Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Two questions as the Language & Development Conference concludes

The 2017 Language and Development Conference (LDC) in Dakar wraps up tomorrow, 29 November. This blog featured a post about it last May.

As one who has long been interested in the importance of languages in development - which in Africa means attention to African languages (as obvious as that sounds) -  I regret not being in a position to attend. However I hope in the future to highlight some aspects of this LDC, the twelfth in a biennial series, and the third to be held in Africa.

In the meantime, here are a couple of questions for the conference as it concludes:

First, are there terms that participants think make sense to use for (a) the languages that need more attention in development work and research, and (b) for the languages that tend to dominate, often to the point of eclipsing first languages and local lingua francas in development processes and the developnent discourse? And how would one distinguish between one and the other?

Part of the reason for this question was reference to "colonial languages" in a tweet from the LDC:
While this is historically accurate, is it the best term today? I've tended to use "Europhone" in discussing those same languages (in the African context mainly English, French, and Portuguese) - is that more helpful? Or is Prof. Eyamba Bokamba's term "European languages of wider communication" (ELWCs), which I borrowed in African Languages in a Digital Age, better?

The point is having clear categories and names for them as a way of facilitating analysis and discussion of languages in development, education, etc.

The second question is an attempt to see progress in using diverse languages in the development process through the lens of concern about misuse of social media in widely used and well resourced languages such as English: Is there a point to which African languages - or more accurately content expressed in African languages - might become a problem?

There have of course been instances of inflammatory speech in particular languages, generally directed against different ethnic groups. There has also been misinformation, circulated in local languages, such as about the causes of and cures for ebola during the epidemic. But beyond that, could articulate use of diverse languages be directed at deliberately misinforming people in order to manipulate public opinion? Is there a risk that the good of doing more education and development in diverse languages could facilitate undesirable outcomes?

If so, how to proactively address this potential?

Lest this latter question become the gist for suggesting to limit speech to official "Europhone" languages (however we term them), please review the premise for the larger (second) question. We generally don't solve problems in the area of knowledge and opinion by limiting the languages used - and in fact such limitation is the cause of other ills (which I understand to be one of the premises for the LDC).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Extended Latin in Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook

Among phrasebooks for African languages, there are some that focus on individual languages - Amharic for English speakers1 and Bambara for German speakers,2 for example, are in my collection - and some that cover several languages. Among the latter, my personal favorite has Wolof, Fula, and Manding (actually Bambara) for English and French speakers, and has the African languages in their correct orthographies.3

Berlitz, which is famous in this category of publications, first published in 1996 an African Phrase Book with Arabic, French, Hausa, Malagasy, Portuguese, Shona, Swahili, Tswana, Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu for English speakers.4

This post, however, will focus on what appears to be the most recently published multilingual African phrase book, Lonely Planet's 2013 Africa Phrasebook & Dictionary (2nd edition), with particular attention to Hausa, Wolof, and Yoruba, which are normally written in extended Latin alphabets.

Lonely Planet's publication covers 13 languages, and a slightly different selection than Berlitz: Afrikaans, Amharic, Arabic, French, Hausa, Malagasy, Portuguese, Shona, Swahili, Wolof, Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu.5 It is apparently in revision for a new edition due out in mid-2018.

What is extended Latin?

Extended Latin is a technical term from Unicode (characters in several blocks of characters beyond the basic Latin we use in English), but it basically refers to modified letters and some letters with accents (diacritics) to indicate a wide range of sounds that are either not used or don't distinguish meaning in West European languages like English or French.6 Many of these are important in writing some African languages and have been adopted in standard orthographies in Africa since the 1960s, or in some cases earlier. A sampling of extended Latin characters with some languages they are used in include:
  • ɓ and ɗ in both Hausa and Fula
  • ɛ and ɔ in Bambara, Lingala, and many others
  • and some other "subdot" letters in Yoruba and Igbo
  • ŋ in many languages from Wolof to Dinka (and some outside of Africa)
Such extended Latin characters and diacritics presented problems on older computer systems because of limitations on font encoding, but since Unicode became standard some years ago, these characters (and non-Latin scripts) are readily displayed.

Nevertheless, some publishers and webmasters don't seem to have completely caught up. Lonely Planet seems like an example. The extended Latin script of Yoruba, including subdots and tone marks, appears to be all correct, and they seem to have had no problem with the more difficult non-Latin scripts for Arabic and Amharic. But Hausa and Wolof do not fully conform with standard usage in the countries where they are most spoken (Nigeria and Senegal, respectively, although both are cross-border languages spoken in other countries). In these cases, Lonely Planet may have repeated non-standard usage by earlier Berlitz publications (checking).

Lonely Planet layout

A company publishing phrase books will follow a set format, which facilitates readers finding the right information in different languages - whether these are in separate books, or sections of one book as in this case.

In its Africa Phrasebook, Lonely Planet introduces the pronunciation for a language in a page at the beginning of the section on it (as in the image on the left from the Hausa section).

From what I can tell, the orthographies used for most of the languages in the book are correct.  Again I am focusing here on three languages written with extended Latin orthographies that have been and sometimes still are mishandled in print and on the web.


Hausa's consonant system includes some sounds (implosive b & d, and ejective k & y) that are not conveyed by the traditional Latin alphabet. In the standard Latin-based "Boko" orthography, these are denoted by "hooked" consonants -  ɓ, ɗ, and ƙ - plus either 'y (in Nigeria) or ƴ (in Niger). There is also a strong ʦ sound that is represented by the digraph ts (much like the sh digraph represents a sound familiar to English speakers).

