyway I will still be leaving - mi yahan Asiin, so Alla jaɓii, to jom suudu et cukalel ngoni joonin. As for Peace Corps, la lutte continuera, mais sans moi.

In previous entries I mentioned students in the streets. That has continued on and off. Mainly means stay off the streets in the midmorning. There are grievances apparently having to do with stipends, and a couple of anniversaries of students killed in ... previous demonstrations that went violent (some years ago).

Trainees off to visit their sites. This is sort of a moment of truth for many - they've been out on field visits before, but now it's to where they'll live. In the way PC trainings work here, they will return and we'll discuss the experience before they finish training.

That said, as I mentioned on 1/20 the overall training format is novel (for those of you familiar with PC) in that the pre-service training is just over 8 weeks rather than 11, and they will get a follow up mostly technical training later.

Re #2 that's obvious if you're reading this. I am still interested in linking a blog-lite with postings in other media, or perhaps finding a better way to repost what I post elsewhere.

The problem with blogs as I see it is that they are just one more time-sink (which is how I view most personal journal keeping nowadays - having kept journals some years ago) unless they have a clear outword-looking purpose & readership. The reason I have preferred to post on topical lists/groups is that one can contribute to a dialogue or share info with others who are there for that purpose. The problem is that one's writing can then be scattered all over (I run into old postings of mine, sometimes reposted, in various places).

Maybe if a blog could include an indexing tool - something that would facilitate recording or recuperating links to material elsewhere, and selective archiving. Or something...

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Seriously thinking I don't get it with regard to blogs. Anyway here's another shot...

Trainees are back from "demyst" (demystification) which is basically their first trip out to see what volunteer life is really like. Will find out what their impressions are.

Wrapping up a lot of intangibles - mainly in the form of letters - while the tangibles of packing go slowly. Mainly there are things to tie up.

Multilingual_Literacy has a better description (see link at left). Postings to A12n-collaboration.

And this item which proves I haven't lost my touch in rattling off bad French (it was quickly done, here just an excerpt of a letter to a correspondant working on language preservation in Burkina Faso):

Je dois ajouter que je ne suis pas spécialisé en linguistique mais je me suis longtemps occupé par des questions de langue. J'ai mon doctorat en développement des ressources (avec accent sur l'agriculture et GRN) mais j'ai aussi travaillé sur un lexique du peul (Maasinankoore) et je parle mandingue (Bamanankan). Donc je me trouve toujours à travers deux domaines que le plupart du monde considère totalement séparés, l'un de l'autre. Mais je trouve que langue et expression (et donc l'imagination) sont aussi important que les techniques agricoles ou autres - sinon plus important considérant que le "développement" est d'abord une question d'éducation et d'ésprit, et après cela une question d'adapter ou adopter qqch.

Je reviens à la définition de base pour "développement" en langues latines - (desenvolare), déplier ou réveler les potentialités. C'est ça la fondation sur laquelle on peut bâtir, peut-être durablement, l'amélioration des conditions de vie, croissance de production etc. Et c'est dans cette optique que j'arrive a m'adresser aux questions de langue et de développement agricole sans voir ni contradiction ni division.

(Je me rappele qu'en Bambara on a tendance à traduire développement comme "ɲɛtaa" qui ressemble pour mois "progès," qui malheureusement porte un sens négatif à ce qui existait avant. Je ne sais pas s'il y a un autre mot qui donnerait un autre sens que croissance qui se nourris toujours des racines, tout en incorporant les éléments neufs.)

Toutefois, n'étant pas expert en linguistique je suis obligé de chercher à apprendre avec des experts comme vous.

Avec ça je vais terminer. Je crois devoir ajouter que je quitte Niamey définitivement dans 4 semaines, mais je continuerai à lire mes courriels.

Merci encore pour avoir écrit et à bientôt.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Contribution today on ILAT (finished & posted today). Other work.

Phones out over much of Niamey at midday, almost certainly connected with a power outage in parts of town.

Balɗe sappo e jetti heddi.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Golle ana heewi ɗe balɗe. Ndara ko mi waɗii joonin, toon:

Langues Togolaises et les NTIC

... ɗum gaɗi-mi faa mi walla neɗɗo goɗɗo ley leydi Togo.

