Projects of the Goethe-Institut on Orality

Here we present information on projects dealing with the topic of orality with which the several branches of the Goethe-Institut of the sub-Saharan African region are involved.

Going Kompyuta: Cameroonian

© Goethe-Institut Côte d'Ivoire
The adaptation of computer language adapted to local languages – this has been the theme of workshops for the training and creation of contents in local languages in Cameroon for two years.

In order to be able to properly write “Zah'nan cee be ne”, “yi ran ni a”, “Un wi“, “ǒ tí a”… meaning “hello” in the different local languages, the project for the incorporation of Cameroonian languages in ITC and free software has been operational since the year 2010. At long term, it has been a challenge to be able to launch the more than 200 local languages in the four key areas: defining the regional parameters for each language, standardising the keyboards of computers in Cameroon, translating the various types of software and creating online dictionaries for different spell checkers.

Concretely about thirty people have been meeting twice a month on Saturdays at the Goethe Institute of Yaoundé, and have already been working on a dozen Cameroon languages. The following, among other languages, are in the process of digital coding: Akoose, Bafia, Basaa, Douala, Ewondo, Fe’fe, Ghomala’, Kwasio, Moundang, Ngomba, Yangben… It consists of languages from the ten regions of the country: Adamaoua, Centre, East, Extreme-North, Coastal, North, North-West, West, South, South-West. The volunteers who have been working on Going Kompyuta first of all researched into the ancestral linguistic records in order to find the exact alphabet in their language so as to define their regional parameters, which were already online at Afrigen. Next the work focused on the standardisation of the actual keys.

The Cameroon keyboard and Wikipedia

Experts from SIL International (the Summer Institute of Linguistics) were associated with the project Going Kompyuta at this stage. For each participant, the work consisted of appropriately positioning the keyboard letters in their mother tongue in the corresponding case on the keyboard, using a specimen French or English keyboard. After the individual phase, the common phase consisted of ensuring that none of the letters, accents and punctuation in the language has been forgotten. The letters of the alphabet were then embedded in a numerical manner in a common placement of keys according to the AZERTY (French keyboard) and QWERTY (British keyboard) types.

The keyboards of fr_CM (French-Cameroon) and en_CM (English-Cameroon) computers have been sent to enterprises specialising in the field for validation and production. Very soon, Cameroonian keyboards shall be available on the Cameroonian market. With this advance, there will be a greater need to install the appropriate software in order to be able to write on a computer in one’s mother tongue.

Furthermore, the standardised keyboard enabled the volunteers to start setting up Wikipedia in the different local languages. Articles from the various fields are currently being prepared, but home pages have already been set up and are online. An aspect of the project that is being implemented with a view to dealing with the gap in information, which goes back to the issue of localisation. For instance, the information found in search engines with regard to the Cameroonian cultural heritage is provided in official Western languages (particularly French and English). The Wikipedia projects in national languages shall enable the history of Cameroon to be properly written by going beyond the confines of oral tradition.

The technological future of the languages of Cameroon

On a daily basis, the reactions have been astounding: "It’s sensational, I didn’t know that it was possible to write in our village languages on the internet" states Francis T., a student. For those who have an approximate grasp of their original languages, Going Kompyuta is a blessing, for instance, "with this project we are not just learning to write in our languages, we are also learning to master our tradition and history” according to Marie G., a waitress at a restaurant in the city centre of Yaoundé.

Currently, two of the key focus areas of Going Kompyuta have almost ended for the twelve pilot languages. For the translation of software, most of the volunteers are awaiting the effective arrival of Cameroonian keyboards in order to use them. Others have also started translating some of them which shall be used to teach these languages in the conventional educational system.

In addition, the process of creation of dictionaries in soft copy is demanding as a project in intellectual and financial terms. This is the reason why the steps in this area have been on a lesser scale than in other areas. For those from language committees for languages such as Mundang, Basaa et Douala which already have a number of dictionaries and different literary publications in the language, the work of scanning dictionaries seems to be less difficult. In order to implement other projects for incorporation of these languages, they need various types of technical support, particularly for the scanning of dictionaries and the translation of learning software for the language.

Regionally,Going Kompyuta has relocated to Douala and Buéa for its second year, rotating with the Yaoundé workshops. Today the intention is to extend to the northern part of the country, notably Maroua in the Extreme-North. The objective being to enable the incorporation of the other Cameroon languages, of which there are more than hundred, so as to be able to keep up with these technological advances. This is with the hope of seeing the efforts of certain language committees develop on the national scene, just like the dozen that have developed through Going Kompyuta.
Dorothée Danedjo Fouba, 2012

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