Sunday, June 19, 2016

TED talks in African languages?

Of all the TED and TEDx talks - a genre of knowledge sharing that began in the 1980s but went "viral" with the possibilities offered by YouTube - have any been given in any African language? The question is not so easy to answer as I'll get to below, but the process of trying to answer it gives rise to other questions such as: Could a TED talk or a TEDx event be given in one or several African languages?

Image source:

TED - "Ideas Worth Spreading"

TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design, "is a global set of conferences run by the private nonprofit organization, Sapling Foundation." The idea of the conferences is sharing of ideas "usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less)."

The conferences have been held mainly in North America and Europe, with a handful in Asia and Latin America. One, in 2007, was held in Arusha, Tanzania with the theme, "Africa: The Next Chapter." Many, but not all, of the talks in these events become videos featured online.

The talks, which total some "2200+" according to the website, are apparently all given in English. (The program for the 2007 conference in Arusha is not available online to check.) Quite a number of talks are subtitled in other languages, as I'll discuss further on.

TEDx - "x = independently organized event"

Image adapted from:
TEDx events, of which there are several types, are licensed by TED but organized separately. The number of TEDx events around the world is not stated anywhere I looked, but one list includes 2967 events (number from the line count in my text editor), and a nice interactive map display includes some past events that are not on that list (I randomly checked some in Africa).

The total number of talks at these independent conferences must therefore be staggering. The drop-down list in the sidebar of the TEDx languages page lists 43 languages, of which the only African one is Arabic (to that extent, my first question in the opening paragraph above would be answered in the affirmative). However, given the large number of TEDxs that have been held in many diverse locations around the world, is it possible that there have been presentations in other languages not on that list?

From a rough count of TEDx events in Africa in 2015 on the map mentioned above, there were ~80 events, with well over half in diverse locations in sub-Saharan Africa. Were presentations in places like for example Kano, Nigeria, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia all English-only?

Subtitling of TED talks

According to the translation page on the TED site - there has been subtitling of talks in over 100 languages (the actual count on the page is 110, thanks again to copy-paste & line-count, but that number includes some varieties of the same languages, as well as English originals). The African languages among these, with their count of how many talks, include: Afrikaans (19); Amharic (13); Arabic (2091); Arabic, Algerian (9); Hausa (1); Igbo (1); Somali (20); and Swahili (33).

The one talk (in English) with Hausa subtitles - embedded below - was given in 2003 and with the subtitles evidently added in 2008. Worth noting that the Boko orthography is used, as you can see with the hooked consonants.

The one talk with Igbo subtitles does not appear to follow the standard orthography - the lack of subdot vowels is one giveaway, but also tone marks are absent. And there are untranslated English terms - the first instance I recall seeing of code-mixing in subtitles. The other language subtitles look polished, though I'm even less in the position to evaluate them.

TEDx talks, as noted above, come in various languages, and apparently some of them have same-language subtitling, although that term is not used (for example several dozen in French).

The translation/subtitling effort itself looks like a successful involvement of volunteer contributions for at least a number of languages.

TED or TEDx in African languages?

There are two ways to achieve more linguistic diversity relevant to Africa in TED talks. The first would be through expanding the translation program mentioned above.This might require some new approaches as the volunteer model may not work as well as in Northern countries. The benefit would be expanding access, particularly with some more widely spoken African languages.

The second would be to organize (more?) TEDx events that either allow presentations in African languages, or that explicitly invite presentations in one or more African language(s). This would seem to be an interesting way to bring in diverse presenters, and to develop recorded content that could be shared locally, nationally, or regionally (depending on the language demographics). Even for those without internet or mobile access to such TEDx recordings, it might be possible in some contexts to distribute video for TV and audio-only for national and community radio. And such content could of course be translated into other languages for wider dissemination.

Ideas for sharing, after all, can come in many languages.

Friday, June 17, 2016


This is the fourth in a string of posts on conferences and workshops relevant to, or specifically addressing, African languages. Only one event of all of those mentioned, however, is in Africa. More on that at the end of the post, but first the three upcoming conferences for which there are active CFPs (calls for papers/participation). The subject of the first, LESEWA, is on similarities between a number of West African and East Asian languages - a theme that has long interested me as a learner of Bambara and Chinese (Mandarin). The latter two deal with a broad set of languages of generally disadvantaged status and fewer speakers, among which many African languages can be counted. The first two events are the latest of long-running conference series; the third is brand new.


The International Conference on Languages of Far East, Southeast Asia and West Africa (LESEWA) will be held in Moscow, Russia on 16-17 November 2016. This is the latest in a series of biennial conferences that began in 1990 (I am told that the idea began with Prof. Vadim Kasevich and colleagues). The CFP deadline is 1 July 2016.

