African Internet Should Speak Our Languages

Cape Times (South Africa), September 29, 2017 | Go to article overview

African Internet Should Speak Our Languages


DR HLEZE Kunju's doctoral thesis that was written in isiXhosa is a huge moment for African languages. It has sent a clear message that African languages matter and that they should form part of mainstream society in the form of academic writing.

This important milestone should serve as an inspiration to take African languages seriously by making them part of society, especially in business and on the internet.

Currently there are eleven official languages in South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Besides Afrikaans, which is doing very well online, very few African languages feature on the internet currently. If this trend continues, by 2050 African languages will be nowhere to be found online and that should worry all people who care.

Besides the written word online, there's now a rise of artificial intelligence technology tools that use English to communicate with people for personal assistance. Here's the description of one by Amazon called Amazon Echo:

n Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more using just your voice.

n Call or message anyone hands-free with your Echo device. Also, instantly connect to other Echo devices in your home using just your voice.

n Fills the room with immersive, 360[degrees] omni-directional audio. Play music simultaneously across Echo devices with multi-room music (Spotify and Sirius XM support coming soon).

n Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing.

n Answers questions, reads the news, reports traffic and weather, reads audiobooks from Audible, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, controls Amazon Video on Fire TV and more using the Alexa Voice Service.

n Controls lights, fans, TVs, switches, thermostats, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Sony, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, and others.

n Always getting smarter and adding new features, plus thousands of skills like Uber, Domino's, DISH, and more.

What is missing from this description of Amazon Echo is that the language you will use to communicate with this device is English. The same is true of other similar tools such as Apple Home.

It's important to note that these tools will be used in homes, which means essentially English will be the main language to communicate with our technology devices at home.

The other interesting technology in this regard is Google Maps, which we use in our cars to assist with road directions. If technology trends are anything to go by, this means that we will also communicate with our cars through English. This will also be the case with other technology tools that will require use of voice to communicate. …

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