Re: NYT article: Using a New Language in Africa to Save Dying Ones

From: Donald Z. Osborn (
Date: Sun Nov 14 2004 - 10:42:14 CST

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    Doug, Thanks for the attention and no problem about the remarks re who's aware
    of what. It's legitimate to wonder in either direction since there are such
    problems with information flows in Africa and among those elsewhere working
    with/for people there. My earliest lesson in this was as a Peace Corps
    volunteer working with an animal traction project (plowing with oxen, for those
    not up with the technology) in Togo a quarter century ago. Togo is a very small
    country - and a nice one too - that you can drive across in about an hour where
    the roads permit and drive the length of in an easy day - but there were
    apparently 5 animal traction projects there with little mutual contact or
    communication and at least one major unnecessary duplication of efforts
    (regarding carts) between the two largest projects.

    In this case of Yoruba keyboards, happily, we are aware of the efforts of Tunde
    and ALT-I, but those have not been brought into public discussion as much as
    they might be (as far as I'm aware). Their effort was given an award by IICD
    and featured in a report in i-Connect Africa (July 2003 - ) which was also posted to
    A12n-forum at .

    And I am sure that Tunde and ALT-I are aware of other efforts such as those
    brought together on the A12n keyboard projects page - - notably by Andrew Cunningham (I should
    mention that these are independent efforts listed on these pages, undertaken
    many of them with discussion on A12n-collaboration or offline). Yoruba keyboard
    efforts also include a project called Afárá at the University of Ibadan that I
    haven't heard much about lately, and several Yoruba or pan-Nigerian keyboard
    efforts including a couple discussed more on the A12n-forum - NITDA and ABD
    Yoruba - and another commercial effort called Konyin. The Yoruba language & ICT
    message board at has more (Tunde
    himself has posted there, and he and Alt-I have been mentioned more than

    In fact there's quite a bit happening with Yoruba - more perhaps than one could
    expect Marc Lacey track down and report on (though the misinformation that
    Yoruba is a language of Niger and Cameroon is unfortunate; it is spoken in
    Benin and into part of Togo as Ana/Ife). Add to that some efforts such as those
    for Igbo (keyboards and also a Linux localization effortl there hasn't yet been
    as much activity for Nigeria's other "decamillionaire" language, Hausa), and
    the level of activity in Nigeria starts to get impressive ... and the need for
    discussion of standards becomes ever more urgent.

    One could say much more (e.g., re the unicode training issue), but I'll let it
    rest there for now.

    I would like to take the opportunity to make a quick general comment about
    Lacey's article. First, I think it's great that the issue of African languages
    and ICT is getting this kind of attention. When I started really devoting
    attention to this area in late 1999 and the concept of Bisharat was taking
    shape (I personally came to this with other experience having worked a decade
    earlier on a Fulfulde lexicon in dBaseIII and WP51), it was only a dream then
    that an influential Northern newspaper like the NYT would give African language
    computing such space.

    All the best.

    Don Osborn

    Quoting Doug Ewell <>:

    > I babbled incoherently:
    > > I'll bet the folks at Bisharat and elsewhere would be surprised at
    > > the efforts that have been made to create keyboards for Yoruba.
    > Should have been more like:
    > "I'll bet Mr. Adegbola would be surprised at the efforts that have been
    > made by the folks at Bisharat and elsewhere to create keyboards for
    > Yoruba."
    > -Doug Ewell
    > Fullerton, California

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