This is also Appendix I (Section 12.1) of the Survey Document
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Language is the central consideration in localisation, and questions regarding choice of languages to localise in, choice of dialect when a language has more than one, and prioritization of languages when there will be work on several, are likely to confront any localisation effort. Therefore it is useful to have more information on the languages, their interrelationship, and their contemporary use. In brief, it is important to look at specifics to the extent possible when discussing localisation in Africa.
This section therefore provides profiles of a select group of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. An explanation of the choice of languages follows the list of language profiles, below.
A template of the topics
covered in each language profile
provides explanations of the topics.
The figure of 2000 languages is often cited for Africa, representing about a third of the living languages of the world. A lot depends on how one defines language. Many languages have dialectal variants, and in many cases tongues with different names are so closely related that native speakers can communicate. At what point is a variant so distinct as to be considered a separate language? When can different variants be treated as a unit? These are critical questions for localisation in many cases, and sometimes there may be more than one answer depending on the nature and goals of the localisation.
SIL International, through its well known encyclopedic effort called Ethnologue to document all human languages, has tended to distinguish among dialects as separate languages. While this may be appropriate when considering the linguistic characteristics of a particular tongue and the precise way to translate important texts, it is arguably of less importance for verbal communication and for less exacting text reqirements like a set of commands in a software interface.
On the other end of the spectrum is the tendency to group together interintelligible tongues - usually dialects of a language. This is the approach for instance of the Center for Advanced Studies of African Societies (CASAS) in its advocacy and research work. For purposes of this study, similar tongues will be considered together, though reference will be made to Ethnologue's linguistic information.
The question then arises how to choose which languages to consider in this report. A useful list is that arrived at for an entirely diferent purpose - prioritizing African language instruction efforts at U.S. universities. In 1979, specialists in African languages identified a total of 83 languages (some grouped) based on their importance in terms of number of speakers and regional use. A project headed by linguist David Dwyer of Michigan State University compiled information on these languages for publication (Dwyer 1987) and eventual posting on a website (Webbook of African Language Resources 1997). Along the way the number of languages was raised to 85 by the splitting up of one large grouping of southern African languages.
Because that list was not compiled with localisation in mind, it was recognized when adopting it for this PanAfrican Localisation project, that it probably would need to be modified. In addition, several questions were identified regarding the choice of languages, including:
We began this list with the 85 languages in the Webbook in 2005 for the purpose getting the process started, and as a basis for discussion in considering what ICT has to offer for the larger number of African languages. Much of the information we began with was drawn from the Webbook information, with additional information from sources such as Ethnologue added in progressively.
Several changes have been made as of early August 2005:
In August-September 2006 five lists of languages in Africa were reviewed to get an idea of which ones other experts considered as meriting special attention. (As mentioned above, the original choice of languages was based on the Webbook of African Language Resources). These five include:
Like the the list of languages covered in Dwyer's Handbook/Webbook, these lists served purposes other than localisation of ICT. Nevertheless, they offer a helpful way to check whether there may be other languages that ought to be added based on number of speakers and importance of use.
Based on the information from those lists, the following languages were added (these include the mumerically most significant of the languages from Elugbe's list that were not previously on this list ...):
A new page on Oshiwambo replaces that of Kwanyama. Oshiwambo is an appelation covering the very closely related tongues Kwanyama, Ndonga, and Kwambi.
Ultimately the selection of languages in the list does not indicate a determination that localization must take place in them, or a decision that localization is unimportant in other tongues. It is merely a way to begin discussing the specifics localisation.
If you would like to suggest other languages, please enter them on the More Languages page with a brief explanation justifying their inclusion in this list.