In its presentation of Hausa, Lonely Planet uses letter combinations with apostrophes in its pronunciation guide to denote these 4 consonants, and the ts digraph. However it also uses these rather than the Boko hooked consonants in the Hausa text. (As a rule the pronunciation guide includes word/phrase in the language, how to pronounce the word/phrase, and the English meaning.) In the blow closer look at the pronunciation page for Hausa I have circled in red their symbols and added the standard characters after (the 'y and ƴ are alternatives, as indicated above).

It is not clear why Lonely Planet decided to use these non-standard "apostrophied" combinations for the Hausa text in a 2013 publication. Their parallel use for pronunciation in a publication like this, on the other hand, can be argued. (Worth noting that Xhosa, which is included in the phrasebook, also has an implosive b and ejective k - but while these are not distinguished in its current orthography, providing a pronunciation guide for them using b' and k' is certainly helpful.)

There is certainly no technical reason today not to use the hooked consonants in Hausa text. Using apostrophes is the same workaround for Hausa found in earlier Berlitz phrase books (not clear if there is a connection). But even in pre-Unicode days, typesetters had ways to include modified letters in text (see also the below comments about Yoruba in this same phrasebook). The hooked letters are distinct even in small print, though more so in some typefaces than others.

Points in its favor: Lonely Planet does appear to use the correct Boko orthography apart from the apostrophied characters; and the latter are better than the "ASCIIfied" approach commented on previously in this blog (a topic to be revisited later).


With one exception, Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook seems to use the correct Wolof orthography alongside its own pronunciation system. That is indicating the velar n with ng rather than ŋ (the letter "eng").

Part of the problem in using the ng in this way is that this digraph also is pronounced as two letters in quick sequence - technically a "prenasalized" g (basically like the ng in mango in English, or in the Wolof example mangi that I circled in red on the pronunciation page above). The whole reason for the ŋ letter was to accommodate the "velar" n (ng as in ring) as distinguished from the n+g combination. In Wolof, as in many West African languages (but not Hausa or Yoruba), ng and ŋ are not the same, so it is not helpful for a phrase book to avoid the distinction.

For example, in the glossary includes a Wolof word spelled as ngemb (diaper, nappy). The pronunciation guide uses the same spelling, so one is left to determine if that is meant to be "n-gemb" or "ŋemb." For an English speaker, the velar n in initial position is unfamiliar, and because Lonely Planet doesn't avail itself of the Wolof ŋ to disambiguate pronunciation in such situations, the user is left to guess. Although the letter ŋ is also new to most users, it is easily explained and then becomes a new tool in understanding this small but not unimportant part of Wolof phonetics.

For info: The only review I found on Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook was a short one on the Wolof section of the first edition, in the Janga Wolof blog.


One of the most complex Latin orthographies in Africa is that of Yoruba. The writing system dating back to Samuel Ajayi Crowther uses marks below three letters - , , and - to distinguish open and closed e and o, and s from sh. The classic form of the marks is a small vertical line, but these days commonly a dot under or "subdot" is used (also in Igbo and some other languages of southern Nigeria). And as a tonal language, it also features tonal marks over vowels. In African Languages in a Digital Age, I called this a "category 4" Latin orthography - the most complex - since it uses extended Latin characters plus additional diacritics (in the same classification system, the standard orthographies of Hausa and Wolof are "category 3").

In this section, Lonely Planet has on the one hand given words and phrases in what appears to be the correct Yoruba orthography, including subdot characters and tone marks, and on the other hand used their own system to explain pronunciation (per the page pictured below). Their bridge between the two is to tell users "not to worry" about the "range of accent marks" above and below the letters.

As a practical approach, this works for the intended audience and purpose. As in the Amharic and Arabic sections, most readers will not make use of text in a scripts they don't read, but having it makes it available for learning, and also for the eventuality one needs to show the text to a person one is trying to communicate with in the other language.


I wasn't sure what to expect before looking at these three sections. In the Hausa and Wolof sections I saw somewhat familiar problems - shortcuts on special characters within otherwise solid efforts.

These may have been the result of lack of information, but that wouldn't be much excuse given how much is out on the web and in print on and in these languages. Indeed, Lonely Planet's success (as it looks to me) with the Yoruba section of its phrasebook - not to mention its presentation of two sections in the more complex scripts used for Amharic and Arabic - shows that they should have no trouble with other complex writing systems.

Or it could have been a determination that some details of orthographies involving modified letters were somehow unimportant - an attitude I've encountered with regard to African languages in other circumstances (which brings to mind a previous post on this blog about how scholars treat "official orthographies"). This would be problematic and ultimately self-defeating.

There are only up sides to using the official standard orthography for a language especially if you are also providing pronunciation guides. Hopefully the next edition of Lonely Planet's Africa Phrasebook will do for extended Latin in Hausa and Wolof what the current edition did for Yoruba.

1. Alem Eshetu, Amharic for Foreign Beginners, of which there are several editions - latest seems to be 6th ed., 2007.
2. Tim Hentschel, Bambara für Mali - Wort für Wort, Reise Know How, Bielefeld, 2009. The Bambara text in this book is in the official Latin orthography.
3. Pathé Diagne, ed. Manuel de conversation - Wolof/Francais/English, Mandeng/Francais/English, Pulaar/Francais/English - Conversation hand-book, Sankoré, Dakar, 1978.

