Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

FYI: African Language Profiles for Localizers

Author: Donald Osborn

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics

FYI Body: As part of a larger survey report on the state of and potential for
localization of (internet) content and software in African languages, I’m producing a list of short profiles of several dozen 'major African languages' (89 currently at:

and would like to request input from experts more familiar with specific languages and language/dialect clusters covered. The list of profiles and its contents will also be further developed in a kind of database presentation, so this has a long-range purpose.

'Localization' in its broad IT sense means to adapt a product such as software or internet content to "local" contexts. Language translation is generally the central concern in localization, though other issues like cultural sensitivities are also important.

In the case of Africa there is increasing activity in this area, from
open-source software initiatives in Africa and among Africans overseas to
various projects that use African languages in one or another way. (There are also commercial ventures such as MS and some cell-phone companies localizing for some of the most-spoken African languages, though these of course can fend for themselves.)

The purpose of this list of profiles is to aid localization developers, both in local-based and cross-border initiatives and in international non-profit activities. So it is not intended to be yet another site on African languages, but rather one that summarizes basic information for non-linguists working on localization initiatives (e.g., open-source software in these languages, translating or developing internet content in them) and strategies or policies for localization. In any event, accuracy and completeness in the language profiles is essential.

Currently much of the material in the profiles is drawn from the Webbook of
African Language Resources and Ethnologue. The intention is to build on and
modify this as appropriate, with increasing attention to resources and data on current localization activities and institutions dealing with African language research and policy on the continent itself. Another anticipated use of this material, then, will be for contact and collaboration among specialists and groups working on African localization in/for different countries and regions of Africa.

It's all currently in a 'wiki' format permitting one to edit onscreen, which I would encourage. Alternatively I can add comments sent to me. The list and brief explanation are at:

Thanks in advance for your feedback and input.

Don Osborn
PanAfrican Localisation Project

NB: The selection of languages in the list does not indicate a determination that localization must take place in them, or a decision that localization is unimportant in other tongues. It does reflect a point of view that localization of information and communication technology in African languages is important to consider seriously (not least because it is already beginning in many places anyway), and to do so one must begin with discussion of specifics for a manageable number of languages.

Back   FYI main page