I am fortunate to have worked with some of the most prominent people at the forefront of language technology development in Nigeria. In 2004, during the West African Languages Congress (WALC 2004) conference co-hosted by the Department of Linguistics in my alma mater in Ibadan and the African Languages Technology Initiative, I came across some of the new advancements in localization, and efforts in making African languages relevant to changing times. Work in the area of language technology has produced a Yoruba (and I believe Igbo, Hausa) keyboard for computers, a corpus for translation of computer/technology terms from English to local languages, and a growing body of researchers working between Engineering, Computer Science and Linguistics to bring local languages into the global marketplace. I was the webmaster and quasi-secretary of the conference and I remember the breadth and depth of the number of presentations we had from linguists and scholars from all over the world. (You can find the proceeds from the conference in this book – also available on Amazon).
All new mobile phones aimed at Nigeria today from Nokia, Samsung and Sony, as well computer products from Microsoft have made options in prominent local languages a part of their products. I’ve worked since 2004 in the field of such translation work. Today we have Facebook and Twitter as the most prominent means of global interaction, but they are still mainly in major world languages. Twitter announced their translation centre a few months ago but have still not opened it up to any African language in spite of (I can at least vouch for my) repeated calls and bids for a chance of voluntary participation. I would personally love to see twitter usable (at least) in Yoruba (and I will keep badgering twitter’s translation centre until they budge.) It will take a while for major languages on the continent to catch up with the speed of technological advancements, but significant changes are made everyday.
This article – published in Farafina Magazine’s Issue #12 – documents one of my earliest experiences with language translation involving technology, mixed with some of my personal reflections on the field, on life and culture, and on the process and interactions involved in translation. I wrote it in 2006 and it was published in December 2007. (H/T @toluogunlesi for bringing this piece back to my attention today.)