31 October 2013


Languages, Part 8

Yo Si Puedo web site for Argentina


“Un Programa Cubano para poner Fin al Analfabetismo en el Mundo”

“Yo si puedo” (Yes, I can) is an international programme for the eradication of illiteracy, dating from March, 2001.

It was quite difficult to find more the information given below, on the Internet. What we can understand from it is that this is an extremely successful programme, based on a standard methodology, of which we unfortunately have no samples, as yet. We would like to have some pages from the manuals of the “Yo si puedo” programme.

What we would like to know about this programme, for the purposes of our course on languages, is first, how the vernacular languages (e.g. Aymara and Quechua) are protected within this literacy programme, in relation to the colonial language (e.g., in that case, Spanish).

Second, we would like to know how the question of cultural content of languages is handled in the “Yo si puedo” method, and related to this, whether there is any political content, whether intentional or de facto.

[This Cuban, communistic anti-literacy campaign’ slogan “Yo si puedo” is what Barack Obama ripped off for his election campaign (“Yes, we can”).]

Cuban literacy method benefits almost six million people around the world

Almost six million people in 28 countries all over the world have learned to read and write thanks to the Cuban literacy method ‘Yo si puedo’ (Yes, I Can).

According to Enia Rosa Torres, an advisor to the Cuban Minister of Education, 5.8 million people have already learned to read and write using the ‘Yo si puedo’ method, while 723,900 others have benefited from a similar Cuban methodology called ‘Yo si puedo seguir’ (Yes, I Can Continue), which guarantees elementary instruction.

During a press conference in Havana on Wednesday, Torres said that there are currently more than 2,200 Cuban education specialists making a contribution in 28 countries, with priority given to the member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA).

The official noted that, thanks to the efforts of the Cuban professionals and the methodology, Venezuela, in 2002; Bolivia, in 2009; and Nicaragua, in 2011, were declared territories free from illiteracy.

The Cuban ‘Yo si puedo’ method — which received two honorary mentions from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2002 and 2003 — has 14 versions, eight of them in Spanish, one in English, another one in Portuguese, and one in Creole for Haiti. There are also versions in Aymara and Quechua for Bolivia, and in Tetum, for East Timor. – (ACN)

Yo Si Puedo Alphabetization program, Bolivia

Héctor Mediavilla

The Cuban literacy program “YO SI PUEDO” (I do can), approved by the UNESCO, has been successfully implemented in 20 countries all over the world. Bolivian Ministry of Education has the goal of eradicating illiteracy, that affects around 20% of the population, in the next 4 years. This innovative method consists on TV lessons for a group of around 20 people where a 25” TV set, a VHS video recorder and a pack of 65 VHS tape lessons are required. The group is leaded by a competent member of the community during 3 months to complete the Basic literacy course. YO SI PUEDO program was officially opened in March 2006. There are around 12.000 literacy points spread all over the country. Courses have been recorded in Spanish and in native languages such as Quechua and Aymara.

Yo sí Puedo, a Cuban literacy program

In the process of researching the above, we discovered a Cuban Spanish-Language equivalent of Wikipedia, at:

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

23 October 2013

New Legislation

Languages, Part 7

New Legislation

The attached text is an 8-page re-formatted version of the South African Use of Official Languages Act of 2012. We did not use the published PDF because of its large file-size, among other reasons.

Doing a CU version in this way has allowed us to do is to break up the Act into discrete parts that should make it much more digestible, and allow us to deal with the whole document.

The convention in legal practice is to refer to pages and lines, and we have left the line-numbers in, but we will refer to the pages of our booklet, and not those of the Act. The original PDF of the Act can be obtained from the Government Gazette office, if required.

The Act is designed (page 1):

“To provide for the regulation and monitoring of the use of official languages by national government for government purposes; to require the adoption of a language policy by a national department, national public entity and national public enterprise; to provide for the establishment and functions of a National Language Unit; to provide for the establishment and functions of language units by a national department, national public entity and national public enterprise; to provide for monitoring of and reporting on use of official languages by national government; to facilitate intergovernmental coordination of language units; and to provide for matters connected therewith.”