4. There are at least two editions of the Berlitz phrasebook. In addition to the 1996 publication, another edition came out in 2005.
5. The first edition was published in 2007. It apparently had the same 13 languages covered in the second edition.
6. That's admittedly a bit of an oversimplification.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

One's campaign for girls' education, & mother tongue-based teaching

Photo from One's girls' education petition webpage
Today is the International Day of the Girl Child, and the NGO One is using the occasion to highlight the fact that 130 million girls are not in school and promote a petition campaign to urge funding by world leaders.

This is an important issue and a laudable effort. It is also an issue that exists alongside the lack of instruction in first languages - and arguably efforts to increase the number of girls in school could work well in tandem with efforts to expand mother tongue based (and multilingual) education. One's campaign seems to miss this dimension.

Medium of instruction important for girls' education

In many countries in Africa school instruction is only in a Europhone official language (from day 1, or from early in primary school). This poses difficulties for all students, and also introduces a linguistic divide between daughters and mothers, who more often than fathers tend not to have facility in the school language.

A pair of UNESCO documents in 2005 for example spotlighted connections between girls education and first language instruction: "the learner's mother tongue holds the key to making schooling more inclusive for all disadvantaged groups, especially for girls and women." These are:

The toughest places

One also has produced a report "The Toughest Places for a Girl to Get an Education" which found that 9 of the 10 most difficult countries were in Africa (starting with the most difficult): South Sudan; Central African Republic; Niger; Afghanistan; Chad; Mali; Guinea; Burkina Faso; Liberia; and Ethiopia. This report, however, also does not mention language of instruction.

Education is one of the sectors in multilingual Africa in which the linguistic dimension of policy and action has been relatively well discussed - even if the quality of debate and policy results may vary. The question of language(s) of instruction is certainly also related to the issue of getting and keeping more girls in school, and it deserves explicit attention from outside organizations seeking to increase that number.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A terminological issue in cross-language qualitative methods

What do you call it when someone hears something in one language, and then writes down the meaning in another language? It is technically not translation, interpretation, or transcription, in their purest senses, even though these terms are sometimes used to refer to the process or its products. Should we have a new term for this practice, especially to distinguish it from the alternative method of transcribing in the one language and then translating into the other?

This is an issue particularly relevant to qualitative research in Africa, where focus groups or interviews are often done in a language other than the one in which research analysis and reporting take place. It is also important in other multilingual countries and regions, and indeed some of my examples below come from experience in Afghanistan.

Two approaches

When I was managing research projects in Kabul in 2013, we handled qualitative data in the form of recordings of focus groups and in-depth interviews by having them transcribed in the source language (Dari or Pashto), then translated from the transcripts. This was standard in the company I worked with, and as a research practice, from all I had learned previously. I have in my possession, for example, a photocopy of a rather lengthy transcript of a recording in Fulfulde, prior to translation.1

It was of some surprise, therefore, to learn from another organization in Kabul that they paid people to translate or interpret into English directly from recordings, with no same-language transcripts. I later found that this kind of shortcut is actually not that uncommon. For example, I am working on a digitization project involving tapes in diverse African languages, plus written translations or transcripts in French or English.2 And see also the following excerpt from a recent position announcement, which does not even involve recordings (emphasis in original):
Notetakers will be responsible for capturing detailed and accurate documentation of focus group discussions and interviews in English, translating from Arabic to English in real time. The notetaker is thus the point person for all qualitative data obtained during the data collection phase.
Although skeptical about what seems like translating qualitative data "on the fly," since there is such potential for loss or distortion of information, and less facility in verifying the end product, I do recognize that there can be reasons - perhaps good ones - for such practice.3

The main issues here, however, are first to call attention to these different methods in qualitative research, which might be qualitatively different in their outcomes, and then to make the case for terminology to distinguish between them.

I'll begin with brief discussion of three terms already established in this space - transcription, interpretation, and translation - and then return to comparing these two approaches to cross-language qualitative data. I then consider possible blended terms to refer to the shorter approach.


Transcription literally is conveying in writing - "reducing" the spoken language to its written form. By convention it refers to recording in the same language. Ideally a transcription should be verbatim, reflecting the actual words and expressions used.

The way one writes the language is a key consideration, though the general assumption in most cases I have encountered is to use the standard orthography. Transcription may also be phonetic, and this is common for example in linguistic research. There are gray areas between the two, as we found in Afghanistan, where speech in a language may vary in accent or regional variant forms, but which transcribers wrote in standard form - this we felt preserved the sense of what participants said in their languages, while facilitating later text analysis and translation.

The detail of transcription may vary, to the extent perhaps of indicating other sounds and vocalizations in addition to the meaningful speech.


Interpretation is conveying the meaning of a verbal utterances in one language into a verbal utterances in another. Interpretation may be in real time - either sequentially or consecutively, as is commonly done in formal or informal settings where someone interprets for two others who are speaking different languages, or simultaneously.
In any case, the usual assumption is that interpretation is done pretty close timewise to when the initial statement is made - at least when people are speaking directly. When a recording is involved, a spoken interpretation is usually not sought, but a written rendering of the meaning of the recorded speech might be - one of the situations of concern in this posting.

(The terms "interpretation" and "translation" are often used interchangeably, but here the strict definitions will be retained.)


Translation is the conveying of the meaning of text in one language into text in another. Translation may be more literal/word-for-word or more semantic/meaning focused. In the context of qualitative research, attention to the meaning and of the voice of participants is important.

The field of translation has seen a lot of change in recent years with specializations and the introduction and refinement of tools such as translation memory and machine translation.

