Sunday, May 21, 2017

Marking the 40th anniversary of the Niamey conference?

Niger's National Assembly, where the 1978 meeting was
formally opened. (Source:
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.

No comments: