Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two more stars fall

I need to post soon on the trip to Bamako, but wanted to quickly note two more sudden departures: Guido Sohne and Steve Cisler.

On return from Bamako I heard that Guido Sohne died suddenly earlier this month in Nairobi. Guido was from Ghana and an IT specialist. I did not know him well but we had corresponded occasionally on various items and networked on LinkedIn (which he first invited me and many others to join about 5 years ago) and Facebook. He was age 34, but had already left a mark. Some postings about him were made on the BytesforAll_Readers list. Very sad that he had to go so soon.

Steve Cisler also passed away this month in San Jose, California. I had even less contact with him, and that a while back when I was first getting interested in the links between L10n and what we now call ICT4D. He was known for, among other things his work on community networking. I only today learned, thanks to Kelly Morris on Togo-L, that Steve had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo a decade before my service there. Some folks who knew him have posted comments and retrospectives: CommunityNetworking2008’s Weblog, Wired, Culture Hacks, Tingilinde, The Real Paul Jones, Paul's Web Space 2.0, BytesforAll_Readers, and others.

May their memories continue to inspire us...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Closing the Xhosa Wikipedia?

A proposal to close the Xhosa Wikipedia has been made, and for some of us it raises some questions about how the Wikimedia Foundation deals with less-resourced languages, such as those in Africa. The bottom line here is really why there is little participation in African language editions of Wikipedia, and what the most appropriate course of action is - closing and eventually deleting, or finding ways to connect with communities that can work on them.

It is worth remembering that Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, expressed its vision in this way: "The fundamental idea of Wikipedia is to create and give away a freely licensed encyclopaedia in every language of the world." What does/should this vision mean in terms of how African language content and communities are developed?

The Xhosa language (called isiXhosa in the language itself) is spoken by about 7-8 million people and is one of South Africa's official languages. In theory, it would seem like one of the African languages most likely to succeed on Wikipedia, so the questions the proposal for closure raise are quite pointed. Personally I think that there is a marketing issue here - but clearly the reasons for lack of connection need to be examined thoroughly. It's not just as simple as "there is no interest."

Meetings in recent weeks

Over the last few weeks I've had some interesting meetings in which topics related to African languages have been raised, but that I haven't gotten around to reporting here, including several at the University of Pennsylvania, the new National Museum of Language, the Center for Applied Linguistics, ACTFL (the dedication of their new office), and with Mrs. Ntombenhle Nkosi, CEO of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB). Will travel tonight to Bamako for meetings with ACALAN and other organizations there.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Remembering Sonja Fagerberg-Diallo

I was surprised and saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Sonja Fagerberg-Diallo last month. (Un article en français ici.) Her quietly remarkable career was cut short last month at age 58 by a sudden critical illness. She is particularly known as a linguist specialized in Pulaar (a dialect of the Fula language) and for her long-time work on literacy and publication in Pulaar and other Senegalese languages through ARED (Associates in Research and Education for Development), a small non-governmental organization she headed in Dakar.

Others will be able to write more thorough tributes to Sonja's work and contributions than I can. Among past descriptions of ARED include a description on the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and a 2004 paper by John Hutchison. All I can do is say that Sonja's work was important to me as a language learner, and later one of the inspirations for much of what I've been trying to do with Bisharat (which although quite different in its mission and approach from ARED, shares a fundamentally similar vision). Nevertheless, I thought I could also offer a few snapshots from my personal perspective. Although I did not know her well, I did have the opportunity to meet her and members of her immediate family over the years, to benefit from her learning materials and example, and to visit the ARED offices.

I first met Sonja in 1984 at the Peace Corps/Mali office in Bamako at about the time that Peace Corps bought into a run of her instruction books (lessons and glossary/grammar) for Fulfulde Maasinankoore, another dialect of Fula. Previously there had been no such learning material for volunteers, so this was a great help to many of us. Then in 1985 when I was in an orientation to Guinea for the first group of volunteers to go there since 1967, it turned out that Sonja's husband Boubacar, was the one running it.

During the time I was in Guinea I had to transit through Dakar several times and had occasion to visit them twice, first on Gorée island and then in Fann. Sonja very kindly shared with Peace Corps/Guinea (which by then was only me) a prepublication version of her instruction manual for the Pular of Fuuta Jalon. (By odd coincidence, one of the villages I worked in - Timbi Madina - was where Boubacar's mother lived, and I occasionally would stop in to say hello - just as a matter of courtesy.)