LESEWA "will focus on the remarkable far-reaching parallelism in syntactic and semantic structures of the languages of the Far East, Southeast Asia and West Africa, which can be explained neither by genealogical affinity, nor by aerial factors. Both individual language investigations and typological studies are encouraged. General phonetic and general linguistics themes are especially welcome."


FEL XX Hyderabad (the 20th conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages) will be held at the University of Hyderabad in India on 2-5 December 2016. Its theme is "Language colonization and endangerment: Long-term effects, echoes and reactions." The CFP deadline has been moved back to 1 July 2016 (the conference date was also changed).

FEL XX "aims to examine language endangerment during the colonial era, and the impact of colonization on the subsequent efforts of the independent nations and communities to revitalize their language heritage. The conference will look at continuity and change in approaches to language use." The concept of "colonialism" is broad, including not only expansion of European rule, but also historically earlier periods of domination by one people over others.


The First International Conference on Revitalization of Indigenous and Minoritized Languages will be held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19-21 April 2017. It is co-sponsored by the Universitat de Barcelona, Universitat de Vic-Universitat Central de Catalunya, and Indiana University-Bloomington. The deadline for proposals is 30 July 2016.

"The mission of the conference is to bring together instructors, practitioners, activists, Indigenous leaders, scholars and learners who speak and study these [indigenous and minoritized] languages. This international conference includes research, pedagogy and practice about the diverse languages and cultures of Indigenous and minoritized populations worldwide."

Language conferences and Africa

As noted above, of the nine events spotlighted in this and the previous three posts, all but one are outside of Africa (that one is in South Africa). To be fair, not all of them deal specifically with African languages. But in general one may fairly ask how many conferences on languages and linguistics - be they Africa focused or global in scope - take place in Africa, one of the most multilingual continents. No clear answer to offer here, but if one were to do a count, it might help to go about the task with attention to types of conferences - academic vs. policy vs. workshop-type - and to the subjects - general or focused on Africa. I have the impression that quite a number of events - conferences, expert meetings, etc. - dealing with policy and practical aspects of African language use have been held in various parts of Africa, as one would expect. On the other hand, academic conferences, whatever the topic - even African languages and linguistics - are more frequent in the Northern countries due to the number of institutions and scholars, and resources available to them for convening such events. General conferences on topics like ICT4D or endangered languages might be located anywhere, and conference series with significant African content and potential participation do seem to try to alternate regional locations to include some in Africa.

All of which is to say that my unscientific sampling of nine events may not tell us much about the choices of location of conferences on or relating to African languages. Nevertheless, it seemed worth addressing the topic given the apparent discrepancy in geographic representation.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Upcoming events: Bantu 6, Borderland Linguistics, LSSA/SAALA/SAALT, and TripleA 3

Having spotlighted ICTD 2016 last week and the upcoming TALAf 2016 workshop, here are three four more conferences taking place over the next few weeks whose subjects are directly or indirectly relevant to African languages.

Bantu 6

The 6th International Conference on Bantu Languages, 20-22 June 2016, "brings together specialists in all aspects of the study of Bantu languages." It is being organized by the University of Helsinki in Finland with several partners and sponsors. The provisional program and abstracts are available on the conference site.

The series of linguistic conferences of which this event is a part considers the branch of the Niger-Congo language family known as Bantu. Bantu languages are spoken in large parts of Southern and Central Africa, as well as in East Africa.

The series, which has involved many prominent international scholars in African languages and linguistics, goes back several years with conferences in various locations in Europe (this incomplete list gleaned from several sources):
  • (First)
  • Bantu Languages: Analysis, Description and Theory, 4-7 October 2007, University of Götenborg, Sweden
  • Bantu 3, 25-27 March 2009, Tervuren, Belgium
  • "B4ntu," 7-9 April 2011, Berlin, Germany (Bantu 4 was originally scheduled for 22-26 March 2010 at Lancaster University, UK, but had to be postponed)
  • Bantu 5, 12-15 June 2013, INALCO, Paris, France

Borderland Linguistics Conference

The Borderland Linguistics Conference will be held on 27-28 June 2016 at the University of Bristol, UK. This is not specifically related to Africa, however, the program includes three presentations on languages in Africa. Also, given the attention in this blog to "cross-border languages" in Africa, it seems especially appropriate to mention this event.

The conference theme is described this way:
The notion of border is highly complex and problematic, whether it be an officially demarcated border between two states, or a less rigorously defined meeting space of somehow differentiated social or ethnic groups. Leading theorists have proposed that a broad-reaching 'theory' of borders may in fact be infelicitous, due to the contextual specificities of each different border area that may constitute an area of study. Nevertheless, borders remain fruitful sites for scholarly inquiry, and this conference invites contributions from linguistics researchers of all levels whose work focuses on borderlands.


