Monday, February 27, 2017

About African languages on Wikipedia & on PanAfriL10n

Wikipedia logo
Am overdue for an update on Wikipedias in African languages, but in the meantime, here's a quick suggestion concerning articles in any Wikipedia editions about African languages. That is, incorporate contributions to Wikipedia as assignments in African languages and linguistics classes.

This is actually a variation on a theme previously discussed on this blog. It is prompted by an observation made by Michael Everson comparing treatment in the English Wikipedia of the Irish language and the Wolof language (as an example). The latter is not bad but has gaps, and nowhere near the detail one finds on the Irish language (which extends to other articles).

What would it take to set up an experiment in a university-level African language program - in Africa or elsewhere - where a prof would institute this idea? The experience could be shared and developed with other objects in mind, such as contributions to African language Wikipedias. In a few cases like Wolof, which has its own edition of Wikipedia, one could write more about the language in the language itself.

Information on African language orthographies

Michael's comment came in the context of what he sees as the difficulty getting "decent grammatical and orthographic information on most major African languages." This in a discussion on Facebook following a post by Charles Riley (of Yale University Library) about the "Garay script," which was invented in the 1960s as an alternative to the dominant Latin-based script and the traditional Arabic-based Wolofal or writing Wolof. (Africa is a continent of many alphabets - another topic to which I hope to return soon).

ANLoc's logo for the PanAfriL10n wiki, 2008
With regard to information on orthographies of African languages, collecting such information was one of the mandates of the PanAfrican Localisation project (2005-2008). At one point early-on, the possibility of setting up a database on character requirements for diverse African language orthographies was seriously , but the quality of available information was not deemed to be sufficient for that investment (see discussion and diagrams of evolution). Ultimately the PanAfriL10n wiki (hosted by since 2015) had a pretty good coverage of what was available, language by language and by script, but unfortunately updates have been spotty.

So, another possibility might be for African language and linguistics students to also help update this resource intended as an aid for localization and other language and technology efforts.


Michael Everson said...

I disagree with your assessment of the Wolof article on the Wikipedia. You say that it "is not bad", but in fact, it is. Its length is due to a list of digits. It has two sections marked "To do" since 2011, and there's attention given to a half-dozen borrowings into English. Compare Irish, which has a full main article, and then two extraordinarily detailed articles on grammar and phonology.

No African language on the Wikipedia has an article that can be said to be "not bad". They're all in dire need of serious attention.

Don said...

Thanks Michael, I agree with you that the articles on African languages in Wikipedia (all editions, certainly) need work - in some cases a lot. My evaluation comes from a different perspective, having seen a lot of thinner articles in the past.

Question now, as always it seems with Africa-related content on Wikipedia, is how to encourage more expert or at least well informed input into developing more and better quality content articles?

Maybe one step or half-step really could be to tag sections of articles on African languages that need citations, more detail, etc., and to call the attention of specific experts to those issues. Idea being that they may be able to call on others to help if they can't sped the time themselves. This gets at the idea of professors of classes in African languages and linguistics giving class credit for research that goes on Wikipedia - thinking here of upper division undergrads or early year grad students. Really need both the tagging/notes and the "recruitment" (not just an announcement), otherwise as you point out, a note about a missing section or citation can linger for years without being resolved.

An example of a language page with many tags/notes is that for <a href=">Swahili</a>.