We live in an era driven by technology whereby everything in the world needs to be digitized in order to be used, promoted and to grow. This also applies to languages, in the sense that they’re being digitized to facilitate and increase their use in the world.
A study affirms that it is estimated that there are over 1000 to 2000 languages as well as 8000 dialects spoken in Africa. However, in this digital age, these numerous languages risk extinction if they are not developed to be frequently used in Africa and all over the world.
According to Victor Oladokun in New African Magazine, “As elderly rural speakers die out, the survival of some African languages is at risk. In the face of this language crisis, we need to recognize what is at stake, turn adversity into opportunity, and add value to our tremendous linguistic resources”.
There are various ways to add value and develop the use of African languages in the world, and in this article, I have gathered three ways to develop the use of African indigenous languages in this digital era.
1- Possibility to use search engines with African languages
BDC defines a search engine as “a software program that helps people find the information they are looking for online using keywords or phrases.” Search engines are able to return results quickly even with millions of websites online by scanning the internet continuously and indexing every page they find. When a user enters a search term, the search engine looks at the website page titles, contents and keywords it has indexed and uses algorithms (step-by-step operations) to produce a list of sites with the most relevant websites at the top of the list.
Making it possible to use African languages in search engines means a lot. It includes creating content for various websites in African languages, and this means everyone can have access to the internet in their language. It will also increase and develop the use of African languages in this era where the internet decides everything.
Imagine being able to do research on the internet using your native African language ! It is going to be awesome! And guess what? You can already do this since Google Search engine gives the possibility of doing research in main African languages such as Hausa, Swahili, Twi, Ga, Ewe etc.
Even though this is appreciable, much work still needs to be done to cover more African languages.
2- Programming language
Java T point defines a programming language as “a computer language that is used by programmers to communicate with computers. It is a set of instructions written in any specific language (Java, Python) to perform a specific task”.
Developing programming languages in African dialects to develop desktop applications, websites, and mobile applications will be very useful and a great opportunity to spread the use of African indigenous languages because it will make possible the creation of search engines talked about in the first point. All over the world, people will have access to the internet in African languages.
There are some existing programming languages in indigenous languages, such as:
- Hawking programming. It was created by a Zambian called Mathews Chishinji to allow anyone on the African continent to code in almost every African language.
- BraceScript, is a new, simplistic coding language created by Kennedy Kanyi. It has been launched in Africa to teach local kids how to code and to develop future software engineers.
3- AI Voice Assistant devices
“Voice assistants are devices/apps that use voice recognition technology, natural language processing, and AI to respond to humans. Using the technology, the device synthesises the user’s message, breaks it down, evaluates it, and offers a meaningful response in return,” verloop.io.
These devices can take African languages to the next level in the whole world and therefore make their use effective everywhere, which will enhance their promotion. There is one common AI voice assistant already put in place, which is:
- Abena AI , popularly known as Abena Siri, is a twi-based AI voice assistant developed by Ghanaian software developer Nana Ghartey and has been widely accepted by Ghanaians since its unveiling on Twitter.
4- Financial Technology (Fintech)
According to Investopedia, financial technology is “used to describe new technology that seeks to improve and automate the delivery and use of financial services”. Fintech is used to help companies, business owners, and consumers better manage their financial operations, processes, and lives by utilizing specialized software and algorithms that are used on computers and smartphones.
Business Insider Africa shows that “As investments in startups across Africa keep growing, fintech has continued to take a large chunk”. In 2021 alone, fintech received 50% of the over $2 billion raised by African tech startups, according to data from tech industry researchers, Disrupt Africa.
Therefore, adding African languages through localization, to Fintech solutions, will boost their use. Africans will now be able to make financial transactions online using their African languages. This will promote African languages as well.
In this digital age, developing and using African indigenous languages can only be done effectively with the use of technology. As mentioned above, four ways of developing and using African languages in the digital age are programming languages, AI voice assistants, fintechs, and the search engines created with African languages. Let us make the right choices for the better promotion and advancement of these languages in this digital age.
Do you know any other way of developing and using African indigenous languages in the digital age? Kindly share them with us in the comments!
You can also read my previous article on “5 technological solutions enhancing the access and use of African languages.” Thank you!
Grace Emmanuella Amah Yoboué is currently working at Kabod Group International as an Executive Assistant and a Translation Officer. She is studying translation in Ghana and is also a member of the Network of African Languages Translators and Teachers (ALATT).