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The Struggle of an African-language Wikipedia 234

Posted by Zonk
from the getting-eyes-on-the-pages dept.
A reader writes to mention an International Herald Tribune article discussing the troubles an African-language Wikipedia faces in getting underway. While there is a lot of interest, the primary obstacle is that of exposure: the majority of people on the continent of Africa do not have internet access. From the article: "What use is an encyclopedia when literacy rates among a language's speakers approach zero? (This is not a problem for Swahili.) And who should control the content in a local language if not enough native speakers are inclined, or able, to contribute? If it had been native speakers only who contributed to the Swahili version, that Wikipedia might not exist at all."
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The Struggle of an African-language Wikipedia

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  • Well, translation. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dave1g (680091) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:04PM (#15990250) Journal
    Why not pick out some important articles, or high quality articles from the other languages, taking into account relevency to africans, just trnaslate them over as seed material.
    • by Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:06PM (#15990265) Homepage

      Well, they should have no problems with Nigerian...

    • Not going to be PC (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:20PM (#15990321)
      Okay, first, I speak, read and write 6 languages (English, Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish) so please don't accuse me of language bigotry.

      But if their literacy rate is approaching zero, why not teach the kids english alongside their language? English is the lingua franca of the world and they will have a lot more content at their hands than if they simply learned their language.*

      I'm not saying that they shouldn't learn their language, it is important that they do to keep their culture alive. However, there is not one African language, but many - a ton of local language, moreso than Europe. A common English language will also help them communicate with each other better and will be a win/win for all concerned.
      • by westlake (615356)
        why not teach the kids english alongside their language? English is the lingua franca of the world

        Engish or Special English is at least a more plausible solution to this sort of problem than Esperanto [laptop.org]

      • by sita (71217) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @03:08PM (#15990521)
        But if their literacy rate is approaching zero, why not teach the kids english alongside their language? English is the lingua franca of the world and they will have a lot more content at their hands than if they simply learned their language.*

        I'm not saying that they shouldn't learn their language, it is important that they do to keep their culture alive. However, there is not one African language, but many - a ton of local language, moreso than Europe. A common English language will also help them communicate with each other better and will be a win/win for all concerned.


        It is not controversial at all.

        There are quite a few languages in Africa, that, for all practical purposes, do not exist in a written form. As peculiar as this may seem there is little interest to change that. In countries where there are perhaps ten major ethnic groups with distinct languages, there is a point in that the written language is that of the former colonial power (normally French or English). Elevating one of the domestic languages to official status could be recipe for disaster (unless this one language is dominant enough).
        • Lingala (Score:5, Informative)

          by jefu (53450) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @03:22PM (#15990587) Homepage Journal
          In the Congo, there are a number of tribal languages (a couple of hundred, if I remember correctly) and several major trade languages that are common across large regions (I was in the Peace Corps there a ways back and my electricity bill came in seven languages). But Mobuto (President at the time) spoke Lingala and was pushing it hard as the primary official language. The people in the eastern part of the country (where Kiswahili was the lingua franca) resented it more than a bit, and especially resented the administrators who would come to the area and who spoke no Kiswahili at all. Of course, this is linked in with tribalism as well as resentment of Mobutu (who was not a nice person). As a result, the common language that really unified the country was French (which most educated people spoke quite well).
      • French would be a better language to teach. It's easier to learn, and it's a language already in use by most of the ivory coast.
        • It is not easier to learn, there are many more rules and intricacies, and many more exceptions to those rules, and it is much harder to understand when poorly written or spoken.
      • by supabeast! (84658) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @03:44PM (#15990676)
        "But if their literacy rate is approaching zero, why not teach the kids english alongside their language?"

        Because the instructors would have to know English. Africa is full of little farming villages where few people, if any, speak either of the big international languages (English and French). So in many cases, there simply isn't anyone to teach those languages.
      • by BakaHoushi (786009) <Goss.Sean@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday August 27, 2006 @03:50PM (#15990694) Homepage
        Not to derail, but your post reminds me of a little line from the Hitchhiker's Guide, about how the Bable fish and its destruction of all barriers of communication managed to cause more wars in the galaxy than anything else.

