Saturday, February 21, 2009

What did the International Year of Languages mean for Africa?

With the formal conclusion of the International Year of Languages (IYL) on International Mother Language Day, I'd like to take a moment to ask: What did the IYL mean for Africa?

With any such observances, any analysis right afterward will of course not be able to take account of long-term or latent effects (e.g., people or organizations whose awareness was raised and whose later action is somehow affected). Nevertheless it's worth at least looking at what has been done.

A glance at the calendar of events in and outside of Africa shows a diversity of observance (this list is far from comprehensive, so pointers to other events and more information are invited):

In addition there has been mention of the IYL in various press articles in different countries. A few have been linked on the AfricanLanguages list (try searching "International Year"). Special mention should be made of a blog posting and video entitled "Orphan's Lullaby" by South African author Alex Smith to mark the close of the IYL (note the various translations in text).

The IYL also marked the beginning of the African Network for Localisation (ANLoc), a 3-year project which succeeded the PanAfrican Localisation project. These are part of a program of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada to support development of ICT in African languages.

African locales

Speaking of ANLoc, one of its subprojects that is working on compiling locales for African languages. A press release timed just before IMLD and the end of IYL appeals for help in this effort:

Thu, 19/02/2009 - 11:00

Pan-African researchers unlock computers for African languages on Mother Language Day

In celebration of International Mother Language Day, a Pan African Network of computer and language experts is ensuring that computers are unlocked for mother tongue speakers.

ANLoc, The African Network for Localisation (pronounced Unlock), is a Pan-African network undertaking a number of projects to help eliminate technological barriers that prevent computers from being used by mother tongue speakers.

International Mother Language Day is hosted on 21 February each year by UNESCO and aims at raising awareness of mother tongue usage.

To celebrate International Mother Tongue Day the ANLoc locales sub-project is undertaking a special community driven push to enable African language technology. The locales sub-project is focused on creating 100 new African locales. A locale is a set of data that guides a computer to adapt to the local language and country. Locales contain information that instructs a computer on how to write essential basic information, such as the days of the week and month names in a given language, and how to write the monetary values for a given country. Once locale data is in place, Africans often enjoy a first class computer experience for the very first time. Locales impact how well a computer's spell checker works, finding and indexing of African language documents and searching using tools like Google.

The ANLoc Network is encouraging African language speakers in African and the diaspora to celebrate International Mother Language Day by helping to develop a locale for their language. Those wanting to contribute can visit to find out more about the importance and need for locales and how to contribute one for their language.

Information about the ANLoc Network and the various projects being undertaken to eliminate technological barriers for African language in the digital age can be found here at

No comments: