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The Internet Education

Swahili Wiki-Dictionary? 84

Martin Benjamin writes "The Hartford Courant just published a feature article on the Kamusi Project Internet Living Swahili Dictionary. This project is using the Net to put together dictionaries that are as scholarly as any university publication, yet with a secure participatory model that draws on knowledge from users around the world. Now the project is developing learning tools that will build on the Kamusi model of collaborative scholarship."
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Swahili Wiki-Dictionary?

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  • What about.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gcnaddict ( 841664 )
    How about a dictionary in Navajo or Iroquois? Heck, even pig latin would do!
    • Wiktionary (Score:3, Interesting)

      by merphant ( 672048 )
      This can happen at Wiktionary [] (English version here []). That is the first thing I thought of when I read the title of this articll the Wikipedia people thought of a multilingual wiki dictionary a while back, when thye still had to go around saying "please expand this article, Wikipedia is not a dictionary []". I see that Wiktionary only has about 5 English entries for Swahili words. Hopefully this guy will make the content on his site available under a GFDL-compatible license so that it can be assimilated into W
      • This project raises some interesting possibilities in terms of professors collaborating to create educational resources. Another great spot for this is []. There, theorums and lessons can be connected with hyperlinks to external resources like wikis, blogs, documentation, or newsgroups. The community can simply record knowledge, bit by bit, and start to avoid duplication of efforts in notetaking and research. With just a dose or two of the internet's collaborative magic, this
    • Navajo would be cool, except for the tiny detail that it has no written form, which was one of the reasons the US chose it for the code talkers in WWII on the Pacific front
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday November 21, 2005 @10:41PM (#14087512) Homepage
    "he vets every entry for accuracy, sometimes within minutes..."

    How, exactly, does he do this? It sounds like quite a trick.

    He mentions "Then there's the professional ecologist major in Benin - he's a birder. He's sent in hundreds of bird entries, every type of thrush or crow ever spotted in East Africa, with their English and Swahili names." How does he "vet" these entries if he's not an ecologist himself?

    Wikipedia regularly receives all sorts of hoax and joke definitions, neologisms, fraternity-house in-jokes, and so forth. It takes more than "minutes" to sort some of them out.

    Does he just go on his personal intuition, which entries sound right and "feel" right to him? Or what?
    • He mentions "Then there's the professional ecologist major in Benin - he's a birder. He's sent in hundreds of bird entries, every type of thrush or crow ever spotted in East Africa, with their English and Swahili names." How does he "vet" these entries if he's not an ecologist himself?

      As a practical matter, is he re-creating the language? And if so, does it make any difference? If people come to rely upon this dictionary as the dictionary for Swahili, and the dictionary says that the Swahili word for a

      • by Malangali ( 932979 ) on Monday November 21, 2005 @11:36PM (#14087720)
        The dictionary does not re-create the language, it documents it. It is a "living" dictionary, meaning that it is designed to remain extremely current to the language as it is used, through the submissions of users who have their ears to the ground. However, only words that can be documented, through printed sources, radio broadcasts, contemporary Swahili music, etc, are accepted for inclusion in the dictionary. It is intended as a reference resource, not the word of God. As to whether anyone will know the difference about the accuracy of the entries, that surely depends on your definition of "anyone." The population of the Swahili-speaking world is roughly the same as that of the German-speaking world. Would you make such a comment about a project for German?
    • by Malangali ( 932979 ) on Monday November 21, 2005 @11:28PM (#14087696)
      A perceptive question. In the case of the ecologist, we're dealing with a trusted source who is one of the leading authorities on Swahili ornithology terminology. Therefore, most of the vetting of those entries indeed involves making sure everything looks right - that all the data are in the correct fields, that all the plural forms agree, etc. After the editor approves the entries, they are "live" - but anyone with better information can always submit a correction, at which point the editor will put the term up for question on the site's discussion forum. Non-trusted users get much more detailed oversight. Many entries are sent back to the submitter with a request for actual usage examples. Or, the editor checks various online and print sources. Editing a submission can involve quite a lot of work on the editorial end. Unlike Wikipedia, there is a firewall between the users and the dictionary. Someone who submits joke submissions is simply wasting their own time. For more details on the process, read the explanation for the project's Edit Engine here: ngine_en.php []
    • umm... Benin is in West Africa not East Africa... to the east of Togo.
      • Oooh, good point. And don't they speak French there, not Swahili?
      • Benin is in West Africa. Not to put too fine a point on it, though, there are airports and internet services in every country in Africa, and people do travel from one side of the continent to the other every day. Even Swahili-speaking professional ecologists working for international organizations are allowed on these airplanes when their jobs demand that they transfer from one country to another. The cool thing about the Internet is that it connects people in virtual communities to overcome the limitati
  • The GNAA [] is going to have a field day with this...

    Never mind, he's got it under control:

    Benjamin compares his project to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia drafted largely by a band of worldwide literati. He emphasizes, however, that, unlike Wikipedia, he vets every entry for accuracy, sometimes within minutes, before he posts them.

    Printer Friendly Coral Link []

  • you know what (Score:5, Informative)

    by phiberoptik3 ( 799617 ) on Monday November 21, 2005 @10:45PM (#14087536)
    I know a lot of college student who would use this. I for one have been using the yale kamusi project for a longtime. And hell yea african can use computers i know lots of them. Africa is not what you see on the discovery channel. When I came to this country I was appalled by the ignorance of American one of my teachers thought that Kenya was in the carribean and i had one kid ask me "how does it feel to wear clothes".
    • You are not Phiber Optik, and you do yourself no favor by using his handle. ESPECIALLY with the '3' added on.

      When I see Mark again, I shall tell him he has an African child he did not know about.
    • Kind of related, I had a similar experience in the US.

      I am Brazillian and was asked several times if there were cars in here, if I lived in the jungle, if there were lots of snakes in the streets, etc.

      And when I said I worked with cellphone software and was a PhD student I heard more than one: "Wow, I didn't know people did this in Brazil".

      All of these are real examples of questions asked to me, and not by kids. It's really appaling.
      • A russian scientist from Novosibirsk (central Siberia) was telling this brilliant story:

        At conferences, there was always one american guy asking him if there were any polar bears in the streets of Novosibirsk. Tired to reply "no" every time he was asked the question, he once said "yes".

        His story then grew wilder and wilder to the point that he was telling at the dinner party how there was this one little cub that was always stealing food from their rubbish bin, so he took pitty on the bear (siberia is a

        • What ! there is no polar bears in the streets of Novosibirsk ? I was pretty sure of the contrary, you know I am from Casablanca ! and while I am at it, please don't ask me if there are any Camels here and yes we DO have lots of cars, pollution and traffic jams !
          • please don't ask me if there are any Camels here and yes we DO have lots of cars, pollution and traffic jams !
            Nah... the real question is: Do you guys really eat pigeons???? uuuuuuuuh

            (man, I haven't had real pastilla in years, think of me if you ever eat some :)

            • Yes of course we do eat pigeons, everybody does but Americans ;) have a look at this recipe for instance : R f_HTML/HTML_1300/1369b.html []

              Let me explain we don't eat dirty pigeons you find in the street, we eat young pigeons or pigeonneaux typically less than 15 days I think, pretty cruel but exquisite.

              As for Bastilla, humm, nice dish indeed, but we eat it typically during wedding, and if you really don't like pigeonneaux try with sea food, very nice too !!
              • Considering that I eat bundaegi [] and like it, I'm not bothered by pigeon meat at all. Au contraire! Only here in Britain, farmed pigeon is almost impossible to find and I'm not that keen on the flying rats you can see flying around.

                It's really funny though: You start mentioning "silk worms", "dog meat", "pigeons", "rabbits" or even... "deer" (you eat bambi???) to some people (without pointing fingers to anyone people in particular) and they almost start puking their guts out just at the thought of putting i

  • Will words that aren't notable be put up for AFD, like at Wikipedia? Funny, someone predicted that just yesterday []
  • From the article: "We've done all the programming work that's possible, and I can envision hitting the print key in about two years," Benjamin said. You've done ALL the programming work that's possible? Clearly you are not dreaming big enough.

