Technology: Ten African languages ​​now used for data translation on Google

Since last month, Google offers translations in ten African languages. These include Lingala (Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo), Bambara (Mali), Lewe (Ghana, Togo), Kro (Sierra Leone), Luganda (Uganda), Oromo (Ethiopia), Sepidi (South Africa) South), Tigrinya (Ethiopia, Eritrea), Tsogue (South Africa), Twi (Ghana). Good news, especially since Google translation is integrated by default on many third-party sites or important platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. But this innovation is not without raising some questions. Why were these African languages, in particular, chosen among the 2000 languages ​​of Africa? We know very little about what justifies the choice of the engineers of the American firm. While African resource persons could help the company to expand the initiative.

In July 2021, as the American firm explained, there were more than 4.8 billion Internet users on the platform, or 61% of the world’s population. A figure that is constantly increasing, as is the volume of content published. Moreover, no less than 80% of this data is only available in ten Western languages, never translated into African languages, not even the most important ones like Swahili. This data, which will be automatically translated into African languages, is therefore intended to accelerate access to knowledge for citizens who speak neither English nor French.

The challenge is therefore to revitalize these African languages ​​which have real value, while keeping control of the data and protecting their integrity. These data, whose sources are not known, are also not freely available to developers who wish to offer concrete tools to people who are remote from digital technology because of their language.

In addition, the Idemi Africa collective calls on the American firm to make its policy of integrating African languages ​​more transparent, to make a greater collective effort with existing players and to make this data accessible. It is therefore a question of treating people who speak African languages ​​as co-creators of these tools by remunerating them. Language is more than a set of words, it is a way of thinking and relating to others and this deserves our interest in it with humility and with real human resources.

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