From spoken source language to written target language

The context of cross-language qualitative data analysis is nicely summarized by Monique Hennink in her handbook on methods4:
In international focus group research, the group discussions are typically conducted in the language of the study participants, which may differ from that of the research investigators. Therefore, the tape-recording of the discussions will need to be translated and transcribed into the language of the research team for data analysis. The process may involve first transcribing the tape-recording in the language of the discussion and later translating the written document. This process will produce two transcripts: one in the original language of the discussion and a second translated transcript.
One advantage of having the two texts - one the transcript of the recorded discussions and the other the translation of that transcript - is in facilitating back checking of the translation. Another that the source language transcript can be used for text analysis.

Prof. Hennink continues4:
However, time and resource constraints lead many research projects to conduct the tasks of translation and transcription simultaneously, the outcome of which is a single transcript in the language of the investigators, with the tape-recording as the only record of the discussion in the original language.
Building on my previous discussion and illustrations above, here (below) is a quick schema illustrating these two approaches ("source language" here being the original language of the discussions, and the "target language" being that of the researchers, their analysis, and the final reporting or publication).
Two ways to get from spoken source language to written target language: In green, (1) transcription &
(2) translation; or in orange, (١) a direct rendering, for which there is/are not yet any specialized term/s.
What happens in the two-step process of transcription and translation (the green arrows, 1 & 2) is pretty straightforward. The transcription process may run into issues alluded to above in how to reconcile different pronunciations and usages with the standard language and its formal orthography, but these are problems common to transcription as a practice. Likewise, translation has its own set of issues such as whether to be more literal or more semantic.

On the other hand, what happens when the spoken source language data is not first reduced to writing in that language, but rather is rendered directly in the written target language (the orange arrow, with Arabic digit ١), is a process that needs more attention. It is clear, as already mentioned above, that the lack of a transcription in the source language makes verification of the product more difficult, and it also eliminates the possibility of text analysis in the source language.

But what about the process itself, what the person making the written target language product from the recording of the spoken source language? Should we think of that person as interpreting internally before writing, meaning perhaps an alternate two-step process? How does the quality of data processed this way compare with that of the formal two-step process above? Is this translation or interpretation, or should we call it something else? 

"Transterpretation," "interprescription," or ... ?

The process of rendering a recorded discussion in one language directly (one step) into a written record in another seems to be at the same time:
  • similar to that of same-language transcription in that the person doing it would likely listen and re-listen to the recording in order to get it right;
  • similar to interpretation in that they are working from what they hear, not something in writing; and
  • similar to translation in that the product is in written form and as such can be revised and edited. 
It yields a product used in the same way as that produced by transcription followed by translation, but as far as I am aware, there have not been any comparative evaluations of the two. 

Still, since the two processes - the two methods to convert spoken discussions in on language into text in another - are different, it would at least be useful to have different terms to refer to them. One possibility would be to simply call the two-step method "translation," understanding that a preceding step of transcription is involved, and to coin a term for the one-step method. For the latter, two possible ways of blending the terms "transcription" and "interpretation" that would convey the sense of writing down one's interpretation of spoken language, are "transterpretation" and "interprescription" (for the latter, the product would logically be an "interprescript" - an interpretation transcript). Of course there may be better ideas, which would be welcome.

Simultaneous interprescription or transterpretation?

As mentioned above, there is also the other scenario where discussions may be interpreted and transcribed (at least as summary notes) in one step in real time, i.e., without a recording. This is another approach to cross-language qualitative data from focus groups or interviews, which also ought to have an appropriate term to facilitate reference and clarity about methods.

1. These were transcriptions in handwritten Fulfulde photocopied by me around 1990, thanks to Prof. David W. Robinson. My intent was to use them for extracting lexical data for future revision of the Fulfulde lexicon.
2. These were produced by a project run by Nigel Cross and Rhiannon Barker that resulted in a book edited by them under the title At the Desert's Edge: Oral Histories from the Sahel (Panos, London, 1992).
3. As discussed below, limited resources and limited time are given as justifications for not transcribing in the source language. Another circumstance that might arise is where participants are not comfortable with being recorded, so a facilitator may make notes of their interpretation of the discussions (rather than attempt verbatim transcription or notes in the same language that need translating later).

4. Monique M. Hennink, International Focus Group Research: A Handbook for the Health and Social Sciences (Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 214).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Boukary Konaté, Malian blogger

Boukary Konaté. Source: Deutsche Welle, 2012
Boukary Konaté, teacher, blogger, story teller, "defender of Malian culture," passed away on Sunday 17 September - too soon (age 40) - due to a critical health condition that deteriorated rapidly. He was laid to rest the next day, yesterday, in Bamako.

I did not know him well, having made his acquaintance via Twitter, where he went by the handle @Fasokan (which means "language of the homeland" in Bambara). Although we never met in person, I appreciated his work and contributions to communicating Malian culture and using the Bambara language on the web. Boukary's production - writing mainly but also photography - and work in the field touched many people.

Here are some tributes from friends and associates who knew him well, along with some news items (this list will be amended over the next few days):

On the matter of serious illness in poorer countries

Boukary Konaté died due to a liver condition that was not identified early enough for effective treatment (despite a late effort to collect funds to permit his evacuation to a country where appropriate surgery could be done). Such a situation can affect anyone anywhere, but the possibility that better equipped health service in Mali might have made for a happier outcome is cause for some reflection. We have benefited from Boukary's presence, but his early departure would probably not have been necessary in a more just world.

