Monday, May 18, 2009

Kasahorow & Fienipa - Creating a home for African languages on the web

Content in African languages is very dear to my heart. I love seeing websites in African languages. Tanzania is the leader in this category, there are many major Bongo websites that are in Kiswahili. These include blogs, news sites and entertainment sites too. My friends at Kasahorow.com have been a leader in enabling African languages on the web. They have been designing various greeting cards in African languages. You can send graduation cards to congratulate your graduating friends, as well as birthday and those for other milestones. Send one today by going to greetings.fienipa.com. Fienipa.com is a Cooperative provides technology services for its member businesses to run some of their operations on the Internet. Other than greetings, it has lyrics to African songs, African language dictionaries, information about African food and restaurants amongst others.

Julius Nyerere championed the use of Swahili as a national and official language and it has worked in uniting the country. For a long time, science subjects were taught in Swahili in Tanzanian schools. Could you imagine learning Chemistry in Kiswahili? Hydrogen peroxide? How do you say Polyvinyl chloride in Swahili? Someone who went to high school in Arusha knows. Excellent. The language debate has been a mainstay on GhanaConscious forums in the wake of the slow disappearance of our mother tongues. Some parents in Accra in these days encourage their children to only speak English at home. I am not making this up, I promise. I wanted to ask Jakaya Kikwete about the use of Swahili in the nation's economy but the people-choosing-folks-to-talk to the-Tanzanian-president did not choose me. Bummer.

I have already blogged about Paul Kagame. This guy gets it. He's also encouraging the use of Kinyarwanda in national dealings and the language is becoming very important. There are more Kinyarwanda websites than there are Twi, Yoruba and Igbo websites combined. Rwandans take their language very seriously. You can see the Fienipa greetings site making an effort in having a Akan (Twi) version of the site.

Kasahorow means many languages in Twi, a Ghanaian language. The website grew out of a Tsooboi project in the GhanaThink Foundation. It is now housing dictionaries for languages like Twi, Hausa, Yoruba (Nigeria), Lingala (DR Congo), Ewe, Kinyarwanda, etc. This is a great resource for people who want to learn African languages. It won't be long, we'll have our own African Babelfish. The Kasahorow folks have also been working on African language spell-checkers, keyboards, etc. Follow Kasahorow on Twitter. Think of it as documenting our African languages. A Kasahorow fellowship has just been instituted at Ashesi University. Patrick Awuah's people are as forward thinking as the folks at Kasahorow.

I can't get by without speaking in Twinglish myself but efforts like those at Fienipa and Kasahorow are key in keeping our African languages alive. Pidgin English is becoming very popular but it should not be at the expense of our mother tongues. Sometimes I claim I can even teach Pidgin English. I've taught Twi a number of times to willing learners at Stanford and that was no easy task. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was a learning experience for me. Once we lose our lingua franca, our culture might as well be gone.

The Fienipa marketplace also allows you to buy different African goods. Check it out and get a Swahili wall clock today! Do remember to send a graduation card to a friend at Fienipa Greetings. You may be able to speak the languages well, but can you read and write them? Watch adverts on Ghanaian television and you will see countless spelling mistakes. If we don't take care, some Chinese people will come and teach us our own languages. Every developed country in the world who has a national language other English takes that language seriously. Africa and Africans must do the same and act now before it is too late.
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