        It makes me think if some countries are violent now when they CAN'T understand each other, just imagine the bloodshed when they DO.
        • Au contraire (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Moraelin (679338) on Monday August 28, 2006 @04:02AM (#15992605) Journal
          On the contrary. People fear the most that which they don't understand. And most importantly, self-serving politicians have a far easier time telling you lies about stuff you don't know and don't understand.

          If I were to post here that the internet is evil and run by little imps hauling your packets through tubes, probably everyone on Slashdot would immediately know that it's bullshit. But try it with bullshit like that the Koran demands terrorism/paedophilia/whatever-scare-of-the-month, and even a lot of educated people might just believe it. It doesn't, btw. I've read a translation, and it's no worse than any other religion. But that's just the point: once you _can_ understand what the others _are_ saying, and in what context the phrases were said that the politicians try to agitate you with, it becomes a lot harder for someone to come and present them as demons to you.

          Or let's put it this way: when was the last time you saw someone in the USA wanting to go to war with Canada or the UK? I mean, heck, you understand what they're saying all right. If understanding all the evil stuff they're saying would want people to go to war, you'd have more of a Casus Beli agains those than against Iraq by now. But in practice, once you do understand them, it turns out that they're people just like you.

          It's easier for someone to pick one extremist Arab loonie out of context, and mis-represent it as being representative of Arabs as a whole, and you might even believe it because you have no clue what the other Arabs are saying. Maybe they are saying the same things after all, right? Even if you've travelled there once or twice, who knows what evil things they were saying around you in that language of theirs, right? (Actually, wrong.)

          Whereas even if someone would cherry-pick one or two loonies from the UK or Canada (every country has theirs), there'll be _plenty_ of people who were there, understood what those people were saying, read some Canadian news agency's website, maybe watched some Canadian TV station if they're close to the border. They'll immediately point out, basically, "wtf, that's one isolated nutcase that noone else takes seriously. That't _not_ what the rest of Canada is thinking."

          And that goes both ways, btw. It's also easier for some Arabs to get hyped up against the Americans or Israel or whatever, when they don't really understand the language, the country, or the culture. Don't think that the small minority that throws bombs and whatnot are the intellectual elite there. It's the people who don't know any better, and are the easiest manipulated.

          Not understanding each other is basically a vicious circle, as violence goes. There'll be plenty of self-serving manipulators on both sides willing to translate only the conveniently belicose parts of what the others say. One loonie on side A says "let's bomb side B!" Everyone there laughs in his face, but on side B someone finds it convenient to translate only that as "look what side A says." Now someone on side B says, "oh yeah? let's see how cocky they'd be when they get a load of cruise missiles on their capital!" And someone on side A finds convenient to translate that, but ommit in what context it was said. Lather, rinse, repeat.

          So if anything, starting to understand each other might just put a bit of a brake on that vicious circle.
      • What's the use? (Score:3, Insightful)

        I lived in Africa for over 30 years (was born there). I can speak two African languages (seriously rustry now though). The first thing I think is very stupid is that the internet & computers have little relevance to most Africans. Even in South Africa, probably the most literate and equipped country in Africa, most African people don't have internet, computers, phones etc. A significant % have no power and no bank accounts etc and live a subsistence life. The vast majority are extremely poor and if they
        • Re:What's the use? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by It'sYerMam (762418) <[thefishface] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday August 27, 2006 @05:33PM (#15991006) Homepage
          According to Mr Geldoff, after a certain percentage of a country is connected by mobile phone, dictatorships fail. I would imagine this is the same with (non-censored) internet.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by timeOday (582209)

          No need for clean water, roads and basic education. Nope: give them computers & wikipedia.

          This comes up every time. I'm sure there's truth to it. But it's wrong to expect that countries coming along now will go through the same process of stable government, agrarian society, industrialization, service based economy, information based economy as has happened in the past. If and when those parts of Africa come around, they will get it all in parallel. People may have cell phones before they have ru

          • by Nutria (679911)
            People may have cell phones before they have running water in their homes. (Or we might be seeing cellphone videos uploaded from refugee camps by people who don't even have homes!)