The LSSA / SAALA / SAALT Joint Annual Conference for 2016 will be held at the University of the Western Cape in Bellville, South Africa on 4-7 July 2016.  The three organizations running the conference are: Linguistics Society of Southern Africa; Southern African Applied Linguistics Association; and South African Association for Language Teaching.

The conference theme - "Language and Linguistics in the Global South: Posing the Challenge" - is framed "within the current context of demands for radical changes to academic content and access at our universities" and encouraged contributors to address "issues of decoloniality and southern theory in linguistic research and teaching." The topics of the conference include: applied linguistics; language practice; language teaching; linguistics; sign language; sociolinguistics; multilingualism; discourse analysis; and linguistic landscapes.

TripleA 3

The Semantics of African, Asian and Austronesian Languages (TripleA 3), 6-8 July 2016, Tübingen, Germany, is the third in a "workshop series aims at providing a forum for semanticists doing fieldwork on understudied languages. Its focus is on languages from Africa, Asia, Australia and Oceania."

Semantics is a branch of linguistics concerned with the study of meaning. The TripleA 3 program includes a number of presentations on African languages.


The attentive reader will notice that three of thee four events or series take place in Europe. This is partly a function of chance in the time period chosen, although it is true that Northern institutions have the resources to sponsor such meetings.

Normally it is more useful to post the calls for participation/papers (CFPs), but these are published regularly on relevant sites including Linguist List. This blog is not intended as a reliable source for such news, but will hopefully continue to carry information about interesting meetings and events relating to African languages and the information society. (That said, an upcoming post will feature two CFPs that may be of interest.)

(The section on the Borderland Linguistics Conference was updated on 14 June 2016 with information provided by its organizer, Dr. James Hawkey. Information on the 2016 LSSA / SAALA / SAALT Joint Annual Conference was added on 17 June 2016.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Des infos sur l'atelier TALAf 2016

Voici quelques informations sur l'atelier TALAf (Traitement automatique des langues africaines) qui aura lieu le 4 juillet 2016 lors de la conférence JEP-TALN-RECITAL à Paris, France. (For English, see TALAf workshop.)

Il y a dix articles acceptés pour présentation à l'atelier : 8 en français, 2 en anglais. En tout, huit langues africaines figurent dans les sujets de ces articles : amazighe, bambara, comorien, igbo, maninka, peul, swahili, et wolof. Le programme suit :

09h30-10h00  Valentin Vydrin, Andrij Rovenchak & Kirill Maslinsky
Maninka Reference Corpus: A Presentation.
10h00-10h30  Ikechukwu Onyenwe, Mark Hepple & Uchechukwu Chinedu
Improving Accuracy of Igbo Corpus Annotation Using Morphological Reconstruction and Transformation-Based Learning.
10h30-11h00Pause café
11h00-11h30Moneim Abdourahamane, Christian Boitet, Valérie Bellynck, Lingxiao Wang & Hervé Blanchon
Construction d’un corpus parallèle français-comorien en utilisant de la TA français-swahili.
11h30-12h00David Blachon, Elodie Gauthier, Laurent Besacier, Guy-Noël Kouarata, Martine Adda-Decker & Annie Rialland
Collecte de parole pour l'étude des langues peu dotées ou en danger avec l'application mobile Lig-Aikuma.
12h00-14h00Pause repas
14h00-14h30Michael Melese Woldeyohannis, Laurent Besacier & Meshesha Million
Amharic Speech Recognition for Speech Translation.
14h30-15h00El Hadji Malick Fall, El Hadji Mamadou Nguer, Sokhna Bao Diop, Mouhamadou Khoulé, Mathieu Mangeot & Mame Thierno Cissé
Digraphie des langues ouest africaines : Latin2Ajami : un algorithme de translittération automatique.
15h00-15h30Fatimazahra Nejme, Siham Boulaknadel & Driss Aboutajdine
Développement de ressources pour la langue amazighe : Le Lexique Morphologique El-AmaLex.
15h30-16h00Alla Lo, Elhadji Mamadou Nguer, Abdoulaye Youssoupha Ndiaye, Cheikh Bamba Dione, Mathieu Mangeot, Mouhamadou Khoule, Sokhna Bao Diop & Mame Thierno Cisse
Correction orthographique pour la langue wolof : état de l'art et perspectives.
16h00-16h30Pause café
16h30-17h00Mouhamdou Khoule, Mathieu Mangeot, El Hadji Mamadou Nguer & Mame Thierno Cisse
iBaatukaay : un projet de base lexicale multilingue contributive sur le web à structure pivot pour les langues africaines notamment sénégalaises.
17h00-17h30Chérif Mbodj & Chantal Enguehard
Production et mise en ligne d’un dictionnaire électronique du wolof.