One thing I really appreciated in Sonja's learning materials for diverse varieties of Fula was the perspective of the language as a whole (as opposed to treating each dialect as an isolate). This was helpful in my negotiating some differences between Maasinankoore and Pular, as well as later research, travel and study.

When I began graduate studies at Michigan State University, I found that Sonja was known for her work among linguists there, such as Prof. David Dwyer, who made possible my work on a
Fulfulde lexicon, and was good friends with noted historian of Senegal and West Africa, Prof. David Robinson. I had occasional direct communication with her notably concerning the lexicon, which was compiled from extant sources including her extensive glossary for her Maasinankoore (mentioned above). Some years later, one of the communications involved the possibility of developing a larger on-line Fula dictionary and we agreed that a good framework for this would be Christiane Seydou's notable dictionary of Fula roots (the language is based on nomino-verbal roots and it is logical to organize a lexicon by them).

While in Niger I made the connection with Prof. Martha O'Kennon concerning machine translation online for Fula, and in that process also connected her with Sonja, who in turn helped Martha with some points (we focused mainly on Pulaar and to a lesser degree on Maasinankoore).

In 2005 I had the chance to visit Sonja at the ARED office in Dakar (as mentioned in the 2005-9-12 posting on this blog). It was at this time that I got a fuller impression of the extend of ARED's publication efforts over the years. Sonja also related some anecdotes about how a few of the people who became literate in Pulaar went on to write and publish in the language. All of this being a testimony to the work of Sonja and the ARED staff - and indeed of the vision that motivated them.

Finally I crossed paths with Sonja last year at the ACAL/ALTA conference in Gainesville, Florida (which was mentioned in the 2007-9-21 posting on this blog). I had the chance to sit down and talk with her about some technical aspects of ARED's work, but most notable was her address to the conference in plenary on March 23, "Publishing as the Documentation of a Language: The Role of Literacy and Publishing in both the Standardization and the Development of the Pulaar Language" (I hope the paper will be included in the proceedings). This was a really nice introduction to the vision and work of ARED.

Sonja's vision as I understand it might be stated this way:
Literacy and education are key to development in its fullest sense, those must include and begin with first languages in order to be most effective, and programs that work at the grassroots are a key element to successfully accomplishing all of the above.

These are just a few personal recollections that in no way do justice to Sonja's career. One hopes in any event that the results of her efforts, which although cut short were still considerable, will inspire others to keep ARED and similar initiatives going and growing.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Farming words: Agricultural development still mute on languages?

A friend and former colleague, Jonathon Landeck, once remarked that "it's hard to build food security on the backs of illiterate farmers." I think again of this in light of a recent UN press release (seen on H-West-Africa) about a call for "greater investments in agriculture and rural development to boost economic growth and reduce poverty in Africa" by Kanayo Nwanze, Vice-President of IFAD. This call seems to be at the confluence of two recent trends - increasing attention to African agriculture and various appeals for more funds for African development generally. It's really not that new a trend (see for instance this call from FAO in 2004) and indeed there have been funds pledged for this kind of thing (such as by the Gates and Rockefeller foundations in 2006). So it is all the more important to take a look again at what is missing in these calls and announcements.

Educated farmers - key to development or threat to stability?

It is deliberately provocative to put the question in this way, but the issue of "empowering" rural people and communities - a concept central to the development discourse - involves learning and action. This is not an abstract or tangential issue to fundamentals like enough food. I once asked a former professor about what he thought was the key problem (if one had to name one) to improving agriculture in Africa. His response? Education of farmers.

This is not to downplay the importance of structural economic and policy issues, various fundamental resource issues, the role of research and extension, or the utility of "greater investments." But it points to something that runs obliquely to the general emphasis in agricultural development on technical issues and on farmers as needing outside knowledge, guidance and resources. "Education" is more than just telling people what we think they need to know or do.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer many years ago I recall hearing in the extension services that the "paysans sont les ignorants" - farmers and rural people don't know anything.
The notion of "éduquer les paysans" (educating the farmers) was really about telling them to do certain things and not to do others. Or convincing them that some new thing was really better for them. (Or in some cases obliging them to do something.) I think that mindset has been ameliorated somewhat over the years, but the idea of rural people as recipients and potential beneficiaries is still pretty much fundamental.

Farmers are no fools, however, and at the very least can calculate risks and potential benefits based on a lot of experience and local knowledge. The "ignorant" farmers were sometimes smart enough to seem dumb.

