Localisation (L10n) Profiles

In order to more fully understand the levels of usage of African languages including Arabic in ICT, the kinds of software and content localization that are being undertaken in the region, and the potentials and needs for localization, it is helpful to attempt a country-by-country survey and to consider basic information relevant to localisation, and what is actually being done with some of the most widely spoken languages on the continent.

Once the subject of languages is brought up in the context of use of text on computers, the issue of writing systems is also important to consider. Then too, there are language-related issues relevant to localisation which, like so many African languages, cross borders and involve more than one country. Very quickly the large scope of the project becomes apparent.

This undertaking, therefore, is ambitious. If we suppose to do it in a document of this size and in a relatively short period of time, it is because there does not yet seem to be much activity despite the emerging need.

Such a study serves several purposes within (and beyond) this project. First of all it is intended to offer a "clarity through specificity" in discussions of localisation. Second, the data presented serves as a kind of baseline against which to measure changes. Third, as major components of the PanAfriL10n wiki, it constitutes the core of the project Website. And fourth, beyond the immediate aims of the project, it serves to raise awareness on the continent and among people abroad who would help it about current and potential multilingual applications of the ICT.

This is done in five sections:

  • Major Languages - A number of languages are targeted for attention based on the number of speakers and their importance. These include all African languages with more than one million speakers and some with less.
  • Writing Systems - All writing systems, historic and in actual use, are mentioned, with particular attention to those in active use: Latin (including extended Latin), Arabic (including extended Arabic), Ethiopic/Ge'ez, Tifinagh, and N'Ko.
  • Countries - Countries of the continent are listed, with information on languages, linguistic policy, ICT situation, ICT policy, and localisation situations.
  • Organisations - Various organisations, agencies, institutions, and companies that work in several countries or all of the African continent.
  • Localisation (L10n) Resources - Overview of various sources of information and software "tools" and that facilitate aspects of localisation.

The choice of these categories relates to several factors. For instance, the history of the region, in particular how colonial borders tended to split language groups, makes it important to gather data for countries and for languages. Among other things, language, educations, and technology policies are made on country levels, but languages have their own reality and technological possibilities may related best on that level. Economies of scale may also indicate priority to harmonizing localisation strategies for cross-border languages.

The interAfrican dimension is also very important for various reasons, with significant institutions and organisations involved in or having the potential to contribute to localisaton.

Scripts or writing systems are of obvious importance in a technology dominated by text (content, commands in software).

Localisation tools may exist for specific languages but are generally designed to work for many languages. The fifth section gives attention to the latter.

It is hoped that individually and as a group, these separate profile listings to facilitate the framing and reframing of questions of localisation in order to meet these multiple realities in the most appropriate ways.

These profiles double as a major reference part of the PAL website and the appendices of the project document.

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