This is my dumping ground for quotes and other stuff relating to the wonderful world of digital & communications.
There are over 100 African languages with 1m or more speakers… some of the languages exist in written form only in missionary dictionaries, which may have missed some of the finer points. “This will be the first time for these 100 or so languages to be written at scale,” says Gikunda, a Meru. The opportunities for enhancing local cultures are innumerable. Meru is a language with 1.3m speakers centred on Mount Kenya. Gikunda argues that websites in Meru will deepen the understanding of Meru culture: how to take care of cattle and goats, how to look at the night sky, how to get married, or buried, the Meru way. A new technology will turn into a recovery of a world that existed before.
Meru will have to wait its turn. For now, Google is concentrating on Africa’s so-called Tier One languages: Swahili, Amharic, Wolof, Hausa, Afrikaans, Zulu, and possibly Setswana and Somali (in addition to English, Arabic, French and Portuguese). This is Google as an anti-Babel, with the utopian goal of a future in which all information is available in anyone’s language. The tragedy for many African languages is that there is not nearly enough written down: millions of words of text are needed to create a database for statistical-based translation. The hope is that as the global is pulled down, the indigenous is pulled up. “At the moment, indigenous knowledge is trapped,” says Gikunda.