Ala ka hinε a la!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Polio information in Hausa

Hausa version of pamphlet on childhood immunization,
produced for distribution during Immunization Plus Day
activities, obtained from COMPASS-Kaduna, Aug. 2006.
Although almost eradicated worldwide, polio is still endemic in northern Nigeria as well as in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Public health campaigns in northern Nigeria such as those on polio have naturally included use of the Hausa language, which is dominant as a first language and lingua franca in that region and across the border in a large part of Niger. This post offers a glimpse of some materials.

According to Elisha P. Renne, professor emerita of anthropology and Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, polio education in Kaduna State, Nigeria included short films, calenders, pamphlets, radio spot, and billboard - all in Hausa. (The photos of two pamplets, figure descriptions of those two included as captions here, and one photo of a billboard featured in this blog post were kindly furnished by Prof. Renne). 

The text in the first two items (at right and immediately below) is in standard Hausa boko script.

The late Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, shown giving oral polio vaccine,
on the 2005 calendar, sponsored by UNICEF and the Nigerian Ministry of Health.
The text on the billboard pictured below, however, is ASCIIfied. Depending how the display was created, this might be due to technical limitations. I've produced the text as I think it was intended in boko script below the image (which was not necessary for one of the lines, omitted in my added text). The billboard concerns vaccinations for more than just polio, so in the list of 6 diseases, I've also added their English translations where available in parentheses.*
Billboard at a Zaria city roundabout, 2012 (image cropped from photo received from Elisha Renne)

Iyaye maza da mata dasu bada haɗin kai lokacin riga kafin cututtukan yara

Bada haɗin ƙai don kawar de waɗannan cututtuka
  • Tarin fuƙa (tuberculosis)
  • Shan inna (polio)
  • Mashaƙo (bronchitis)
  • Ciwon tarin ƙiƙa (pertussis, whooping cough)
  • Baƙon dauro (measles)
  • Da tsinkau-tsinkau (?)



There are various YouTube videos about polio in Hausa, including "majigi" films such as the below on polio prevention (part 1 embedded, parts 2 & 3 linked below; links to these were supplied by Prof. Renne).

Part 2 of 3 "In Kunni Yaji, Jiki Ya Tsiria"
Part 3 of 3 "In Kunni Yaji, Jiki Ya Tsiria"

None of the videos as far as I've seen have been same-language subtitled, though that would be an interesting way to combine literacy with health education.


This is a very limited look at what is probably a considerable amount of material in Hausa on polio prevention, as well as on other health issues. One question is how well such materials are reviewed for accuracy of information and consistency of terminology.

It is my hope in future posts to bring out more such public health materials in Hausa and other African languages in the spirit of 2Ds&4Rs - a framework extending from dissemination to review and re-use of health education materials proposed during the ebola epidemic
* The English names were determined with reference to the following sources:
Nicholas Awde, 1996, Hausa-English/English-Hausa Practical Dictionary, Hippocrene.
Baba Mai Bello, 2015, The Perception of HIV/AIDS among Students in Northeastern Nigeria, LIT Verlag Münster.
Elisha P. Renne, 2010, The Politics of Polio in Northern Nigeria, Indiana University Press.

NB- Prof. Renne forwarded the images and information with an email response to an inquiry I made about her book cited above. The email exchange took place in April 2015.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Digitizing books in Nigerian languages

The national libraries of Norway and Nigeria are set to formalize an agreement (on 10 June 2017) for digitization of literature written in Nigerian languages. Plans are for the project to begin in Norway and then shift to Nigeria after three years.

The project has interesting implications for digitization of materials in African languages more broadly. For one thing it could serve as a pilot for similar collaborative efforts in other areas of the continent. Those could involve libraries in other Northern countries that have significant holdings in African languages.

Another aspect to consider is that of cross-border languages. Of the three languages that the project will initially focus on - Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo - the first two are also spoken in other countries of the region. Could this effort to digitize books be designed to anticipate readers from other countries where those languages are spoken, and involve their national libraries?

There are some questions concerning format and access which one anticipates will be answered as details on the project are shared.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

African Border Day & cross-border languages

Source: Ghana Immigration, 2016
Africa's often strange border lines don't seem like something to celebrate, but since 2011, the African Union (AU) has been marking June 7 as "African Border Day." Actually the original rationale was not so much celebration as a way to focus constructive attention on border areas which are sometimes the scene of conflict or illegal activity.

In reviewing a number of articles and documents on African Border Day, there does not seem to be any mention of cross-border languages, a specific focus of the AU's African Academy of Languages (ACALAN). Keep in mind that although no one suggests changing borders, the way European colonialists originally drew them divided many ethno-linguistic groups, meaning that a prominent feature of border areas is the existence of cross-border relations and commerce among peoples on both sides who speak the same African languages.

African Union Border Programme

Source: PeaceAU.org, 2015
The AU's press release on the first African Border Day framed it as "a way of further popularizing the AU Border Programme (AUBP) and mobilizing the requisite support for the efforts to promote peaceful and prosperous borders in Africa."

Created in 2007, the AUBP has as its mission "The prevention and resolution of border‐related disputes and the promotion of regional and continental integration, which constitute a tool in the structural prevention of conflicts in Africa." Its focus is important, but evidently limited to technical aspects of delimitation and the general goal of integration. There does not appear to be any consideration of linguistic, cultural, or communication in cross-border dynamics.

Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation, Niamey 2014

In Niamey, Niger, on 27 June 2014, just after the fourth African Border Day, the AU Convention on Cross-Border Cooperation was formally adopted. This elaborates various areas for African states to work together on in their common border areas. However, although "communication" and "cultural activities" are included (Article 3, Sections 2 & 3), there is no mention of languages (other than in the context of translation of the Convention itself into the AU's main languages).

