I am Mohomodou Houssouba (User:Songhay). I studied literature and linguistics. I came to localization in a roundabout way. It was through a study on the introduction of local languages into Malian schools by 2000 that I realized the ambivalence and, at times, outright hostility of some parents and teachers toward the new curriculum. I started digging deeper by interviewing administrators and teachers in primary schools in and around Gao. In time, I became aware of the widespread belief that local languages were inadequate in their new role; they were not tooled for modern life, with everything running on computers or in internet. This appeared even among populations considered to appreciate their language and strive to pass it on to the next generation. I listened carefully to my interlocutors, but I also asked a few questions back. Would they hold the same view if the telephone or computer interface is available in Songhay? Would teaching and learning in the local language make more sense if they could easily find attractive material?
Answers to these questions motivated me to translate open-source software. It took me awhile to figure out where to start; that is, to be selective and strategic in the combination of a limited number of localized programs for the following domains: word processing, emailing and web browsing, children's creative tools, and translation tools.
The Songhay localization project started this way about ten years ago. Now it is part of several major networks: Mozilla (browsing), African Network for Localization/ANLoc (Human language technologies for Africa) and Kamusi Project International (African online dictionaries). It has benefitted from the support of individuals as well as technical teams and intends to extend this spirit of solidarity to new teams, especially those emerging in West African countries where French dominates in the administration and the school system.
Wikipedia is the next step: we intend to mobilize contributors to write articles on a variety of topics in Songhay. The resulting content should be helpful to teachers and students in Songhay-speaking school systems.
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