MSAS 2014 conferences

Humanities and social sciences



History of sciences and technologies in Africa

Organizers: Dr Cheikh Mbacké Diop and Dr Yoporeka Somet

African languages and human language technology (HLT)

Chair : Mohomodou Houssouba, Bâle, Suisse
Co-chair : Yoporeka Somet, Metz, France
Participants : Aboubacry Lam, Dakar ; Ibrahima Sarr, Le Havre

From egyptology to software localization

Linguistic diversity of Africa raises various reflections, sometimes seemingly opposite. This session combines two perspectives on the evolution of languages. In pass years, the classification of African languages has advanced significantly since the twentieth century, but it is still far from final. Many classifications are still controversial. Each decade brings new theories motivating the reconfiguration language families on the continent. Also, increasingly, historical linguistics does it use Egyptology to trace the paths of dissemination / dispersion languages across regions. An ancient Egyptian language can serve as the reference on long time. This diachronic approach emphasizes the uniqueness of the linguistic background of ancient Africa and the existence of links between languages whose recovery would be legitimized by phonotactic analysis. Sophisticated but also controversial studies covered the convergence between unit / genetic and linguistic diversity of the continent to the African-American diaspora.

Second, we examine the contribution of new communication technologies to the understanding of linguistic kinship between languages. The localization is the translation and adaptation of computer programs and tools in a language which is not that of the programming language. For African languages, localization involves jumping a level different from that which is documented in the literature and "specialized lexicons" written by the experts to adapt their language to the requirements of the modern era technology. It introduces a degree of creative improvisation and even to the extent open source software is usually translated by a (young) person able to interpret the computer language to suit his own language. The translation and passes several levels and involves different language resources, drawing from the distant past and the present. Localization work causes a constant reference to the technical language of origin and dialectal diversity of linguistic family to avoid the more massive borrowing and neologisms. The presence of hundreds of languages on the translation platform facilitates direct comparison of linguistic elements. An ambitious lexicography project allow online of hundreds of basic concepts in 100 to 200 African languages in the coming years.

These complementary approaches allow bringing a different perspective on African languages in all their diversity, richness, and resilience in a fragile world order strongly marked by the supremacy of some influential languages on the rest. The new communication technologies and presence on the web allow to consolidate existing resources to better study African languages, family trees back and fix more reliable markers. But to take advantage of these opportunities, we must act decisively to deepen the knowledge of each language in relation to the other languages of the continent and, if possible, worldwide.