African languages — is the writing on the screen?
AbstractThe trends emerging in the natural language processing (NLP) of African languages spoken in South Africa, are explored in order to determine whether research in and development of such NLP is keeping abreast of international developments. This is done by investigating the past, present and future of NLP of African languages, keeping especially the multidisciplinary nature of the field and the role of the linguist in mind. A Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report of 1986, expressed concern about the backlog in South Africa regarding NLP, and called for dynamic action. As computational power increased and became less expensive, more interest began to be shown in NLP in South Africa. Pockets of expertise that have developed at various institutions over the past 20 years are discussed and the importance of cooperation in the field, across disciplines, is illustrated in this paper. In order to facilitate coordinated action and prevent the duplication of language resources and the development of basic enabling technologies, the implementation of the concept of the Basic Language Resource Kit (BLARK) is recommended, while a new project, which aims to create a platform for WordNet development for African languages, is cited as prime example of international collaboration.
Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2007, 25(2): 169–181