Applied Linguistics and Literacy
in Africa & the Diaspora Research Network

BAAL Language in Africa SIG: Annual Meeting May 6, 2016, University of East London

November 4th, 2016 at 2:49

Under the theme “Technology & Media: Emerging trends in Africa and the diaspora”, several themes emerged over the day. One was concerned with the use of social media for representing African languages and culture. Elvis Yevudey & Nathaniel Dorgbetor studied how Facebook was providing opportunities for communication in Ewe, a Ghanaian language, among a large population of Ewe speakers.

Two talks and a poster focused on social media as a form of political activism. In his poster, Size Echitchi presented identity work in the speeches of southern Cameroonian secessionists which are available on websites. The two talks described contrasting online groups of Eritrean refugees in the diaspora. Sarah Ogbay & Goodith White analysed the linguistic practices of an Eritrean Women’s Network on Facebook, and how these were used to achieve consensus, empower women and network on a global scale. Chefena Hailemariam presented political discussion from a group on Viber, mainly young Eritrean men for whom the network platform provided a democratic space in which they could express themselves freely and contest other views.

Another theme concerned how technology could be used to preserve and disseminate underrepresented or threatened African languages. Kirsty Rowan described how speakers of Nubian languages, which are threatened by the loss of the historic homeland and displacement due to the building of dams on the River Nile, are being assisted in revitalizing their language and culture through a project from the SOAS World Languages Institute for making video and audio recordings. Richard Shapiro of Oxford University Press described an ambitious project of making dictionary and language information for 100 languages globally accessible online over the next ten years. The theme of local involvement occurred again in the presentation by Manuela Noske of Microsoft. After providing interesting data concerning different African languages available on Google, Microsoft and Facebook, she presented some of the challenges Microsoft has faced in trying to meet new markets through localisation of products.

A central theme for the day was that of encouraging literacy through the use of stories which could be digitally accessed or created. Bonny Norton, our plenary speaker, described how the African Storybook Initiative was enabling children to learn to read in their mother tongue. Research has shown that children who first learn to read in their L1 do so more quickly and that L2 learning is also helped, yet very few reading resources exist in the L1. The African Storybook website currently makes freely available more than 500 original stories, and over 2,500 translations in 60 African languages. Ian Cheffy described another recent free resource from SIL International for creating and translating simple books.

Last but not least, two talks focussed on technology as a medium of oral communication. Abdulmalik Ofemile’s talk described his study of participants’ reactions to interactions with synthesised and human voices giving instructions in English in a Nigerian context. Rebecca Musa reported on her research into the most effective way to teach English pronunciation in Nigerian secondary schools.

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