Education as I think my professor meant it, and as I use it here, is more about capacities, ways of understanding, and new knowledge in context. How to help farmers figure things out, get the information they need, and integrate new and indigenous knowledge - in short, how to enhance the abilities of farmers to make decisions that work for them and their communities.

A question, though, arises, and that is whether rural people so "empowered" is what governments and donors really want, or whether farmers who can ably make use of technical packages provided by extension services and development projects is preferred.

Farmers work in the vernacular - can development work with that?

In southeastern Mali, cotton farmers in the 1990s used literacy skills in the most widely spoken language, Bambara, to organize a major union - SYCOV (since French is the country's official language, SYCOV apparently keeps all documents in Bambara and French). In 2006, a "farmers' jury" on genetically modified Bt cotton was organized in Sikasso, Mali by IIED - and its main working language was Bambara (the report reflects this; Dr. Michel Pimbert of IIED kindly made that explicit in response to a question I asked in 2006 before seeing the report).

Farmers' first languages and local lingua francas are undeniably important if not central to education and sustainable agricultural development, but is enabling rural people to more effectively use them seen as dangerous by governments and troublesome by development donors? After all, what did farmers do in southeastern Mali with their literacy skills? - unionize and vote against GM crops. When I was in Niger, a colleague suggested that the downgrading or abandonment of local literacy programs by the Nigerien government some years before was exactly because of concern that farmers might get too active.

Indeed, local extension agencies themselves may not like the idea of farmers knowing too much, regardless of what language is used: Peter Easton and Guy Belloncle mentioned in a 2000 report (p. 4) a local research program that was quashed because the extension service "judged it inadmissible to try out with local farmers types of experimentation its own extension agents had not mastered."

And it is common to hear foreign development experts dismiss local languages as too many or too costly to try to do any concerted work in. Questionnaires may be useful, translations as needed by people in the field may be necessary, but much beyond that doesn't usually get attention.

There are so many rationales for not investing in use of African languages in agriculture and rural development, but if we accept that education and "empowerment" of farmers are key factors, is it possible to keep putting it off as if it were unimportant, while pouring new money into old approaches?

Structural issue: Language in the discourse on agricultural development

I mentioned on this blog last year having made (extensive) comments on a report about science and technology for African development. I looked not long ago at the final version of the report - revised after input from readers like me - and from what I could tell there was only one additional mention of the factor of language in one of the chapters. And that mention was in the context of challenges, not proposed approaches. A large part of the issue I think is disciplinary - language is for linguists; agriculture for a range of technical disciplines, economics, and perhaps other social sciences.

How then can the attention of donors, governments, extension agencies, and development organizations who are concerned with enhancing agriculture and investing in development in Africa, be drawn to the importance of doing much more in and with the first languages and local lingua francas of rural Africans? How can we at least research and develop approaches that convey information and promote ways of working in the languages that farmers and their communities speak among themselves?

There are some complex questions in this - one is under no illusion that it's a simple matter of adding "language" to project proposals and paying some translators here and there. But a policy on the part of major agricultural research and rural development actors to explicitly treat farmers' languages seriously in agricultural development in Africa would be a good start, and then some resources to determine optimal ways of using those languages in education, extension and new programs could have a significant impact.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Development NGOs and African languages

I've been e-mailing some non-governmental organizations involved in African development about the role of African languages in their work. This is an exploratory research on a small scale that hopefully will help further research in related areas. The core text of the letter follows:

In order to better understand the evolving field, and how my range of expertise can best respond to and inform organizations like yours that administer development projects in Africa, I am soliciting feedback from the management of various such organizations. My operating assumption, which is supported in some literature as well as personal experience, is that in the multilingual settings that predominate in Africa, language is largely overlooked as a factor in the success or not of development and education programs (although in the field of primary education there is increasing attention to the issue of mother-tongue/bilingual instruction). Choice of language(s) in development has potential impact on factors critical to project success and sustainability, such as communication, participation, learning, and integration with indigenous knowledge.

What is at issue now is verifying this view and understanding specifics and needs concerning language in development organizations. My questions are as follows and I would be most grateful if you or any of your staff could respond. This is not a formal survey, but the knowledge gained may help move in that direction.

1) In the planning or management of your projects in Africa, does the issue of choice of languages to use arise in any level of work? (i.e., from the planning itself, to management, to communications within the projects and with and among the beneficiaries?)