This absence is all he more striking, given the efforts of ACALAN since 2009 with its Vehicular Cross-Border Language Commissions. Is there a reason not to mention a subject that seems so obvious, and which is a focus of another AU organization?

Languages & the future of border areas

Some 16 years ago, then Malian president Alpha O. Konaré imagined the borders of Africa as "sutures," not as lines of division, and highlighted the importance of cross-border languages in that joining. Perhaps that perspective is worth reflection on this seventh Africa Border Day.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Language & Development Conference 2017, Dakar

The 12th bienniel Language and Development Conference (LDC) will be held in Dakar, Senegal, on 27-29 November 2017. The call for participation (CFP) deadline has been extended to 31 May (apologies as I'm just catching up on this). Two of the previous LDCs have been held in Africa - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2005) and Cape Town, South Africa (2013) - but this is the first in West Africa or a Francophone country.

The theme of this edition of the conference is: Language and the Sustainable Development Goals.

From the concept note for the conference (emphasis in original):
"Sustainable development is increasingly viewed not only from an economic perspective, but also from social and environmental perspectives. All three dimensions are important to ensure that human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality. As language and communication are crucial to how societies grow, work together and become more inclusive, the conference will seek to explore the role of language in a range of interlinking aspects of development. It will do this by focussing on three of the goals:
  • SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
  • SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
  • SDG 16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies"
"The conference programme will also take into consideration other cross cutting goals, notably SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries."

The conference has 3 sub-themes:
  • Multilingualism for Quality, Equitable and Inclusive Education
  • Language, Skills and Sustainable Economic Growth
  • Communication, Peace and Justice
 For additional information, see the website of the LDC series, and a posting on this blog about the 2015 LDC.

Conférence sur la langue et le développement 2017

Voir ici pour des informations en français sur cette conférénce, qui sera tenue à Dakar du 27 au 29 novembre 2017. Elle à comme thème : "La langue et les objectifs de développement durable." La date limite des soumissions est le 31 mai.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Marking the 40th anniversary of the Niamey conference?

Niger's National Assembly, where the 1978 meeting was
formally opened. (Source: Britannica.com)
We're a little over a year away from the 40th anniversary of the UNESCO-sponsored "Meeting of Experts on  the Transcription and Harmonization of  African Languages" held in Niamey, Niger (17-21 July 1978). Looking at where we are with regard to African languages in writing - writing systems, orthographies, support for these in internationalization and localization, projects working on African languages, and policies affecting all of these in countries where they are spoken - is it a good time to consider a follow-up conference?

In 2014, I called attention to the then upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1966 Bamako expert meeting on "Unification of Alphabets of National Languages," with the suggestion that it might be a good occasion on which to revisit a number of issues relating to writing African languages, and consider new developments (many of which relate to technology). Nothing came of that, and for my part I didn't push the idea.

However it is worth asking again whether efforts development and use of African languages in written form - now digital as well as on paper - would benefit from another expert meeting or larger conference. Some topics could be:
  1. State of harmonization of Latin-based orthographies. This concerns not only many cross-border languages, but also accessibility to written forms of diverse languages within countries and across regions.
  2. Role and development of historic and invented non-Latin writing systems.
  3. The technology interface from coverage by Unicode to use in various devices and contexts.
  4. Standardization of input systems for extended Latin and non-Latin scripts.
  5. Language technology interface - bridging the oral and the written in new ways.
Ultimately, as I indicated in the posts about the Bamako '66 anniversary (linked above), it would belong to the African Academy of Languages to initiate organizing such a conference. A number of other entities would certainly be interested, within Africa and internationally.

Hopefully the question raised by this post will get wider response than the one I posed about the Bamako meeting.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Vocabulaire de la corruption en zarma, en wolof, et en bambara

Quels sont les mots et les expressions utilisés dans les langues africaines pour parler de la corruption - un phénomène complexe qui malheureusement fait partie de la vie quotidienne dans trop de pays en Afrique ? Connaître les termes employés pour parler d'un sujet dans un milieu, et les sens étymologique et culturel de ces termes, favorise la compréhension plus profond et plus nuancé de ce sujet.

Je propose donc une petite esquisse sur le vocabulaire de la corruption dans trois langues africaines - le zarma du Niger, le wolof du Sénégal, et le bambara du Mali - ainsi que le français. L'objet de cet effort est d'avancer un petit peu la considération de la corruption en Afrique de l'Ouest du point de vue des langues et cultures de la région.

On prend comme point de départ, un article par Giorgio Blundo et Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan intitulé « Sémiologie populaire de la corruption »,1 dans lequel les auteurs ont cité des mots et des expressions en langues wolof et zarma. J'ai extrait ces termes de l'article avec leurs sens en français, et les ont mis en format tableaux pour faciliter la *. Et puis j'ai ajouté une colonne pour le bambara, où j'ai inséré quelques équivalents dans cette langue.

Comment dire « corruption » en ... ?

La première question est comment dire « corruption » dans les langues zarma, wolof, et bambara, et bien dans d'autres langues africaines. Il y a bien sur des mots, mais en regardant de plus proche, on voit que ce n'est toujours pas question de simple équivalence des sens.