The Objects of Act (page 3) are:
(a)   to regulate and monitor the use of official languages for government purposes by national government;
(b)   to promote parity of esteem and equitable treatment of official languages of the Republic;
(c)    to facilitate equitable access to services and information of national government; and
(d)   to promote good language management by national government for efficient public service administration and to meet the needs of the public.

On our page 4, you can see that this act expects every government department, entity and enterprise, to have in place within 18 months of the Act (i.e. by April, 2014) a language policy, which it describes, and which demands that at least three of the national languages are to be named for use.

On pages 5 and 6, the Act prescribes the establishment and functions of Language Units at national and other levels.

On page 6, the monitoring of the language policy is given as the responsibility of the Minister of each department.

On page 7, the Act states that each Minister must make a report annually to the National Assembly.

On page 7 also, the intention is given of forming “intergovernmental forums” so as to make the treatment of language matters more uniform across government departments.

Page 8 refers to regulation and mentions the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), which, as we know, is established under the South African Constitution.


Clearly, this Act is made with the intention of pushing language matters forward by stipulating, in a bureaucratic manner, levels of compliance according to various criteria, in the field of languages.

Up to now we have not heard of a lot of activity as a consequence of this Act. Nor would we expect such response to be even across the many ministries, entities and enterprises. What we would expect is a rush to comply, and a new small industry of consultancy work, set up to provide government departments with paperwork to assist them to pass muster in terms of this Act.

None of this will of itself generate any good consequences to the benefit of the languages and the language-speakers, writers and readers concerned.

This course of ours does not teach any language, but it looks at the way the society deals with language on the whole. In the process, we have today looked at a full Act of the National Assembly.

In contrast to language, which is spontaneously created in the course of its use, a government Act is narrowly confined in a fixed form, and dependent on the existence of numbers of institutions which it requires to give social effect to the formal words of the Act.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Use of Official Languages Act, 2012, text in 8 pages.

18 October 2013

SA Phonetic Notation Key (CU, 2013)

Languages, Part 6a

SA Phonetic Notation Key (CU, 2013)

The motto of the coat of arms - !ke e:/xarra//ke - is in the Khoisan language of the /Xam people, and means "diverse people unite", or "people who are different joining together". Click on the link above to hear the pronunciation of this national motto.

This item is to introduce a concept, a possible tool, that could assist South Africans to learn how to pronounce each others’ languages.

The attached document is in the form of a table. In the left-hand column, phonetic symbols based on the “IPA” that we saw yesterday, are listed. The list of symbols is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient to cover the range of the South African official languages.

In the next 11 columns, words are to be put - words belonging to all the SA official languages – so that reading across one can find an example in his or her own language, of that pronunciation.

When it is complete, it will serve as a key to the pronunciation of all of these languages. Given the phonetic notation of any word, one can read across to find vowel and consonant equivalents, in the different languages.

If used over time, the table would eventually teach the user how to read the phonetic notation without using the table.

Alternatively, the process could be computerised into an “app” (application). On a device such as a laptop, or a smart phone, the pronunciation of any South African word could be read off or played in the form of sound.

The table is not complete, because it turns out to be a large task to compile it in the first place. It is the kind of work that needs to be “crowd sourced”. The work-in-progress should at least be sufficient to convey the idea that means can be found, and put in the hands of the citizens, whereby they can lower the barriers between languages in South Africa to a material degree.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Phonetic notation and equivalent phonemes in SA words (draft form of table, CU, 2013).

17 October 2013

Phonetic Notation

Languages, Part 6

Phonetic Notation

James Tweedie has kindly written a contribution to this course on the topic of Phonetic Notation (attached).

Above is the full chart of phonetic notation of the International Phonetic Association, taken from Wikipedia.

Although it is referred to in Wikipedia as an “alphabet”, this seems to “beg the question”, because if alphabets were truly phonetic, then a general, standardised system of phonetic notation would hardly be necessary. But in fact none of the alphabets are, or could possibly be, truly phonetic.

That is why we are calling this item “Phonetic Notation”, and not “alphabet”.

In the next item, we will introduce the idea of having a single, cross-language chart of phonetic notation for the eleven South African official languages.