2) If these projects use more than one language, are the roles of these languages parallel (i.e., all languages used on all levels) or stratified (for example, English used at the top, another more frequently among the staff, and then local languages among the benficiaries)?

3) If several languages are used, is translation necessary and how is it used?
3a) In the case of translation into & from African languages, on which level and by who is it done? (For example, in my rural development experience, translation tended to be ad hoc and in the field. However some crop research activities have begun to translate questionnaires into farmers' first languages before these are administered in the field in order to remove the variable of alternate or incorrect translations.)

4) Can you characterize the attitudes of projects' management and staff towards the languages of the beneficiaries?

My ultimate hope in this effort is to contribute to more effective use of African languages in development, from "traditional" development activities to the uses of information technology.
Question #2 is modified from the original in response to a comment: "stratified" replaces "hierarchical." The origin of this question is the observation that all multilingualisms are not the same. In Europe apparently the tendency is for a speaker to use, or be able to use, multiple languages in all ranges of expression. In Africa on the other hand, the pattern apparently is more often speakers using different languages for different contexts, but maybe no language for all ranges.

I hope to have more to write on this topic as I receive more responses.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Linguapax Prize 2008 to Neville Alexander

The recipient of the Linguapax Prize for 2008 is Dr. Neville Alexander of South Africa. The prize is awarded annually (since 2000) in recognition of contributions to linguistic diversity and multilingual education.

Although the Linguapax site does not at this writing have updated information, the website of the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia (which is connected with Linguapax) has this press release dated 22.02.2008:
The South African linguist Neville Alexander will receive the Linguapax Award today in Barcelona, on the occasion of the Mother Language Day. The ceremony is framed in the Intercultural Week organised by the Ramon Llull University. Alexander, who coordinates the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa has devoted more than twenty years of his professional life to defend and preserve multilingualism in the post-apartheid South Africa and has become one of the major advocates of linguistic diversity.
There is various material online about Dr. Alexander including:

Dr. Alexander is the second African to be awarded the Linguapax Prize. Prof. Maurice Tadadjeu of the Univeristy of Yaoundé in Cameroon received it in 2005.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What's up with the Bureau of Ghana Languages?

In the previous entry, I inserted a quote (from an article about International Mother Language Day in Ghana) about books being locked up in the warehouses of the Bureau of Ghana Languages (BGL). Actually the point of that was that the supply is there, but that somehow the demand is not connecting with it - so the books remain, presumably, boxed and stacked, in storage.

Another article from Ghana on IMLD (Accra Daily Mail, "Any hope for local Ghanaian languages ... As thousands of others worldwide face extinction?" 26 Feb 08) mentions the BGL in a way that raises another issue:

The Bureau of Ghana Languages is poorly resourced and exists all but in name. The sorry and dying state of the Bureau is a reflection of where Ghana's local languages are heading.

So, what's happening? BGL is producing materials that are evidently not flying off the shelves, and it is apparently underfunded and giving the impression - at least to the author of one article - of being moribund. I'm curious to hear any more about the situation.

At the same time I recently looked again at the website of another institution in Ghana, the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT / Advanced Information Technology Institute. It has international attention and partnerships, adequate funding, and an apparent dynamism.
I presume that's a reflection, at least in part, of Ghanaian government and foreign donor priorities. BGL may not be able to command the same attention, but what about some sort of partnerships? KACE/AITI is apparently looking at some localization, and BGL presumably has the language expertise. BGL might do well to expand its perspectives beyond traditional printing, and KACE/AITI has expertise in ICT - the direction in which content development in all languages is going.

Anyway these are some questions and thoughts. Institutions and agencies like BGL in various African countries often struggle with little in the way of funding, technology, official support, and connection with their ultimate consumers / audience. It's probably time to look systematically at what their status is and ways to support their growth and success.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Burning textbooks, beating schoolchildren

African languages have not only been passed over as languages of instruction and even omitted from school curricula in much of Africa, they have in some cases been actively excluded. While a full discussion of the issues involved would take something much longer than a blog post, I wanted to review a few facts and anecdotes. It should be noted that the worst abuses were in the colonial past.

Burning Tigre textbooks

One of the more striking examples from Ghirmai Negash's article (see the previous entry) was how in the 1970s in Eritrea, the ELF declared illegal a school curriculum in the Tigre language and ordered all copies of the school book to be burned.