En principe, on peut dire n'importe quoi dans n'importe quelle langue, mais les contenus culturels des expressions et les étymologies des mots utilisés comportent souvent des sens assez différents. Alors, tandis que le mot ger en wolof, et le mot rashawa en haoussa emprunté de l'arabe رشوة  (tous ces deux rapportés par Blundo et Olivier de Sardan), semblent se rapprocher au sens de corruption en français, ce n'est pas le cas avec yuruguyurugu en bambara. Selon Jean-Louis Sagot-Duvauroux dans son article « Le système des arrangements : Esquisse d’analyse sur la corruption en Afrique », le mot corruption « signifie d’abord pourrissement », mais:
En bamanan, la langue la plus parlée du Mali, le terme employé en place du mot français « corruption » est yuruguyurugu. Ce vocable si expressif n’indique pas un pourrissement, mais les détours du deal en question : arrangements douteux, magouille, business
Quelles sont les implications (s'il y en a) quand une action est plutôt « douteuse » que « pourrie » ? Si, comme l'a suggéré l'écrivaine et politicienne Ghanéenne Elizabeth Ohene,2 la corruption est moins odieux comme sujet que le vol, où est-ce qu'on va situer un concept comme yuruguyurugu ? Je ne rentrerai pas dans les profondeurs de cette question ici, mais je noterais que yuruguyurugu semble se rapprocher au « complexe de la corruption » dont a écrit Olivier de Sardan ailleurs3 :
... toute un ensemble de pratiques illicites, techniquement distinctes de la corruption, mais qui ont toutes en commun avec la corruption d’être associées à des fonctions étatiques, para-étatiques ou bureaucratiques, d’être en contradiction avec l’éthique officielle du « bien public » ou du « service public », de permettre des formes illégales d’enrichissement, et d’user et d’abuser à cet effet de positions de pouvoir.
En tout cas, il serait utile, je crois, de rassembler les mots pour « la corruption » en d'autres langues africaines - en commençant avec le mot en zarma, qui nous manque ici - et de considérer les sens de ces mots et leurs implications pour le traitement de ce sujet dans la pensée populaire.

Il vaut la peine de revoir aussi les mots wolof et arabe cités en haut. Le verbe wolof ger, selon Blundo et Olivier de Sardan, veut dire « soudoyer, corrompre », et deux dictionnaires4 précise qu'il s'agit de « verser un pot-de-vin » (to bribe en anglais) ou « corrompre par des présents ». Donc il semble que ger veut décrire une pratique corrompue, et non le système plus large de pratiques et motivations.

Selon un petit exposé sur les mots arabes pour corruption, il semble que c'est un autre mot - fassad فساد - et pas rashawa, qui correspond mieux au sens de pourrissement et au concept de corruption utilisé dans le discours international sur la gouvernance et la justice. Le mot rashawa est plus précisément le don d'un pot-de-vin (peut-être comme ger en wolof ?).

Dans chacune de ces langues, il existe toute une gamme de mots qui décrivent en sens propre des aspects de la corruption et des actes corrompus. En bambara, par exemple, il existe un mot pour « corrompre » (au moins dans le lexique5) - dagun. - ainsi qu'un mot - nanbara - qui signifie « fraude, injustice », etc. Il y a même un synonyme pour yuruguyurugu : ŋanamaŋanama.

En analysant le vocabulaire plus large de la corruption - mots en sens figuré aussi bien qu'en sens propre - on peut gagner une perspective important sur la pensée, les valeurs (et conflits entre valeurs), et relations comprises par les gens dans cette phénomène complexe. C'est dans ce contexte que je fasse le petit pas de présenter les mots et expressions recueillis par Blundo et Olivier de Sardan.

Tableaux de mots

L'article « Sémiologie populaire de la corruption » (et un livre écrit par ses auteurs qui reprend son texte avec quelques petites révisions),1 comporte deux sections principales : les énoncés justificatifs, qui traite les arguments et les rationalisations pour les pratiques dénotées comme étant corrompues, et le champ sémantique, qui est décrite ainsi : 
On s’intéressera ici ... aux simples « mots » de la corruption, les expressions par lesquelles tout un chacun la dit, la décrit, la pratique.
Les mots et locutions en zarma et en wolof (avec deux en haoussa, sans l'emprunt de l'arabe déjà mentionné ci-dessus) qui sont organisés dans les tableaux ci-dessous viennent presque tous de cette deuxième section de l'article. Quelques autres mots sont tirés de la première section (il n'y en avais pas beaucoup). En plus, j'ai fait quelques changements ou additions après une comparaison avec un "working paper" des mêmes auteurs, publié en 20031 (notés avec astérisque *).

Comme indiqué au début de ce post, j'ai ajouté une quatrième colonne pour le bambara aux tableaux, après le français, le zarma, et le wolof. La mise de quelques mots bambara tirés de mon vocabulaire limité ou du dictionnaire5 ne veut pas dire que leur utilisation dans le contexte de la corruption a été vérifiée par une recherche. Ce sont là pour discussion.

Il y a sept tableaux. Les premiers six suivent les rubriques des six registres sous lesquels Blundo et Olivier de Sardan ont discuté des mots et expressions en zarma et en wolof : la manducation, la transaction, le quémandage, la sociabilité, l’extorsion, et le secret. Le septième tableau regroupe quelques mots et expressions évidemment courants dans la parole des agents corrompus.

En fin, vous aller noter dans ces tableaux assez de carrés vides. On peut certainement remplir beaucoup entre eux, mais certaines expressions particulières à une langue n'auront pas nécessairement un équivalent dans des autres langues.

(Les phrases en guillemets viennent de Blundo et Olivier de Sardan. Pour les contexts d'utilisation des mots zarma et wolof, voir leur article;1 on suppose que les mots bambara auront à peu prés le même sens dans les même situations.)