            And who's going to pay for all that infrastructure?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rmccann (792082)
        I was in Kenya recently teaching computers to schools. One primary school we visited in Mombassa actually forbid the children from speaking Kiswahili while in school, they had to speak english instead. This was to encourage them to speak english. English is very prevelant in lots of Kenya.
        • by Nutria (679911)
          I was in Kenya recently teaching computers to schools. One primary school we visited in Mombassa actually forbid the children from speaking Kiswahili while in school, they had to speak english instead. This was to encourage them to speak english. English is very prevelant in lots of Kenya.

          That is soooo politically incorrect. Someone needs sue someone else.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by oliderid (710055)
        English is the same than Latin in the middle age or French in the renaissance. It is known by a small fraction of the population: By a wealthy elite or by those who need it for their jobs.

        Even in industrialized countries. A small fraction of the population can read English. What I mean by "reading" is to understand the meaning of a book, a letter, etc.

        I learnt English because I needed it for computing. My brother, a lawyer, doesn't need it. He can speak a basic English but he can't read a novel without a di
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Nutria (679911)
          African countries should promote their local languages instead.

          Do you think that the United States would have survived if the country was Balkanized? English here, German there, 100 aboriginal languages, Gaelic over there, Spanish, Swedish, French, Russian, Hmong, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Persian, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum?

          No, it would not have lasted 20 years.

          Countries need a single common language if they are to survive, much less prosper.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Eivind (15695)
          Even in industrialized countries. A small fraction of the population can read English. What I mean by "reading" is to understand the meaning of a book, a letter, etc.

          I challenge this. It may be true for *some* industrialized countries, but there's certainly many where the english-knowledge is significantly better than that.

          Furthermore, even if you are saying doing trade with or being a traveller in one of the countries where english *is* known by a small fraction -- odds are it's known by a much larger

      • I agree. This is a plausible solution and it makes all english resourses online available to them as well. Teaching some form of bilingualism makes sense for a number of reasons. good post.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by partenon (749418)
        Ok, agree. But just swap from english to mandarin, because its the most spoken language in the world. Deal?
        Actually, I think it would be far better if the entire world speaks mandarin. So, we can have only one version of wikipedia. Deal again?

        Of course I'm not serious. But man, is the guy FTA serious? And is the parent serious? I mean, if there *are* concerned readers, they *will* fix the articles, right? And if there are *not* concerned readers, just never mind that! Isn't it the basic idea of an Wiki?
      • by GWBasic (900357)
        Actually, what you describe is what's happening in India. The country has many local languages, yet English is used in business, government, and commerce. Most Indians that I meet have an accent that is easier to understand then a thick southern drawl.
      • by TFGeditor (737839)
        "English is the lingua franca of the world and they will have a lot more content at their hands than if they simply learned their language."

        True, but Chenyanja/Chichewa ("the "tongue of the lakes") is the lingua franca of southern Africa.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by fieldmethods (620984)

        I think you're missing the point of what Ndesanjo Macha said in the interview:

        "When it comes to producing information, we don't want to be dependent."

        There are at least some Swahili speakers who don't want to use English all the time. And on the flip side, there are people who speak English just fine, and want a Wikipedia in their own language (Welsh, for instance).

        What matters isn't "efficiency" or "degree of worldwide readability" or any other such metric. What matters is that the Wikipedia projec

    • by TFGeditor (737839)
      "...taking into account relevency to africans..."

      Africans or Africaans? One is a nationality, the other a language spoken mostly in South Africa.

    • Why not pick out some important articles, or high quality articles from the other languages, taking into account relevency to africans, just trnaslate them over as seed material.

      Translate them over into what? Africa isn't a monolithic culture, nor is is there an 'African' language to translate into. Africa (the continent) has hundreds (thousands?) of each.
      • by dave1g (680091)
        nothing i said, nor the article, nor the slashdot title implies there is only 1 african language. My suggestion stands for any language just copy the statement N times and start replacing with each instance of the group "african languages"
        • nothing i said, nor the article, nor the slashdot title implies there is only 1 african language.

