Saturday, August 26, 2006

Wikipedia and African languages

Fascinating story in the New York Times about African languages slowly making a Wikipedia presence. There's a Swahili version now, and at the recent Wikimania conference at the Berkman Center, contributors to several other African language wiki efforts were interviewed by the Times.

Some interesting trends identified in the article: Not many native speakers are actually creating articles in African languages, owing to relatively low levels of Internet penetration in many parts of Africa. But non-native speakers from the West are helping out, either by writing articles on their own or using creative methods to get native-language speakers to contribute:
Far smaller is the version in Bambara, a language spoken by roughly three million people in Mali, in West Africa; as of the conference, there were more than 100 articles. Kasper Souren, 29, from the Netherlands, is responsible for most of them. Mr. Souren, who led one of the discussions at the Wiki conference, said he first came across Bambara as a volunteer in Mali in 2005. To get entries for the language’s Wikipedia, he said, he would introduce himself at a community center in the capital, Bamako, ask people to write articles in Microsoft Word and then pay “a buck an article.”

He then took the files they created and went back to an office and uploaded them onto the Bambara Wikipedia, being sure to credit the authors, even though they had never been on the Internet and thus could not have a Wikipedia user name. Mr. Souren learned enough Bambara to create the headers in that language; “nye” means article, for example.

Of the articles he posted, he said, “I can’t understand 100 percent of what they wrote, but I could estimate that it was right. It is a Wikipedia anyway, so I hope they can correct it.”
The Wikimedia Foundation is now talking about getting grants to hire a "facilitator" for African-language wikis, says the article.

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