Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Looking back and looking forward

For those who have read this blog before, it would come as no surprise that there has been a hiatus in posting followed by another post like this, breaking the silence. So with this I'd like to catch up and look ahead.

I last posted over three years ago, just before the International Mother Language Day 2010 - something I've paid attention to over the years. IMLD is also the occasion on which the winner of the Linguapax Award is given in recognition of "actions carried out in different areas in favour of the preservation of linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities and the promotion of multilingualism." In 2013, Africa had another awardee, the Mauritian organization Ledikasyon pu Travayer (education for workers in Morisyen, the French-based Indian Ocean islands creole language of Mauritius).

However, last year, the first two (very distinguished) African recipients of the Linguapax Prize passed away - Neville Alexander of South Africa (Linguapax Award 2008) in July 2012, and Maurice Tadadjeu of Cameroon (Linguapax Award 2005) a few months later in December.

When I last posted on this blog in early 2010, Niger was in a muddle, politically speaking, and Mali was apparently a model; now Niger seems stable and Mali is recovering from a terrible year. I do not plan to spend too much time in this blog on issues relating to governments and conflict, though in some cases such issues will be hard to ignore. However the focus will continue to be on African languages and the "information society," along with related aspects of development and education.


During most of the rest of 2010 I was based in Djibouti, and had the opportunity to follow up on and observe some US military civil affairs projects in northern Uganda and eastern Ethiopia. From the point of view of African languages, what was particularly interesting was to note aspects of training of community animal health workers in Oromo language (''Oromiffa'') in the Harari region of Ethiopia, and in Karamojong (''ŋaKaramojoŋ'') in Moroto, Uganda (my third trip to that country). While English was also used in both cases, the first languages of the trainees (Oromo and Karamojong) were central to learning. (I compiled a list of veterinary and animal terms in Karamojong, cross-checked with several references.)


From late 2010 was back in the US with family again, and focused on different work and home priorities. In 2011 there were two conferences of note that had particular importance for applied work with African languages:
  • Conference on Human Language Technology for Development (HLTD 2011), Alexandria, Egypt, 2-5 May 2011. This was organized by PAN Localisation and ANLoc, with support from IDRC and was hosted by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. In a sense, this consideration of human language technologies (HLTs; understood to include a range of applications for manipulating and transforming languages) for development is the logical extension of efforts to localize software and internet content. It will be a key area to follow in coming years.
  • Action for Global Information Sharing 2011 (AGIS11), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1-2 December 2011. This was co-sponsored by the Localisation Research Centre and UNECA, along with others. Although technically not the first time for meeting of African language localizers with members of the localization industry, as a smaller scale meeting happened at the 2005 LISA Cairo conference almost exactly 6 years earlier), this was evidently much more significant in scale.

One noted with great interest the efforts of Translators Without Borders (TWB) in early 2012, which included a translation center in Kenya.

In July, I personally had the opportunity to participate in Wikimania 2012 in Washington, DC, including the Tech@State event on "" On the Wikimania proper side of things, there was a renewal of discussion concerning African language Wikipedias, including some discussion of potential links with a medical translations project (which not surprisingly has connections with TWB).


In 2013 I've been working in Asia for the first time in half a decade, this time in Afghanistan, coordinating survey research. This has obvious multilingual dimensions here, many of which are relevant to multilingual societies elsewhere in Asia and Africa. An aspect I've been particularly interested in exploring is "cross-language qualitative data analysis," which surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly, given how language is often a secondary consideration in other areas of endeavor, even when an obvious factor) has only relatively recently gotten serious attention.

Although I have limited time for it, have begun working again with the material from the Fulfulde Lexicon (1993). This entailed converting old files in WordPerfect 5.1 format (not as hard as it might seem, but not straightforward). A major part of the object is to prepare to integrate the material in Kamusi's online platform.

So with that brief retrospective, I'd like to resume but with a slightly different approach here on out - ideally shorter and more frequent posts, pivoting off of items of interest from diverse sources ...

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