[Foundation-l] Fwd: NYTimes.com: African Languages Grow as a Wikipedia Pr...

Ray Saintonge saintonge at telus.net
Mon Aug 28 04:02:38 UTC 2006

Alphax (Wikipedia email) wrote:

>daniwo59 at aol.com wrote:
>>In a message dated 8/27/2006 6:17:12 PM Eastern Daylight Time,  
>>gerard.meijssen at gmail.com writes:
>>It is  imho wrong to call it languages in developing regions, it is not 
>>that  simple and the article cited is about Wikipedia in its African  
>>Actually, the article cited doesnt mention WiktionaryZ, which was the bulk  
>>of your email. I am talking in principle, when we refer to projects that need a 
>> nudge, let's not just focus on African languages because it happens to be in 
>> vogue. There are plenty of other important languages out there that also 
>>need a  gentle push so that they can reach their full potential. 
>Unfortunately the people who are likely to know these languages are
>unlikely to want to contribute to Wikipedia, because they'd probably see
>it as a waste of time/doomed to fail/whatever. Still, I can ask people...
It would be wrong to impute motives to any of the speakers whose 
language is not represented by a strong Wikipedia community.

In many respects I agree with both Danny and Gerard on this.  
"Developing regions" may have been an unfortunate choice of words, but 
the differences that they have expressed seem like the sort of thing 
that can easily be resolved through dialogue.  We should indeed be 
encouraging development in all languages, and development goes well 
beyond word lists and languages.  Having complete dictionary listings 
for Tocharian or Beothuk is not going to bring those languages back to 
life.  Extensive dictionary listings for all the aboriginal languages of 
Australia will do very little to bring those people onto the internet 
and contributing to Wikipedia in their own languages.

Many of these languages were pre-literate until waves of Christian 
missionaries went in and translated the Bible for them.  Talk about 
paternalistic!  That was not limited to Africa; it also prevailed over 
the first nations languages of the Americas.  When the US government 
moved the four tribes from Florida to Oklahoma we all know it was for 
their own good. ;-)   What's more, it is not unusual for natives of a 
minority language group to see that learning the dominant colonial 
language puts one on the path to success, thereby deprecating their 
native language.  The white man cannot force native speakers to embrace 
and take pride in their own language; that must come from the native 
speakers themselves.  Some of this is already beginning with North 
American native languages. 

Africa has another difficulty: rudimentary infrastructure.  A North 
American first nations person can easily go to town and buy a computer 
and subscribe to an internet service.  Even if he can't afford the 
hardware, there are other ways of accessing the net.  For some Africans 
this can be a tremendous hurdle.  Developed nations may be able to help 
the African at the level of infrastructure, but he still must overcome 
the socio-cultural hurdles himself.before he can become an effective 
contributor to Wikipedia.

Asian dynamics are somewhat different.  Many languages of Asia were not 
pre-literate at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Some countries 
like North Korea and Myanmar have strong xenophobic trends that keep 
people away from the internet, but for most it may just be a matter of 
time before strong communities develop.  For India there may be internal 
and regional politics at work, and there are times when I believe that 
Indian politics defy description.  In a way I would not be very 
surprised if the request for a Konkani Wikipedia received more interest 
than Assamese despite the much larger population base for Assamese. 


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