This may be an extreme example but one from Madagascar in the 1980s may be more typical. Apparently the government of Madagascar at one point needed foreign assistance to produce textbooks for its schools. At the time the instruction was in Malagasy, but when France offered aid, it was with materials in French. (Unfortunately I don't have the reference at hand). It has been noted elsewhere that the UK and US are very forthcoming with materials in English. It would be hard to say how often English, French or Portuguese materials have replaced African language ones, or to what degree their availability has been a disincentive to develop African language materials.

Even when there are materials in African languages, they are not always well distributed. The article on International Mother Language Day in Ghana (available here, and mentioned in an earlier posting) mentions:
It is however very pathetic to note that while schools complain of lack of Ghanaian Language books which affects the teachers' delivery of lessons and consequently the performance of their pupils in their schools, publications of the Bureau [of Ghanaian Languages] are locked up in our ware houses in Tamale and Accra and are not being patronised.
So at least in some cases, books for learning in African languages have been burned, replaced by books in other languages, or "locked up" in warehouses. This is not even to mention those that are out of print and only available in distant libraries.

Beating or shaming schoolchildren for speaking their mother tongue

The history of schooling in Africa has many stories of how African languages were excluded from classes and school grounds (not always, but in many places) and punishments were meted out for transgressing the rule. I recently posed a question on the H-Africa list about the degree to which this is still happening. (It does still happen, but probably not as extreme as in the past.)

It is not only a question of teachers punishing students but also ways of involving peers in the punishment (see this example from a blog on Lesotho). There are some other links here (post #8).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Role of African languages for development

The African Academy of Languages uses the slogan "African languages for African development." Unfortunately there is not yet a strong body of literature linking language and development in Africa. There are several works of note that discuss African languages from various perspectives - linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects to language and education policies. However few works make the case for greater and more effective use of Africa's first languages in development plans and programs.

Probably the only book-length treatment of the role of African languages in development is Clinton Robinson's Language Use in Rural Development: An African Perspective (Walter de Gruyter, 1996). This is a valuable work, but is more a book on micro-level linguistics in a development context and does not connect with some of the main development concerns. (Dr. Robinson now works with UNESCO on literacy issues.)

Part of the reason I'm writing about this topic now is that I recently saw on the "Sociolingo’s African Linguistics" blog reference to an article entitled "Globalization and the Role of African Languages for Development" by Ohio University English professor Ghirmai Negash. Although written in 2005, the paper apparently has just been made available online. It is a welcome addition to the literature on language and development in Africa.

Dr. Negash's perspective is a macro one. Building from a consideration of Africa's responses to globalization, and considering aspects of the African condition like the "division between the population and the elite" (which has linguistic dimensions explored in other literature), he argues that "African languages could be the most critical element for Africa’s survival, and cultural, educational and economic development." His discussion revolves around a central question - "How can Africans meaningfully connect with and respond to the demands of the global order, without compromising their cultural values?" - and touches on some important points.

I won't attempt a full review here, but will say that the fact of Dr. Negash's reviewing and rebutting some of the common objections to increased use of African language is useful. He also brings in examples and references that I found interesting and helpful.

Nevertheless, in this relatively sparsely covered (but nevertheless very important) field of language and development in Africa, my general impression is that the articles I'm aware of often tend to recycle arguments (which is to some extent necessary), and that in some cases, it is not clear whether authors are aware of all the existing relevant literature. Part of the problem is that this is an interdisciplinary field that includes a big "divide" between linguistics on the one side and development studies on the other (I've referred to previously to this, on Sept. 22, 2007).

At this point in time maybe one essential resource would be a comprehensive bibliography - and that would have to be structured (topically) based on a particular understanding of relevant topics (i.e., some works in development relating to subjects like participation or development communication might be relevant even where they do not specifically mention language).

Before concluding this entry, I will mention that the topic of Dr. Negash's paper elicited a small exchange of views on the lgpolicy-list just recently.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

International Mother Language Day

Today is the ninth annual observance of International Mother Language Day (IMLD) and the date of formal launching of the International Year of Languages (IYL). (See also my previous posting about the IYL on 31 Jan.)