          If nothing you said implied that - I wouldn't have answered how I did, would I have?
    • by SEWilco (27983)
      Great idea. Got a translator's dictionary for the language "African"?
  • by vidarlo (134906) <vidarlo@[ ]sex.net ['bit' in gap]> on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:09PM (#15990282) Homepage
    What use is an encyclopedia when literacy rates among a language's speakers approach zero? (This is not a problem for Swahili.) And who should control the content in a local language if not enough native speakers are inclined, or able, to contribute? If it had been native speakers only who contributed to the Swahili version, that Wikipedia might not exist at all.
    I'm not a native english speaker. Yet I contribute to the english wikipedia, because I feel I master the language. If people feel they master swahili, why should they not be free to contribute? It can be used as a starting point, as literacy rates increase. If people is to learn to read, they need something to read. Free content/knowledge is important, since it can reduce costs in schools and such. So in my eyes, the most important thing is to make a wikipedia with some basic content, and a lot of stubs, and let people contribute to these as they become literate. It *can* be a valueable tool, and we should do what we can do! Let us improve the free media availvable, and work for translation of it. If we could get a government institution to recognize wikipedia in their local language, we could bring it a long way forward in that language, and naturally ensure that the history of the country gets written down - in a open content.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by SpectreHiro (961765)
      I was going to pick on you, but the sad fact is that your written english skills are superior to those of an average american.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by athmanb (100367)
      Even though you may know the language quite well, you can only contribute in international articles. You're not qualified to write articles on local topics. And while a Swahili Wikipedia would certainly need articles about what Pluto is etc., it also needs history of towns to actually be an alive representation of the knowledge of a people.

      There are many small size Wikipedias which are really just a collection of Q&D translated articles from the english or french version which is a bit sad to see.
  • A non-issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:16PM (#15990314)

    I hate to sound like a troll, but who cares? No, seriously, if there's a language which too few of its speakers can possibly care about Wikipedia (since too few of them can access it) then who cares?

    Too few people. The number of articles on a language 'partition' of Wikipedia reveals how many people really care about it, and when you have 1,000 articles for a language, it means that very few people can possibly care about it, and so we shouldn't care about that whole issue.

    And if such a language partition of the Wikipedia gets written mostly by non-native speakers, it shows that there are even fewer native speakers who can possibly care.

    I claim that this whole thing is a non-issue

    • The people trying to create this thing are separated from the very people they claim they are doing it for. Until critical mass is reached its pointless to worry about an African wiki coming into being. When it is necessary it will happen. Just because a bunch of people who "know better" than the natives doesn't make it right.

      A wiki is a great idea but it also eats a lot of leisure time. Many in those nations don't have the luxury of that time let alone the means to even access it.

      I know its not what th
      • by Cylix (55374)
        Precisely my thoughts...

        Attack the core of the issue instead of burning time for something that won't be entirely helpful to the people.

        If you had planned on donating time to translating/writing content for the african language section then perhaps it would be better spent finding a way to help the people instead.

        Maybe you want to do both? That is a very noble cause, but it is just that... noble. (Note, noble doesn't feed people, noble doesn't earn a pay check and noble isn't paying my rent. I hate this nob
    • Re:A non-issue (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @03:07PM (#15990516) Homepage
      First off, Africa is a very diverse place. As the article notes, there are some languages with a very low number of literate speakers, but others have a lot of literate speakers. Some places, like Chad, are very underdeveloped. Others, like South Africa, are highly industrialized. In some cases, developing countries can leapfrog over technologies that are irrelevant to them. For instance, in many places in Africa, landlines are almost nonexistant, and instead everybody uses cell phones. It may be the same way with encyclopedias. These languages may never get a dead-tree encyclopedia. Their first encyclopedia will be Wikipedia. It would be interesting to see whether they also bypass print textbooks for their schools, and use electronic books instead. If OLPC comes in at $100, and several kids can share one laptop, the effective cost of a laptop could be, day, $30. If you could then use that laptop to access hundreds of free electronic books, it could be very cost-effective. It's not such a fantasy to imagine that many free books out there. There are already hundreds of free, high-quality, college-level textbooks in English (see my sig). There are already some free high school texts in English aimed at South African schools (e.g., http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/FHSST_Physics [wikibooks.org]). It makes sense to imagine Wikipedia as part of the final picture.
      • by Zach978 (98911)
        So wait until they get their $100 laptops so they can update wikipedia...until then I agree this is a non issue.
      • by johansalk (818687)
        Call me a troll or a flamebait, but, seriously, what about just learning English or French and just working with that? What's the need for a native language version of everything? See how well India is advantaged with its population of English speakers.
    • by telbij (465356) *
      If people really do care about this, they should look at the root causes and address them in order of importance. Internet access is meaningless without good education. Education is impossible without politcal stability. Political stability is impossible without basic needs such as food, water and shelter. Africa varies widely in what is needed locally, but I guarantee that if the base needs of the citizenry are met then Internet access will take care of itself.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bomanbot (980297)
      I second the parent poster, it seems to be a non-issue. Maybe people in Africa just do not use Wikipedia that frequently, or use the English version or are just not inclined to contribute.