La manducation   

La corruption est fréquemment associée avec l'acte de manger.
manger, bouffer


graisser la bouche
me fisandiyan

faire passer la main au-dessus de la barbe
kabe daaruyan

sucer les restes au fond du plat


celui qui pile ne manque pas de prélever une bouchée pour lui
bor si duru ka jaŋ gamba

bouffer la caisse 

lekk kees gi

renverser la caisse 

këpp kees gi

La transaction

« Nous considérons ici des termes et des expressions qui renvoient soit à la dimension des transactions commerciales soit à celle, proche, des phénomènes d’intermédiation et de courtage. »

on va voir

ñu gise


la plume [lit. la langue] du porte-plume
kalam deene

supplément que l’on demande à un vendeur


faire plaisir [l’acte de bien disposer quelqu’un]


petit cadeau intéressé





remerciement [lit. règles de l’hospitalité]


portion, part
sara, tila
où est ma part ? *
man ay baa ?
ana suma wàll ?

avoir sa part *


fermer les yeux des douaniers *

Fermer les yeux des douaniers * en haoussa : sumogale

Le quémandage

Les auteurs indiquent que plusieurs expressions en français africaine formées avec "prix de ..." ou "argent de ..." sont venues des expressions en langues africaines.


argent des ingrédients de la sauce
foy giney nooru

prix de sauce

na sɔngɔ
(de quoi) mouiller le riz

toyal céeb

(de quoi) couper le jeune
mee fermey
njëgu ndogu

quémander, prier

quemandage *

quête de nourriture ou d’argent en période de disette

on ne peut pas venir les mains vides
bor si kaa kambe koonu

les mains vides n’ouvrent pas une porte

loxoy neen du ubbi bunt

La sociabilité 

« Toute une série de termes d’adresse empruntés à la parenté peuvent scander la négociation corruptive ».
mon père
ay baaba
suma baay
ma mère
ay ɲa
suma yaay
mon frère
ay arma


suma mag

suma rakk
ma sœur
ay wayma

mon enfant
ay ko

mon petit enfant
ay kociya

mon fils
ay izo

mon esclave
ay banniya

cousinage de plaisanterie *
baaso tare, baaso taray
prendre la main


il faut deux mains pour pouvoir se les laver l’une l’autre
kambe hinka no ga cer nyum

lorsque je te rends service, tu me dois quelque chose

fete ma fii ma fete la fii

les mains des gens du Kayor s’entrecroisent

loxoy kajoor dañuy weesaloo

ceux qui puisent ensemble s’emmêlent les cordes

ñuuy rootaando ñoy laxaso goj

(faire) patience

attraper le pied
ce diyan

il a des entrées

defa am bunt

il maîtrise des réseaux

boroom réseaux la

celui qui a une cuillère ne se brûle pas les doigts

ku am kuddu du lakk


prendre de force





qui vivent des efforts d’autrui

ñaxu jambur

qui s’enrichi sur le dos des faibles

dañuy lekk allalu néew doole yi

gains impurs


l’enfer les attend

dina ñu dem safara

Le secret

Selon Blundo et Olivier de Sardan, « plusieurs expressions connotent le secret et donc l’illégalité qui entourent la corruption ».
donner une petite bourrade par en dessous
nuku ganda



donner discrètement


pot-de-vin [lit. chose de la nuit]

fermer l’œil
moo dabuyan


le mouton de la mère de Kundum
Kundum ɲa feejo

salutation mouride

nuyoo murit

 S'arranger en haoussa : ajara.

Vocabulaire des corrompus  

Termes et locutions hors des six registres. Il s’agit de caractérisation des postes, et des qualités personnelles censées positives et négatives parmi les agents de l'état.
postes juteux [lit. lieux frais]
nangu teeyey

postes juteux [lit. lieux sucrés]
nangu kan ga mansi

postes humides

post yu tooy

postes secs

post yu woow

savoir profiter


caractère, forte personnalité, audace

dëgër fit

pas un fou, mais éveillé

doful, ku yeewu la

manque de dignité

defa ñàkk fulla

manque de personnalité

defa ñàkk faayda


ku soxor

qui ne croit que dans le travail

gëm liggéey

qui ne s’adonne pas aux plaisanteries

amul caaxaan



recherche de consensus




1. Giorgio Blundo et Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan. 2001. "Sémiologie populaire de la corruption." Politique africaine 2001/3 (N° 83): 98-114. Le texte de cet article est repris avec modifications dans un œuvre plus long par les mêmes auteurs, auquel j'ai aussi fait référence: G. Blundo et J.-P. Olivier de Sardan. 2003. "La corruption au quotidien en Afrique de l'Ouest. Approche socio-anthropologique comparative: Bénin, Niger et Sénégal." Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität. Arbeitspapiere Nr. 17
2. "Corruption simply does not carry the same odium as stealing or thievery. The word has been sanitised."
3. Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan. 1996. "L’économie morale de la corruption en Afrique.Politique africaine, octobre 1996 (Nn° 63): 97-116.
4. Pamela Munro and Dieynaba Gaye. 1997. Ay Baati Wolof: A Wolof Dictionary, revised ed. UCLA Occasional Papers in Linguistics, No. 19. & V.J. Guy-Grand. 1923. Dictionnaire français-volof, précédé d'un abrégé de la grammaire volofe. Mission Catholique, Dakar. (p. 138).
5. Bailleul, Charles & Davydov, Artem & Erman, Anna & Maslinksy, Kirill & Méric Jean Jacques & Vydrin, Valentin. Bamadaba : Dictionnaire électronique bambara-français, avec un index français-bambara. 2011–2017.