Les ateliers TALAf ont lieu tous les deux ans depuis 2012. Ils sont soutenus par le réseau Lexicologie, Terminologie, Traduction, une association internationale qui faisait partie de l'Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) jusqu’en 2010.

Selon le site web de TALAf, les rôles de l'atelier sont les suivants :
  • "mettre en relation les chercheurs du domaine grâce aux rencontres lors de l'atelier mais aussi avec la liste de diffusion ;
  • mutualiser les savoirs en utilisant des outils en source ouverte, des standards (ISO, Unicode), et en publiant les ressources produites sous licence ouverte (Creative Commons), afin d'éviter, entre autres, la perte d'informations lorsqu'un projet s'arrête et ne peut être repris immédiatement faute de moyens ;
  • développer un ensemble de bonnes pratiques fondées sur l'expérience des chercheurs du domaine. Il s'agit de mettre au point des méthodologies simples et économes en coût d'achat de logiciels pour l'élaboration de ressources, d'échanger sur les techniques permettant de se passer de certaines ressources inexistantes et enfin d'éviter des pertes de temps et d'énergie."

Friday, June 03, 2016

ICTD 2016, and languages and L10n

This year's edition of the annual International Conference on Information & Communication Technologies and Development - ICTD 2016 - is underway now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. The conference began today and goes through Monday (June 3-6).

Having brought up at various times on this blog the topic of ICT4D and L10n* in African languages, I will take a look at the ICTD 2016 program for hints on how this topic might be treated. Then a comparison with two previous ICTD conferences.

A quick search of the program shows only one topic that contains the word "language":
"Mobile Device Keyboard Customization for Newly Constructed Orthography of A Rural West African Language" [link to paper on ACM Digital Library]
Esther H. Showalter (Johns Hopkins University)

This concerns Kaansa, a less-widely spoken language of Burkina Faso, and may be the only paper specifically addressing aspects of mobile technology localization for text input. No topic in the conference program specifically lists "localization."

That said, other presentations may address language and localization issues in various ways without signaling the fact in their titles. The following, for instance, concerns a Ghanaian  project that permits sending "bulk voice messages in local languages" to mobile phones:

"Bridging the lastmile with MERGDATA technology platform"
Worlali Senyo, Sessie Burns (Farmerline)

Other topics imply some choices about languages used which presumably would be discussed during the presentations. Two examples are:

"Women’s Use of Participatory Video Technology to Tackle Gender Inequality in Zambia’s ICT Sector"
Tony Roberts (United Nations University, Institute of Computing and Society)

"Reflecting on Video: Exploring the Efficacy of Video for Teaching Device Literacy in Rural Kenya"
Susan Wyche (Michigan State University), Charles Steinfield (Michigan State University), Tian Cai (Michigan State University),  Nightingale Simiyu (Bungoma, Kenya), Martha E. Othieno (Homa Bay, Kenya)

Then there are (or were as they happened on the morning of the first day) two sessions of the ICTD Africa Researchers Network on the theme, "Re-Thinking ICTD Field Research Narrative in the Global South." It would be interesting to know whether language as a factor in evaluation of ICT4D efforts was discussed.

The multilingual dimension of ICT applications and projects for development and education, worldwide as well as in Africa, may permeate the proceedings to a considerable degree, or not. It would be helpful if the conference report could give attention to such cross-cutting themes, although that would require some additional level of feedback from the sessions.

ICTD 2015

ICTD 2015 in Singapore included two topics mentioning "language" (both in Asia), two mentioning "mother tongue" (one in Kenya, the other in Pakistan), and one "localised SMS" (in India).

One topic apparently dealt with languages of extension in Uganda:

"'Buuza Omulimisa' (Ask the  extension  officer):  Text Messaging for  Low Literate Farming  Communities in Rural Uganda"
Daniel Ninsiima (Michigan State University)
That's just from a quick tour of the ICTD 2015 report.

ICTD 2013

The conference preceding the one in Singapore was ICTD 2013, held in Cape Town, South Africa. That included one topic mentioning "language" (Morocco). As in the conferences discussed above, there were other topics that look like they might touch on language-related issues.

I did not access earlier reports, which go back to the first conference in Berkeley, California, USA in 2006.

ICT4D & L10n

It does appear that language is considered in at least some Africa-related presentations, and a number of non-African topics, at the ICTD conferences. What the emphases are is another question - mainly content? voice vs. text? attention to interfaces and input?

I plan to continue to address the ICT4D-L10n connection in Africa, and to that end would invite any feedback from participants in the current or past ICTD events.

* ICT4D = information and communications technology for development; L10n = localization or localisation.