Monday, October 27, 2014

Wikipedia, ebola, and African languages

MTP/TTF logo
An article in the New York Times, "Wikipedia Is Emerging as Trusted Internet Source for Information on Ebola" (26 Oct. 2014), mentions translations of a main article on ebola "into other languages" - from English being understood. Those translations are coordinated through the Medical Translation Project / Translation Task Force (MTP/TTF) of the WikiProject Medicine, the WikiProjectMed Foundation, and Translators Without Borders.

This post will briefly spotlight this translation effort, and what it has meant so far for African language editions of Wikipedia. First, however, I'd like to say that it is good to see the WikiProject Medicine and its head, Dr. James Heilman, receive this attention. Their current work on expanding available information about ebola is important and useful. I was also interested to learn from the article that the project was actually started a decade ago by Dr. Jacob de Wolff - making it a another lesson in the life cycle of ideas and their application.

The MTP/TTF began in 2011; I first learned of it at the 2012 WikiMania conference. According to its webpage, it has facilitated translation of over 600 articles into 100 languages. This is impressive, especially since these translations are the result of volunteer efforts.

However, progress on African languages* so far seems much less robust. The MTP/TTF monitors progress on translations under "full" articles and "short" (simplified) ones, and within each category (accessible via tabs on its homepage) there are several numbered groups (breaking the languages down into manageable numbers for display in table format).

Under progress on the "full" articles, only 10 of the 30 current African language editions of Wikipedia are included (in group 7) - Chichewa, Hausa, Igbo, Kinyarwanda, Luganda, Shona, Swahili, Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu - and of these Swahili has by far more translations than any other language (29 of 33 articles). Seven languages have nothing at all. (The article on ebola is not included for any language in this category.)

Under progress on the "short" (simplified) articles, African language editions feature in several groups (languages in italics are editions in "incubator," not full editions; there is some redundancy among the groups as accessed on 27 Oct. 2012):
Progress for most of these languages has been limited, though it is clear that there is a concerted effort for translation of articles on ebola.

However, it is also important to note that seven African language editions of Wikipedia - Afrikaans, Bambara, Ewe, Fula, Lingala, Sango, and Wolof ** - are not represented in any of the above lists. So it is good to note that Kasper Souren, who in 2005 played a pivotal role in getting the Bambara and Fula editions started, has just proposed an "Ebola translation task force" effort to promote translations in languages of West Africa, including facilitating an article on ebola in Bambara. Hopefully this initiative can, in addition to promoting translation of ebola-related information, also reinforce and expand the scope of the MTP/TTF to include all African language editions.

Ebola articles in African languages

Here's a list of African language editions of Wikipedia with ebola articles (26, by my count, as of 28 October): Afrikaans; Akan; Amharic; Bambara; Chichewa/Nyanja; Ewe; Fula; Hausa; Igbo; Kikuyu (Gikuyu); Kinyarwanda; Kirundi; Luganda; Oromo; Sesotho; Sesotho sa Leboa (N. Sotho); Setswana; Shona; Swahili; Swazi; Tigrinya; Tsonga; Venda; Xhosa; Yoruba; Zulu


Another resource of possible use in facilitating translation (and creation) of articles on ebola and related health and social issues for African language editions of Wikipedia is the "AfrophoneWikis" list. This was founded eight years ago, following the WikiMania 2006 conference, during which both Kasper and Martin Benjamin of Kamusi delivered presentations on support for Wikipedia development in African languages.

* Although Arabic is an African language, spoken natively in North Africa for centuries, it has resources and enjoys a level of support typical of world languages. For purposes of this blog post, I am not including it in the discussion.
** There is also a Wikipedia edition in the Twi language, which is generally considered part of Akan.  
NB- This article edited on 5 November to add the Lingala edition.

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