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.

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