Students on the street and bridge today.

Trop à faire ... contributions pour aujourd'hui sur Multilingual_Literacy, AfricanLanguages, ILAT, et AfriqueGlobalization (liens à gauche)...

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Student demonstrations this morning in Niamey. Happens just often enough that one loses track of exactly what the issue is - generally something with the bourses, that is the student living stipends, but sometimes politics.

On the national scene the local elections have been postponed from March to June. Not sure if there is a connection. (The curious can check out some of the links at J. Mayer's page - click on the link to that in the left column under "Niger" - for sources of news.)

I wrote an e-mail with a quick take on my interests (a networking/jobhunting thing important even as the clock ticks down...) which I'll revise part of a bit for this venue:

In effect I have one foot in language & multilingual ICT and the other in agriculture, environment and rural development. What links the two are

  • a conviction about the nature and importance of agriculture in human society (goes beyond the obvious; the relentless focus on production is leading to some very questionable results), and an interest in enhancing opportunities for smallholder farming families in poorer countries

  • an approach to land & resource management that emphasizes "putting the mind on the land" beginning with local knowledge (not stopping there, of course) and using various low & high tech tools of spatial imaging

  • a view of "development" that goes back to its core meaning of "unfolding, revealing potentialities" (if you start from there rather than the usual usages of the term, you get a much broader set of goals)

  • seeing education or "learning" as the dynamic thread linking these interests (with a Freirian accent - though this is pretty mainstream now)

  • understanding of the importance of one's first language in learning, "owning," and generating knowledge (but for various reasons most of education & development approaches in Africa minimize this)

  • the strong impression from experience that multilingual societies function differently from monolingual ones in ways that people used to monolingual living (or even alternating from one to another more or less monolingual setting using different languages) don't easily appreciate

  • recognition of the importance of language skills in life success and social skills, and that current education systems and economic factors are producing in Africa many people with what one might call "impaired bilingualism" (no schooling in the first language(s) and more or less limited acquisition of the language of instruction - the worst of both worlds when in fact the best of both is possible)

The latter is an interesting line of reasoning I have only recently begun to really think about - the suggestion being that inadequate skills in self-expression lead to social and psychological problems esp. in men (?), and that lack of words, of language skills, effectively equals inadequacy. A quote I ran across by Australian author John Marsden a couple of months ago got me thinking along these lines: "Language impoverishment can lead to frustration, impotence and/or rage."

Is lack of language education, within the broadly recognized "lack of education" (which tends to get reduced to the also important but different domain of vocational education - as if young people don't need to think as long as they learn to do), an underappreciated factor in problems in disadvantaged communities? And lack of good bilingual language education a factor in polyglot societies? A lot of the youth caught up in the violent armed groups in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire, for instance, are probably really fluent in no language - whether there is any link or not I think is is a valid question to look at. Obviously all the violence plays out in a context of social, political and economic issues - but
how it is playing out may have something to do with a rootless/hopeless generation that speaks neither maternal language nor external language well. George Packer's descriptions of the youth in CI are worth rereading in this context.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Training sessions yesterday and tomorrow - for new PCVs. Big group, great attitude. For those familiar with Peace Corps and the traditional 3-month pre-service training, we have departed from that model, with a little over eight weeks training in basics before going out to post and then after a couple of months an intensive supplemental technical training. Niger is one of the first to try this in Africa.

Another item - Unicode-Afrique, a Yahoogroup I set up two years ago, marks two years of existence. A modest success, I think, with promise. It is far from the most active Africa & ICT list, but it seems to be filling a niche:

Il y a deux ans aujourd'hui qu'on a crée Unicode-Afrique comme instrument d'éducation, échange d'information, et même collaboration sur les potentialités de l'Unicode pour faciliter l'emploi des langues africaines dans l'informatique et sur l'internet.

Je voudrais prendre l'occasion de rémercier toutes et tous pour votre fidélité au groupe et pour avoir contribué vos questions, reponses et points de vue sur l'Unicode et les langues et écritures d'Afrique.

Que la prochaine année vous porte du succès dans vos travaux et nous permette de continuer et avancer les débats concernant l'Unicode et l'Afrique!
. . .