    FTA: Biersteker and Benjamin have applied for several grants, including one from the National Endowment for the Humanities. But they won't know anything until the spring, so they need stopgap funding. Why are you looking for American sources? Why not find a few AFRIC

    • by Malangali ( 932979 ) on Monday November 21, 2005 @11:47PM (#14087754)
      "We've done all the programming work that's possible, and I can envision hitting the print key in about two years," Benjamin said. -- Actually, that's a misquote. We've done almost all the programming work that's possible given our current budget (the project goes belly-up at the end of the year without further funding), but we've got a task-list/ wish-list a mile long. Why not find a few AFRICAN ORGANIZATIONS to pay for it? -- Simple - most African organizations don't have the money to fund this sort of work. Those that have the money invest in other priorities, like health and emergencies. If you know of any African organizations with funds to spare, by all means please let them know about the project! About Kamusi-in-a-Box: if this happens, it will be in association with the Tanzanian school system, and all the software would be going to schools that have already been set up with computers running the Swahili versions of Linux, OpenOffice, and Firefox. So yes, the market is there - the market is a whole bunch of computers at educational institutions around East Africa that are ready and waiting for learning content.
      • First: thanks for responding. That's very cool.

        Second: some thoughts. You're already thinking of African funding sources if you are working with the Tanzanian government and universities. Do they have "funds to spare" or do they see this as an important project that is still worth investing in even if it is not "health" or "emergencies"? If it is the latter, then you're on your way already. And Swahili is spoken by millions upon millions of people; someone, somewhere, has to be able to fund this. Obvi

        • Re: African funding (Score:2, Informative)

          by Malangali ( 932979 )
          The interest level in African institutions in quite high, but if there are any "funds to spare," I haven't heard about them. The real potential funding sources are intergovernmental organizations, private foundations, and individual donors. Unfortunately, Africa just doesn't have the equivalent of the Japan Foundation. Private foundations tend to have highly specific criteria for their grants - for example, some foundations only fund projects in certain countries, while other only fund certain types of a
  • Incredible (Score:3, Funny)

    by JeanBaptiste ( 537955 ) on Monday November 21, 2005 @10:57PM (#14087586)
    Just the other day, I was lamenting to my friend how the internet seems to have everything except for a good Swahili Wiki-Dictionary.

    Looks like my chum went to great lengths to collect on our 50 Rand wager.
  • Another farce (Score:4, Informative)

    by teslatug ( 543527 ) on Monday November 21, 2005 @11:25PM (#14087686)
    "Benjamin compares his project to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia drafted largely by a band of worldwide literati. He emphasizes, however, that, unlike Wikipedia, he vets every entry for accuracy, sometimes within minutes, before he posts them."

    Yeah you could do that with Wikipedia too when it had 100 new entried a month, but once you reach 100 a second I'd like to see how he'd cope.

    P.S. There is a Wiktionary in Swahili right here: [] It hasn't attracted too many contributors, what makes this guy think he can do better?
  • I've been using this site for 6 years and it is an excellent resource. It's not very much like a wiki however. It's not user-editable and I believe most of the submitters are academic types like professors at the University of Dar. It still doesn't hold a candle to the Kamusi ya Kiswahili Sanifu [] though. That book has many more words, better example usages and the occasional proverb that uses the word.

