The relative level of use of African languages in computing and on the internet is hard to gauge but important to attempt to characterize. To begin with, it is clear that African languages are not yet widely represented in computing applications or internet content. We can deduce this for instance from the very small amount of software localized even for major African languages and the infrequence and character of such web content as one does find in African languages.

This situation obviously arises from the underlying sociolinguistic, language policy, and educational contexts, though in this document these will not be explored in depth. However, it is worth noting that computers and the internet, like formal educational systems a century earlier, have been introduced and disseminated as more or less monolingual media relying on one or another European language. This is a reflection of both the dominance of the languages inherited from colonization in software and internet content and the use of these languages by those people in Africa most likely to have access to the technology.

It is also worth noting that the discussions of African language use in ICT follow a lot of discussions before the advent of computers. Issues of what kinds of orthographies, harmonization of transcription, etc. were the subject of study and expert meetings even before independence. This context is often forgotten but really set the foundation for current efforts.

Also, and related to the previous point, the use of African languages on computers was preceded by discussions and propositions concerning their use with typewriters and in typesetting. Most of these are forgotten now but they encountered some of the same issues that are of concern now related to input.

Overview of Usage

African Language Text Issues