Back to Peace Corps ... APCDs, and Peace Corps staff generally, have their role described sometimes as in loco parentis, which is not really accurate since PCVs are are all well of age, but it does reflect our role in looking after basic safety & security, making sure that living conditions meet a certain minimum, etc.

A lot of what we APCDs do relates also to aspects of work and even providing advice/mentoring and other info. I had an interesting set of questions from one volunteer recently on vacation westward from Niger in West Africa which let me act momentarily in loco professoris. Anyway the questions and imprompt answers follow:

1. What role did peanuts play in the local economy before the French turned them in to a cash crop? How has the average Nigerien's use of the peanut and it's products changed?

The history of peanuts has been more prominent in countries west of Niger it seems. In Senegal as you saw it was big time economically and socially. Somewhat less so in Mali. In Niger there are not a lot of areas which can produce the crop that well. There was a peanut oil factory in the east of Niger, but either the crop production apparently couldn't support it or it was otherwise unprofitable.

Peanuts of course are native to Brazil, and like other new world crops (like corn) long ago found places in farming systems and foodways. The colonial emphasis on it in some areas may have increased its cultivation and use, but offhand I can't think of any study on this.

2. Why do Fulans and Wodabes seem so much less religious (Islam) in Niger than they do in Cameroon, Mali, Senegal?

Interesting question re Fulɓe and Islam. Up until the 1700s many Fulɓe were pagan (for lack of a better word). For various reasons there was a series of independent "revolutions" or reform movements in which Muslim Fulɓe took power in Fuuta Jalon (Guinea), ~1776; Sokoto & the Hausa states ~1804; Maasina (Mali) 1818; and Fuuta Tooro (Senegal River valley) mid-1800's. For a while you could actually talk of Fulaphone West Africa much as you do Francophone West Africa today (though nobody did).

The character of each was different. Fuuta Jalon was a theocracy with almost feudal hierarchy but an interesting system of rotation of power between two clans (which proved their undoing when the French could play them off against each other). Maasina also maintained the traditional "caste" system in the much more varied ethnic palette of the inland Niger delta, but is mostly known for a far-sighted reorganization of the herding system and interaction with agriculture.

I know less about Sokoto, but the Fulɓe involved apparently became pretty much absorbed into the Hausa state system (at the top), such that you'll sometimes read of Hausa-Fulani states (and one poorly researched article recently mentioned the "Hausa-Fulani tribe" of northern Nigeria). Between the Hausa states and Maasina (which includes Liptaako, Dori, western Niger), the Fulɓe were not as much caught up in it, and even less so in the open expanses to the north.

Fuua Tooro produced Al-Hajj Umar who battled the French in Senegal and when he lost a key battle in Medina on the Senegal River in 1852(?) turned his attentions eastward, conquering Kaarta (Bambara kingdom in western Mali) in 1860(?) and Segu (another more powerful Bambara kingdom) and Maasina in 1862. This is complex and the latter was the cause of some bitter blood and decades of chaos before the French took over.

I'm not as up on the situation in Adamawa (N. Cameroon) or why the Fulɓe are more Islamized there.

3. In Cameroon, the French left the Fulans in power when the country was granted independence? Did the colonizer favor Fulans in other countries as well? Why?

The relationship between the French and the Fulɓe was complicated in part by romantic notions of the origin of the latter and practical issues in that they found them in power in many places. I don't know my Cameroonian history well enough to say why Ahmadu Ahidjo et al were in power when the French left. I am aware that historically the Fulɓe in the north subjugated other peoples (and in fact ran across an interesting article once on the use of tree and bush plantings in that region for village defenses in that area - militaro-forestry?).

In other countries it was really a question of convenience. The Fulɓe had a bit of an advantage with the French in Guinea (they are still the largest group by a small margin) and indeed tended to vote for the French in the famous 1958 referendum in which the rest of the country didn't and which led to Sekou Touré's "non."

4. Why are grazing lands decreasing? Is it because of desertification, Hausas moving north and taking the land for farms, bigger herds, or some combination of these factors?

