[Foundation-l] African Languages Wikipedia Bashing on Slashdot

Jeff V. Merkey jmerkey at wolfmountaingroup.com
Mon Aug 28 18:07:53 UTC 2006

Martin Benjamin wrote:

And here are my responses to your specific questions:

>    * 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?
No, they are related to civil wars, food shortages, health and public 
sanitation issues, and contitent
wide governmental corruption and resource exploitation, combined with 
backwards racial
conflcits which perist into modern times, including religious conflicts 
due to the influences
and battles between Islam and Christianity.

>    * 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 people have no written language and rely on oral tradition, it's 
like trying
to ice skate uphill. You will also find (as I have here with several 
tribes) many groups have
religous taboos on writing down their 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?
No. You need education programs in each area and immersion schools setup to
provide children from early ages access to materials. Adults won't learn 
it, they are too busy
involved in the struggle to just survive day to dat realities.

>    * 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?

Most of these folks will have already been exposed to English. You would 
need to identify English
bilingual speakers with one foot in each world to even be able to 
communicate WHY this is important.

>    * 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?
Machine assisted translations. Wikipedia has succeeded largely in part 
due to the young who have little or
no need to go to work every day using their time to contribute and build 
it. Wikipedia is a phenomena of
the industrialized western yuppie culture (and very young folks) most of 
whom have not yet flown the

>    * 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?
One laptop per child won't address areas where people worry more about 
food to eat or dying of AIDS or some other disease than learning to read 
and write.

>    * 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?


>foundation-l mailing list
>foundation-l at wikimedia.org

More information about the foundation-l mailing list