Home » Africa: AI Could Make African Languages More Accessible With Machine Translation – but People Need to Make It Happen
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Africa: AI Could Make African Languages More Accessible With Machine Translation – but People Need to Make It Happen


Machine translation benchmarks were recently set for more than 30 African languages, classified in the Natural Language Processing space as the ‘The Left-Behinds’. The benchmarks are the first advances for some of the 2,000-odd living African languages and present a case for information accessibility through language technology.

If there was a perfect Machine Translation system for African languages it would mean that all the existing knowledge found on the Internet could be translated into someone’s home language.

For example, the number of Xitsonga articles on the global encyclopaedia Wikipedia is tiny. “If we had a perfect [Machine Translation] system… you can take the whole Wikipedia and translate that into someone’s language, then you give them direct access to basically all of knowledge. That’s a little bit amazing,” said Dr Herman Kamper of Stellenbosch University’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Machine Translation is automated translation of one language into another, performed by a computer.

Kamper was one of about 40 scholars and more than 400 participants who have been teaming up since 2019 to solve speech and language problems in Africa.

At the end of 2020, the volunteer community was able to set the first benchmarks for 30-plus African languages…



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