A few mentions of IMLD in the African press:

  • In Gambia, the Banjul paper Daily Observer had an article entitled "2008 - the Year Ahead in Education." Dated on 16 January, it mentioned both IMLD and the IYL.
  • In South Africa, the African National Congress newsletter ANC Today (Vol. 8, No. 6 • 15-21 Feb. 2008) featured a letter from its president, Jacob G. Zuma entitled "Our Languages Matter!" (it can also be read here). He uses the occasion of IMLD & the launch of the IYL to highlight the importance of all the country's languages and ways in which their use should be supported.
  • In Ghana, the Daily Graphic of 20 Feb. 2008 included a feature article entitled "International Mother Tongue Day" (from the site; it can also be read here). It is a very interesting discussion of issues relating to use of Ghanaian languages, such as popular attitudes, policy, and education.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Accessing the Internet in Lusoga?

A recent article in the magazine of the Ugandan newspaper East African, with the odd title of "Mother tongue interference on the Internet" (also available here) discusses Kiganira Deogracious Kijambu's "dream that one day he will access the Internet in Lusoga, his mother tongue." He's described as having developed a successful "e-commerce agricultural business."

The latter fact is significant. There is I think a tendency to discount the utility of local language content or interfaces in a medium that knows no local boundaries. E-commerce in a language with just over million speakers? Even if one considers that Lusoga is very close to Luganda, which has a few million more first & second language speakers, this is still relatively small in the global scheme of things.

I've even tended to emphasize not e-commerce in my discussions of African languages and ICT for rural development, but rather information for extension and building on local technical knowledge. So this article is a welcome reality check as it were. If you're planning to expand use of ICT for any kind of rural development in Africa, don't discount the languages that farmers and their communities speak in their work.

The next question is how to link Mr. Kijambu with others in Africa and beyond who can help this dream become a practical reality. More on that later.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Linking L10n & ICT4D: Bring back AfAgrICT-L?

One way of describing my focus in working on Bisharat and the PanAfrican Localisation project is linking localization (L10n) of information and communications technology (ICT) with ICT for development (ICT4D) in Africa. Last October I framed this as a question on the LinkedIn network in this way: How to promote better integration & synergism among ICT4D & L10n activities in Africa?

It's an ongoing concern and a question that needs to be returned to from time to time. Therefore I will try to periodically revisit this issue here with specific news, questions or ideas. One of those follows:

Bring back AfAgrICT-L?

About 9 years ago, an email list called "AfAgrICT-L" was set up to facilitate communication about use of ICTs in African agriculture and natural resource management. It was set up by CTA, hosted by Bellanet. Its origins go back to 1995 as described on this page (retrieved from the Wayback Machine), and was intended to "be operational for at least 1 year, after which its continued use and relevance will be re-evaluated." Its purposes were described as:

  • Identify and indicate key ICT issues and strategies relevant to agricultural development and natural resource management in Africa;
  • Improve the common pool of knowledge and expertise available in this area;
  • Identify relevant projects and expertise that could assist in defining strategies
  • Provide a mechanism for monitoring technical developments and electronic information sources which can benefit those working in the area of agriculture, rural development and natural resource management.
I discovered AfAgrICT-L in late 1999 and participated on it until it faded out in 2001 or so. It was a brief period, but left an impression. CTA called it "influential." Yet it was closed.

There is now renewed focus on African agriculture as central to African development, and at the same time ICT4D (and ICT in general) is only getting more important in the region. A forum for these topics - ICT, ICT4D, and African agriculture - seems even more timely now than it was several years ago. Of course one could start a website or a list in a short time, but I'm thinking that to revive this known project, and adapt it to the evolving situation, could be of great use for professionals, researchers, and program managers in the coming years.

Then there is the L10n dimension - ICT in African languages. Farmers and rural communities rely even more on African languages than urban areas, and local environmental and agricultural knowledge are embedded in their langauges and cultures. L10n and ICT(4D) in agriculture and NRM would seem to be a natural combination, and support for L10n is much further along now than it was before. So one added dimension for a new AfAgrICT-L could be the intersection of the technical concerns with how to incorporate and adapt localization as appropriate for different goals.

So, is it time to bring back AfAgrICT-L in a new form?

CTA's ICT Update: "Language Technology"

Having mentioned CTA, I should also note that their ICT Update Issue 40 (Dec. 2007) is devoted to the theme "Language Technology." I had the privilege of contributing one of the articles, "Localizing Languages."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

2008, International Year of Languages: Languages Matter!

This year has been declared the International Year of Languages by the United Nations. Official observance is being coordinated by UNESCO.

One of the things we can hope for is that the time and focus on languages can in Africa be used to forward the efforts begun in the Year of African Languages (2006).

Personally I've been collecting some links and ideas about the Year and how to support it on a section of my personal site.