      And if you look here: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wikipedias/ [wikimedia.org], the numbers of wikipedia articles is absolutely not proportional to the number of users of a specific language, meaning that Wikipedia is used differently over the world.

      For example, the Polish version has about double the amount of articles as
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MaelstromX (739241)

        For example, the Polish version has about double the amount of articles as the Spanish version, although Spanish is arguably used and spoken by far more people all over the world. Same thing with Esperanto and Arabic.

        Spanish is a unique case, as a significant portion of the Spanish Wikipedia userbase split off to form the Enciclopedia Libre [enciclopedia.us.es] some time ago. You can read more about that here [wikipedia.org].

  • Wait.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by onion2k (203094) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:21PM (#15990328) Homepage
    How do you create an online encyclopedia in a language in which few native speakers have access to the Internet?
    Thats an easy question to answer. You wait. Rome wasn't built in a day. Until there's a critical mass of people capable of creating the resource then it's not going to happen. I'm sure that's an answer someone in Martin Benjamin's position won't like, but it's the only one that makes sense.
    • by owlnation (858981)
      or, take a shortcut...

      Write a cult african sci-fi TV show / movie franchise / trilogy or whatever. You'll have thousands of (contradictory) wiki pages by lunchtime.

      Though, admittedly some waiting is still necessary as the pages on the detailed history of Namibia will be written some, if not many, many, years later...
  • Misplaced interest (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vga_init (589198) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:26PM (#15990342) Journal

    The article describes a twofold problem: no readers, too few writers. On Wikipedia, the readers are the writers, so in this case these two problems are actually one problem. It's also a problem which Wikipedia has already been designed to solve--when readers want content, they push it onto the wiki. If the content isn't there, obviously the demand is not great enough to make it happen. Isn't that the way of wikipedia?

    WIKI is for "what I know is." If it were "what we want you to know is", we'd be calling it WWWYTKIpedia. I think we should simply lay this topic to rest and move on to something reasonable, such as "if wikipedia isn't the right tool to help educate African people, what other tools are possible?"

  • Swahili (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Per Abrahamsen (1397) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:44PM (#15990405) Homepage
    Swahili is a trade language. It has relatively few native speakers, but it is the secondary language for many in east Africa. So it is not really surprising that the native speakers alone wouldn't contribute a lot.

  • 0% Literacy Rate? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thewiltog (906494) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:57PM (#15990456) Journal
    What use is an encyclopedia when literacy rates among a language's speakers approach zero?
    I'm a fan of Wikipedia (see my sig) but in this case raising the literacy rate using old-fashioned methods (ie books) surely has to have priority over getting some (token) entries into Wikipedia. It's not that the two are mutually exclusive, but until there's a certain level of literacy within the native language group, Wikipedia articles (presumably written by non-native speakers) are going to look at bit like encyclopedic colonialism.
  • by Dark_MadMax666 (907288) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @02:57PM (#15990460)
    It is a waste of time to make entries in each and every language. I found that despite even on the etnries concerning russia and russian culture I use english wiki (despite russian being my primary language and such) -simply because english articles are better in quality. I feel pity for all that time people spend translating articles instead of adding new ones.

