Thursday, December 07, 2006

Calling African Scholars

By Rebecca Wanjiku

African scholars interested in developing and preserving indigenous languages have been challenged to take the lead in the Internationalised Domain Name (IDN) debate.

Prof. Maxime Z. Somé, from the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso called on African linguists to actively participate in the IDN project.

`Scientists and scholars should constitute themselves as an exceptional authority in African affairs and move the project forward, said Some.

Some is concerned that Cambodia, Japan, China, Korea and Arabic countries seem to be moving at a faster pace and leaving Africa behind.

In his opinion, linguistic experts as well as scientists in Africa should work together and move the agenda forward. He added that the IDN project requires linguists to agree on the language and terminologies of a particular language and the scientists to work on the technological aspects.

After the agreement of the scripts and language tables, the UNICODE consortium, which consists of computer makers and other bodies, will be expected to integrate the languages into most computers sold to the Africa region.

In this regard, if I have a computer, I can choose the language to use, just like I select to use French or German. In the case of French, the computer inserts the right accents and other letters that may not be available in the English key board.

Asked whether this will lead to development of many key boards, Some says experts can work on some regional languages like Bambara, used in Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso or Fulani, used in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania and Mali.

`We know that this project requires a lot of financial commitment and big businesses are not going to invest if not assured of profits. That leaves governments, which have been very non committal, ` he adds.

But he maintains that scholars can jumpstart the process by learning from other countries where experts volunteered their services for the sake of development.

Some spoke at the ongoing Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
Numbers (ICANN) meeting in Sao Paulo, where the urgency of IDNs has taken
centre stage and its proponents are touting it as a solution to communication problems.

While there are workshops and follow-up meetings to discuss and update on issues relating to IDNs, Africa is stuck with the obsession of listing its numerous cultural and logistical problems as the hindrance to IDN progress.

In 2004, Adama Samassekou, head of the African Academy of Languages was quoted saying there was lethargy within African leadership to use local languages even at Africa Unity meetings Swahili was recommended in 1986
but was used at the AU meeting in July 2004. Swahili is widely spoken in 15
East and Central African countries.