Combination of factors. More people either owning more animals or looking for more farmland, plus land-degradation and longer term trends in rainfall. I usually shy away from using "desertification" as it covers more than it reveals.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Niamey, c'est une ville polyglotte. Comme tout le pays et toute l'Afrique d'ailleurs. Ici la langue offiielle est le français, pour les raisons de l'histoire de la sous-région et aussi de besoin de langue franque. Mais promener en ville c'est d'écouter "Fofo" et "Sannu," par exemple, plus souvent que "Bonjour." C'est normale, vu le fait que le Zarma et/ou le Haoussa sont les langues maternelles de la grande majorité de la population.

C'est aussi normale ici et dans le plupart de l'Afrique d'écouter et parler plusieurs langues au cours d'une journée. J'ai l'impression qu'on ne peut pas parler une seule langue dans la journée sans se borner socialement et intellectuellement.

Handicap ou avantage, vivre avec ce multilinguisme? J'ai l'impression que ce n'est pas un désavantage a priori, et il y a des aspects positives. La communication passe bien par les voies (et voix) plurales si on est habitué. Le problème arrive si on ne maitrise aucune de ces langues - et les possibilités d'expression sont ainsi limités. Mais si on a une connaissance un peu approfondie dans au moins une langue, on peut, je crois, aller plus loin avec des autres langues.

En fin, ce sont quelques réflexions. J'ai l'impression sans avoir vraiement recherché la question que les dynamiques des sociétés multilingues de l'Afrique - et les implications pour l'éducation, la culture, le développement, etc. - ne sont pas très bien compris jusqu'au présent.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Balɗe noogay* e joyi faa mi egga (yaltina kaaki e suudu); cappantati e jeegon faa mi dillan ley laana pirooha.

Another weekend too busy to do as much packing as planned. Among other things, correspondence with various folks re Tifinagh, N'ko, Yoruba, and Akposso. One letter is worth sharing (most of) - it concerns whether or not a local language version of a tourist pamplet &/or web material should be done - I respond to someone who says that it hadn't been thought of:

In projects such as this, a lot of the focus is outward, which is not bad as far as that goes, but eclipses inward dimensions. And the inward dimensions, if you will are only partly covered by the official language, better in Togo than in Niger, but not complete. Which is to say that potential Togolese visitors, as you suggest, could make do fine with the French version, but there are things that that version can not do.

First, the French version cannot give the same message about the value of the cultural heritage of the area. Having a brochure and/or web content in Akposso (&/or Ewe?) alongside those in European languages has a significant symbolism - to yovo visitors as well as to local people.

Second, beyond symbolism the local language content will have some impact. Putting the material in the local language opens another dimension to the project and the resource in question. So much of the discourse in this region relegates certain things to the vernacular (local "indigenous knowledge," customs, home life) and others to the official language (scientific knowledge, laws, interaction with the outside). To a degree this is functional, but it is also artificial. Putting something onto people's first language(s) that they aren't used to seeing that way breaks that boundary at least a little, perhaps raising new possibilities of thinking. This may sound terribly abstract, but new ways of thinking is part of development, and new ways of thinking may involve the maternal languages.

Third is the link or bridge between local "indigenous knowledge" and environmental education (EE) - a more focused possibility of the second point. I understand now that the PCVs are concerned mainly with the economic aspects of tourism development. I don't know the current program in Togo well enough to know if there is something like EE, but translating a brochure and/or web material about the environment into the vernacular is a beginning to talk about the environment in a different way. Can new concepts about environment be incorporated into the same medium used to discuss local knowledge (i.e., the local language(s))? Here in Niger if there is new PCV work (e.g., website) on the "Park W" the suggestion of including material in the two principal local/national languages has been raised.

Fourth, there's the angle of how validating the use of the printed local language might help encourage people to write things down (this is also related to the second point above). An example: My cook and her husband here in Niamey are Akebu from Togo. The husband, has some interesting stories - for instance he and one of his brothers in Togo who have long wanted to publish the Akebu calendar (similar to the Akposso calendar you may have seen in Togo, which is still published annually there and I put on the web last year). He also told of his father, who apparently had a wealth of information on local species and medicines such that the sons wanted to record it somehow, but their father passed away and the opportunity was lost (one of the proverbial "libraries burning" of Amadou Hampaté Ba). How many opportunities like this are lost? My point here is not that a brochure or webpage in Akebu (in this case) would have saved such knowledge, but that it might be an important encouragement to people who could.