      - I know many people fluently speak more than one language since childhood and as a consequence can effortlessly master many more without much effort (if by the age of 6 you spoke more than one language your brain is "wired" well for learnign additional ones). Even those who stuck with only one language can learn one (and they should make it English).
  • by suv4x4 (956391) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @03:16PM (#15990552)
    I can attest to this. I've spent last 10 years of my life creating the Klingonese version of wikipedia, but there's just no support for it.

    Klingons won't even come to Earth and talk with us about it, so most of the content in there is created by Star Trek fans.
    The problem is even worse when no cross-planet ISP exist that can transmit the content to Klingon so Klingons can browse it.

    What use is an encyclopedia when no one can read it or access it?

    Oh wait. Why is this a problem again?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Millenniumman (924859)
      Wow, I didn't think there was a klingon wikipedia [wikipedia.org].
      • by 9x320 (987156)
        The Klingon Wikipedia was started independently by a few administrators and Klingon speakers, and then it was shut down by Wikimedia by the time the people at the top noticed it existed with 62 articles. They decided fictional language versions of Wikimedia projects should not be hosted on Wikimedia servers (20 of which were courteously donated by Yahoo!, with the rest being bought through donor money).

        Curiously, that hasn't stopped a user at Wikimedia Incubator, which was started last month to host test wi
        • How much does it take to host something that small? Its an interesting novelty, and it might cost them $1 a year. I say all this as a donor of Wikipedia ($.02, with an accompanying "here's my two cents ).

          Even Mac OS X includes support for the Klingon language, although the operating system doesn't have any Klingon language files. The next application I write for it will.
  • So... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by EinZweiDrei (955497) *
    So, call me crazy here, but in the face of literacy rates and scant internet access, why put forth the time and effort to create a lame-duck African-language Wikipedia? There are plenty of Wikimedia efforts that could use those intellectual man-hours, if the world isn't ready for an African Wikipedia at the very moment.
  • What insight (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drix (4602) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @03:19PM (#15990577) Homepage
    Wow. And in other news, sales of Ferraris have dropped to a precipitous low on Tanzania, a Starbucks franchise is having real trouble getting off the ground in the Congo, and the Sierra Leone division of Sharper Image reported a record quarterly loss.

    Wikipedia exists due to a vast army of bored office drones, programmers and college students. Surfing (and contributing to) it is like the most bourgeois thing. I don't find it all that surprising that a continent with ten million orphans, a complete lack of basic health care and sanitation, and insanely corrupt political regimes, can't find the time to log on and post a couple articles.
  • Aren't there plenty of other languages there? Arabic? All the colonial languages? Afrikaans?

    Cripes, to watch those Michael Palin travel shows, you'd think English and French were the official languages. :)

    What we really need is a Coptic Wikipedia. Just because.

  • by D H NG (779318) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @04:19PM (#15990786)
    I'm a bureaucrat at the Vietnamese-language Wikipedia. Back in late 2003 there were few contributors (actualy just me and one other person). We slowly built the contents and the formatting. Slowly, more people came. We reached a critical point in late 2005 when we reached 1000 users. By the end of the year, we had more than 10000 contributors. We reached 10000 articles recently. One thing we've learned is in order to attract native speakers, focus on the help pages. Spell out the policies, describe how to create new pages, and make newcomers feel welcomed. If you use the English version of the project pages, then only those who can speak English as well as that language can contribute. The discussion pages also need to be in that language, else it will exclude a majority of native speakers.
  • I roposepay a Igpay Atinlay Ikipediaway. Llaay uoyay ouldway eednay siay a otbay hattay opiescay hetay Nglisheay Ikipediaway, utbay hangescay hetay etterslay otay ebay igpay atlinlay.
  • Apparently they are beginning to find out that Spain has better internet access [bbc.co.uk] than the African continent... not to mention food and safety.

    But seriously, is access to Wikipedia really the most pressing issue when you can't feed your kids and your town is plagued by genocidal maniacs from alternating rival groups every other day?

    I think we need to talk about the re-distribution of wealth and creating political stability first, then we can talk about Internet access. I'm not saying education isn't an i

  • why bother with a language almost no one speaks? while we are at it lets have wikipedia entires in latin, sanskrit heck klingon works too.
  • ...the many African dialects.

    Swahili
    Zulu
    Chenyanja
    Fanagalo
    etc.

