Launching Oxford Global Languages: “living dictionaries” for isiZulu and Northern Sotho are born

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Dr Langa Khumalo at the launch of Oxford Global Languages on 2 September 2015

Dr Langa Khumalo at the launch of Oxford Global Languages on 2 September 2015

Two African languages, isiZulu and Northern Sotho, became the first to take part in a global language initiative at a launch event at the 2015 Reading Association of South Africa (RASA) and Pan-African Literacy for All Conference last night.

Oxford Global Languages is a new initiative for Oxford University Press which launched at the combined 10th Reading Association of South Africa (RASA) and 9th Pan African Literacy for All Conference on Wednesday, 2nd of September.

Aiming to build dictionaries and lexicographical resources for 100 of the world’s languages and to make them available online, or digitally for free, the project is set to increase access to and the understanding of language worldwide.

“Oxford Global Languages has a special focus on those languages which we know are widely spoken but are digitally under-represented,” explained Judy Pearsall, Editorial Director for Oxford Dictionaries, at the launch. “We recognise that the internet is dominated by English and other major global languages. We are at a critical time of how the internet is influencing language and its impact on its diversity. Oxford Global Languages will ensure that they gain a vital digital foothold.”

A key feature of Oxford Global Languages is community involvement, with users being able to submit words and influence the future direction of individual dictionary sites.

“This initiative will move our languages from the village and the vernacular and give them the opportunity to become truly global,” said Dr Langa Khumalo, Director of UKZN’s Language Planning and Development Office and isiZulu Language Champion for the project.

“This is a living dictionary,” he explained. “Because it is interactive, the speakers of these languages will be able to add to the complexity, richness and depth of the digital lexicography.”

Dr Victor Mojela, Executive Director at the Sesotho sa Leboa Dictionary Unit at the University of Limpopo and Champion for Northern Sotho, agreed.

“This is a momentous occasion in African languages, especially in isiZulu and Northern Sotho.  The creation of the living dictionaries is going to allow the community of speakers to grow and develop these languages. The platform is also going to improve the visibility and reach of these languages, as they’ll be existing in the digital world and will be accessible globally.”

The Oxford Global Languages Project will also build a new type of language database which enables multiple links between languages and all sorts of content.

“As English speakers we take so much for granted,” said Pearsall. “Things like predictive text and effective searches are only possible when a language is digitally recorded and accessible for a range of technologies. The Oxford Global Languages project will enable this too.”

For Achmat Dangor, acclaimed South African author and former Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Oxford Global Languages Project will have a major impact on the culture of reading in our mother tongues.

“We know that there are more than 100 million marginalised children around the world who are not in school. And UNESCO’s research shows that those who are in school but are not being taught in their mother tongue are more likely to fail and drop out. The first language is the optimal language for literacy and learning, and I am confident that the Oxford Global Languages project will help to facilitate and expand the culture of reading in our communities.”

The Northern Sotho site can be found at http://nso.oxforddictionaries.com and the isiZulu site at http://zu.oxforddictionaries.com.

For more information on the Oxford Global Languages Project follow this link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UhiiMa79f2I.

In line with its commitment to education across Africa, in September 2015 Oxford University Press proudly sponsored the Pan African Reading for All and Reading Association of South Africa Literacy Conference. This article is part of a collection of insights from conference and reflections from delegates. To find out more about the event, go to www.rasa2015.co.za 

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