The main thing for your project is, I think, can local language content be added with little additional monetary cost - I think it can - and if so whether one is missing an opportunity by not making as much of an effort as possible in this direction.* Look at it this way - an unavoidable side aspect of the project is whether it reinforces the usual pattern (i.e., anything printed or technical being only in French & foreign languages) or opens some new possibilities (with printed &/or web material in the vernacular about an important local resource).

A lot of my thinking on this comes from my years in the region, and also from reading and thinking about rural development in other areas of the world. There is a lot of thinking and material out there about the importance of the maternal languages and linguistic diversity - which is not to say our role has to be to save every language, but neither should it be to overlook possibilities to work with them and their speakers in novel ways. (One organization linking language and biodiversity for instance is Terralingua, at .)

Let me close by returning to the symbolism issue with a story from PC/Niger - even though some of the realities here are different from Togo I think it is illustrative of the possibilities of doing more, even on a small scale, with local languages. We have the experience of printing up Peace Corps brochures in Hausa and Zarma as well as in French, in part at my suggestion over 2 years ago. One American staff at the time actually argued against it, since "people who can read, can read French anyway" (in actuality there is a small number literate in their first language but not French), but in the end we went ahead with it mainly with the thoughts that 1) the local language versions could also be read aloud if need be, and 2) the symbolic message was a natural in a program where volunteers often speak better local language than French. So now, when we have our nice color brochures available say for invitees at swearing in ceremonies, many of them take more than one version, and really look at the local language ones. And when PCVs facilitate literacy work, they can actually bring out the appropriate local language version when folks are advanced enough. And they're nice to present to people.

It was impossible to know what exactly would become of the Hausa and Zarma versions when we tried this, but it has turned out to be an easy, positive way to reach more people, be seen in a new way by people we deal with already, and perhaps open new possibilities. And I'm happy to say we're revising all 3 versions currently to reprint. My hunch is that if the project you are collaborating on finds a way to do something significant in one or more local language, it will get you a lot of positive attention locally and internationally.

* This same sort of "more bang for the buck" reasoning was behind including "same language subtitling" (SLS) as an element in a Hausa & Zarma AIDS education video proposal here (SLS being a literacy tool).

That's all for this sitting.....

* Ley Mali e Gine 20="noogay" ; ley Niizer, "leeso" ; ley Senegal, "noogas." Fulfulde/Pulaar ko ni.
I've already written that this is a bit of an experiment. That's on a few levels.

First I haven't used a weblog and frankly am not as excited about it as other web media. I like topical e-mail lists where I can visit and add thoughts & info, but which even for the few I started, don't center on me or my views or require my regular input. (I may add links to some of those I visit & contribute to so as to have a diffuse but confederated sort of blog with this serving as a personal node in it.)

Second I'm going into a transition as the title indicates and there are big time demands that don't permit much attention to this. So we'll see how much I post.

Third, my use of Fulfulde (ineloquent as I am in it) is another test of the medium. More about that later.

By way of introduction I work in Niamey as Assoc. Director for Agriculture with Peace Corps and as I am completing my contract (and extension) will leave next month after being here three and a half years.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Moƴƴii koy! ...

Haya! Ɗowtan-am faa mi witti Ɲamey. Gaa haa jonte joyi, tawan golle am timmotoo. Nden, mi dillan, so Alla jaɓii fuu! Ɲamey ana wellii e Ɲameynkooɓe, ɓe sahiiɓe sanne. Ka nokku fuu wellaa so jom suudu e ɓinngel walaa too.

Joonin, yo mi acca winndude Fulfulde (Fulfulde jiiɓude am). So a faamii haala am, gasii, s'a faamaayi, wanaa baasi. Ɗowtan-am faa mi witti Ɲamey...

This is an experiment -
Mi hoornan winndude ga faa mi ƴeewa so moƴƴii na moƴƴaa.
Un essai de caractères étendus ci-dessus.