    Chimbudzi miombo basopa njoka!
    (if you shit in the woods, watch out for snakes)

    The term "ngwenya" means "crocodile" in some dialects and "snake" in others, while it is "njoka" or nyoka" in others for snake.

    See the problem?

     
  • by TrebleJunkie (208060) <ezahurak&atlanticbb,net> on Sunday August 27, 2006 @10:18PM (#15991854) Homepage Journal
    "While there is a lot of interest, the primary obstacle is that of exposure: the majority of people on the continent of Africa do not have internet access."

    Um, no, the primary obstacle is that the vast majority of the people on the African continent are behaving as if they're only about half a step up the evolutionary ladder from complete and utter savages; they have no use for technology -- yet.

    When they stop killing each other, move to where the goddamned food is and settle down for a while, then maybe they can work on curing malaria and after that, start on the Wikipedia Africanica.
    • by NoMaster (142776)
      When they stop killing each other, move to where the goddamned food is and settle down for a while, then maybe they can work on curing malaria and after that ...
      Yeah, let me know when you in the West get all that sorted out. Granted, you've got malaria sorted (more or less), but that's only one step...

  • by Malangali (932979) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @10:33PM (#15991892)
    Interesting reading the discussion on this article. Many /.ers write with the attitude that, because African languages don't matter to them, they don't matter.

    The recurring theme of the /. conversation is, why should people waste their time creating African language Wikipedias if the languages have low literacy and few computer users? However, the original NYT article was written about a discussion that has moved well beyond that level. The questions that the people working on African language Wikipedias (most of whom have spent a great deal of time in Africa, speaking African languages and thinking/ acting on the issues) are asking are more like these:

    • Can some of Africa's entrenched economic difficulties relate to the fact that many of her people do not have access to literacy in the languages they speak and use on a daily basis?
    • How much of the lack of literacy in many languages is related to the lack of a systematic effort to produce written materials in those languages?
    • If a critical mass of written materials were produced for a given language, would it create the necessary foundation for widespread literacy in that language among speakers of that language?
    • If speakers of a given language were to develop literacy in that language, rather than having to learn an entirely different language (such as English or Arabic) in order to engage in written communications (send emails, write blogs, read newspapers, get commodity market and weather reports relevant to the crops they grow, apply for jobs, evaluate the truth claims of politicians, etc), might that literacy be a key to overcoming the continent's persistent economic difficulties?
    • Given the certified failure of print publishers and government agencies (colonial and post-colonial) to produce literacy materials in most African languages during the past 150 years, and the rapid success of the Wikipedia model in producing vast amounts of knowledge material quickly, might the resources of the Wikipedia world be a way to address the issues of creating literacy materials for those languages?
    • If One Laptop Per Child is indeed a foreseeable reality, and if Wikipedia is going to come prebundled, and if having literacy materials in the language a child speaks is a key to the ultimate success and usefulness of OLPC, isn't creating a good Wikipedia in that child's language an issue of somewhat immediate concern?
    • If any or all of the above, but also given the slow pace of African language Wikipedias to date, what have the barriers been thus far, and how can those barriers be overcome in a timely and systematic way?
    That is the discussion the NYT was reporting on. It would be interesting to read the thoughts of the /. commentariat on those questions, since the technical experience of the slashdot readership might lend a lot to the discussion of how to create the social and technological infrastructure necessary to really launch such projects and maximize their impact.
    • If I had mod points this week, I'd use them. Most of the posts above are missing or ignoring key points.

      I think a lot, at first, will depend on educated Westerners who have learned an African language and want to contribute to the future of those cultures and peoples. Nothing's stopping me from learning Swahili or Yoruba and writing Wikipedia articles (in fact, I plan to learn an African language one day). In the long run, once the ball is rolling, these people will have much unique information of their ow
  • My uncle Alan his girlfriend [riverdeep.net] have been working for years to get computers into the hands of South Africans, specifically in schools. It is a noble effort and has had some very good results. But my lord, the stories they bring back of trouble on so many levels. Getting computers through customs is very difficult, there's always someone there who will hold the goods up until you grease their palms. Travelling across the land you come across more questionable patrols that demand money to let you pass. Onc

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