    And when else could I post my favourite methali ya kiswahili to Slashdot and have it be vaguely releva
  • Lt. Uhura from original series Star Trek spoke Swahili. If the creators of the original Star Trek felt that Swahili would be an important language in the future, who am I to argue? Besides, I'm shocked that so many negative comments would appear on /. about trying to help humanity know itself better. Oh wait, most of this comments were posted anonymously, probably by one person.
  • I think this Kiswahili wiki-dictionary is really just a sign of how much Africa, and specifically East Africa, is changing. I spent quite a bit of time living in Kenya, and to this day I am amazed at just how "Western" a lot of Africa is becoming, especially in the big cities like Nairobi. One Kenyan NGO I worked with had a larger IT staff than I have here in the States, and a Kenyan friend of mine had his own graphic design firm at age 22, and could whip up artwork in Photoshop and Illustrator like you

  • by o'reor ( 581921 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @04:11AM (#14088596) Journal
    on the previous cooperative Wikipedia-style initiatives on the Net :

    1. Moderators for the submitted articles
    2. A (scientific ?) reviewing committee

    This was definitely lacking in the other initiatives.

    Of course, this supposes that a committee of reliable people (typically, university researchers, professionals, etc.) culls the articles as they are submitted, and it does require a lot of time. They already do this for peer-reviewed scientific or technical journals, with the difference that they probably get paid for doing it.

    Still, I believe in a serious technical/scientific committee donating their time in order to review the validity of articles submitted to online encyclopediae, and being given the rights to prevent the modification of the online articles unless those modifications have been approved. This would be a great step towards reliability in the Wikipedia publishing process.

    And besides, to compare this with another great cooperative project, would Linus Torvalds let pieces of the Linux code be updated by any anonymous coward without a proper code review done by a trusted person ? This is the direction that ought to be taken for Wikipedia.

    • Nupedia, Wikipedia's predecessor, was exactly such a project.

      You didn't hear very much about it because after two years and $250,000 invested, it had a grand total of "24 articles that completed its review process" and 74 more that were well along.

      Many of Wikipedia's organizational principles and policies originated in Nupedia, and Larry Sanger maintains that the success of Wikipedia stemmed from the fact that it had its start in a community of people who were thoroughly steeped in Nupedia ways of doing thi
  • Go watch Screamers []. Best quote ever:
    Hey, Jefferson...what am I speaking swahili here? --Hendricksson
    • No, best quote ever is from the Monty Python sketch where a cross-eyed John Cleese is organizing an expedition to climb both mount Kilmanjaros.

      Prospective expedition member asking about the team: "Does anyone speak Swahili?"
      Cleese: "Yes, I believe most of the natives do."

      Shit, it was a lot funnier on TV.

  • In the article, it says that the 'ki' in 'Kiswahili' means 'language'. It doesn't, it's one of those noun class prefixes that are characteristic of bantu language in general and have no formal semantic payload. It must have taken the journalist a real conscious effort to make a mistake that size.

    In other news, though, Swahili is an awfully fragmented language, split into zillions of dialects with only a small core of 'standard' Swahili speakers (if indeed anybody really speaks 'standard' Swahili). Creati
    • "ki" is a syllable that appears frequently in Swahili. In many cases, it is a noun class prefix that, as kahei says, has no formal semantic payload. In other cases it is an object infix, again without a specific meaning. In yet other cases it is a verb tense marker for the conditional tense, so it specifically indicates "if" or "when" something will happen. At other times "ki" is just a syllable that happens to appear in a word, such as the verb "kimbia" that means "run." Swahili also uses "ki" to crea
    • No, he's not made a conscious effort to make a mistake.

      If you're unfamiliar with the way Bantu languages work, you're going to need to understand them in terms of something more familiar, such as your own language. Someone has told the journalist that, starting with the word "swahili", you can make words like mswahili, waswahili, kiswahili and so on. So ki- looks to him like it's the prefix that means "language". It's a perfectly reasonable proposition given the amount of knowledge that he's got of the su

  • by Safe Sex Goddess ( 910415 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2005 @10:00AM (#14089695) Homepage Journal
    Would this make a good model for Open Source Textbooks? If we get the $100 laptops to all kids, and they can downlaod Open Source Textbooks/Learning Software, we can eliminate a major expense for school districts in our country and around the world.

    Free text books means more money can be put into teacher salaries so we get the best and the brightest, and so children can have facilities that don't look like they've been abandoned for 25 years.

Loan-department manager: "There isn't any fine print. At these interest rates, we don't need it."