Google Translate App to Add 10 African Languages

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — While a professor at the University of Nairobi, Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was the catalyst of the discussion to abolish the English department. He argued that after the end of colonialism, it was imperative that a university in Africa teach African literature, including oral literature, and that such should be done in the richness of African languages.

Today, writing and reading in African languages will be more possible with the addition of 10 languages on the Google Translate App.

Translation, understood as the transfer of meaning (of a text) from one language into another language, is crucial for the transmission of information, knowledge and social innovations.

It is a courier for the transmission of knowledge, a protector of cultural heritage, and essential to the development of a global economy.

Among the new additions are Lingala from Central Africa, Twi from Ghana, Tigrinya from Eritrea, Oromo from Ethiopia, and Krio from Sierra Leone.

Krio, an English-based Creole language, is the first language of about 350,000 people and is used as a lingua franca by over 4 million. It is spoken by 87% of Sierra Leone’s population.

“So for the fact that Krio is now very visible, it means Sierra Leoneans who can read and write and understand Krio will be able to use the Sierra Leone Autography to communicate on the Google Platform,” commented Dr. Abdulai Walon Jalloh, head of the Department for Language Studies at Fourah College, University of Sierra Leone. He was part of a team that worked on Sierra Leonean dialect translations for Google.

“Languages we are told are our identities, they represent who we are, and they are what we’ll call the DNA of every culture. The fact that we are using one of our own languages to engage on Google, it means that our languages are technologically relevant, that our society can transmit our culture, and we can translate our attitude.”

Ngugi, a long-time advocate for the use of local languages, was imprisoned in 1977 for writing a play where local actors performed in Gikuyu. The simple act of speaking or writing in your mother tongue was a revolutionary gesture.

With 54 countries, Africa has a variety of languages, including some at risk due to the proliferation of other dominant groups and the influence of Western culture.

Some rare African languages are even becoming extinct along with the culture and knowledge they represent.

In the post-colonial era, African people have grown more aware of the value of their linguistic identity. But only a few are considered official at the national level, and languages imported by colonial powers still prevail.

Fortunately, African countries are claiming more of their language inheritance, and are developing language policies aiming at multilingualism to reclaim and preserve rare African languages. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 May 2022]

Photo: Renowned Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o reads excerpts from his recent work in both Gikuyu and English during a presentation in the Coolidge Auditorium, May 9, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

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