The point being that practical steps can be taken that will make it more possible and easier to cross over between the official languages, but that this will have to be done from a general South African point of view. The appropriate vehicle for developing, maintaining and publishing such a chart should probably be PanSALB.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Phonetic Symbols, James Tweedie, August 2013.

12 October 2013

Other languages in South Africa

Languages, Part 5b

AUM sign in Tamil script

Other languages in South Africa

In the Wikipedia (see extract below), we saw that there are many other significant languages used in South Africa.

We saw that the South African Constitution says that the Pan South African Language Board must:

...promote and ensure respect for –
  (i) all languages commonly used by communities in South Africa,
including GermanGreek,GujaratiHindiPortugueseTamilTelegu and Urdu; and
  (ii) ArabicHebrewSanskrit and other languages used for religious purposes in South Africa.

This part of our course is a reminder of the importance of these languages.

Other significant languages spoken in South Africa (Wikipedia)

Other languages spoken in South Africa, though not mentioned in the Constitution, include FanagaloLobedu (Khilobedu)Northern Ndebele (Sindebele)Phuthi (Siphuthi)Lobedu has been variously claimed to be a dialect of Northern Sotho and an autonomous language. Fanagalo is a pidgin often used as a mining lingua franca.

Significant numbers of immigrants from Europe, elsewhere in Africa, and the Indian subcontinent means that a wide variety of other languages can also be found in parts of South Africa. In the older immigrant communities there are: GreekGujaratiHindiPortugueseTamilUrduYiddish, and smaller numbers of Dutch, French and German speakers.

These non-official languages may be used in limited semi-official ways where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent. More importantly, these languages have significant local functions in specific communities whose identity is tightly bound around the linguistic and cultural identity that these non-official SA languages signal.

The fastest growing non-official language is Portuguese - first spoken by white, black, and mulato settlers and refugees from Angola and Mozambique after they won independence from Portugal and now by more recent immigrants from those countries again - and increasingly French, spoken by immigrants and refugees from Francophone Central Africa.

More recently, speakers of North, Central and West African languages have arrived in South Africa, mostly in the major cities, especially in Johannesburg and Pretoria, but also Cape Town and Durban.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

11 October 2013

Arabic, Portuguese, French, English

Languages, Part 5a

Arabic, Portuguese, French, English

The map above, found via Google Images, was labelled “Business Languages in Africa”. There are no indigenous African languages mentioned. All are exotic languages, except that Ethiopia’s language is referred to as “Other”. Kiswahili is simply ignored.


What one can note is two things. The first is immediate and tactical, pointing to practical necessity in politics, as much as in business.

This is the practical necessity for South Africa, if it is to have an effective political relationship with the rest of the continent, to have good translation into English from French, Arabic and Portuguese.

This means a cadre force of translators who are not politically neutral, but who are editors in their own right, and capable of discriminating and selecting from the available material.

Similarly, these translators need to be at work translating South African material into those other languages, and publishing it by all available means.

So that the net result is a continuous two-way flow of ideas and dialogue between SA and the rest of the continent.


The second matter is to note the dominance of the languages of previous colonists, and to put in place measures that will inexorably work to turn this situation around.

What are these measures?

As South Africans, we have to begin at home. We have to have dictionaries in all of our languages. That is, monolingual dictionaries. The movement towards an inter-lingual communication begins with the consolidation of the individual languages. Otherwise, the colonisers’ languages will continue to dominate, and to mediate between weak indigenous languages.

With that groundwork of dictionaries in place, then a superstructure of translation has to be created. Even if it is technically sophisticated, it will still be labour-intensive. That is to say, output will be in direct proportion to human effort applied. This is the paradox of IT. The more it becomes frictionless by computerisation, the more direct is the relationship between human input and practical output.

That means that there need to be plenty of linguists. Modern language departments at universities need to grow enormously. The number of academics needs to increase or even multiply, as well as the numbers of students.

Africans need to own the language business of Africa. The map has to look different. The whole concept has to change.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

10 October 2013


Languages, Part 5

Kiswahili in 11 countries


Why is Kiswahili special?

Kiswahili is unique. It deserves all of the attention that it gets. This item in our series is to say why that is, and to say why South Africans should take an interest in the Kiswahili language and its history. Kiswahili can show South African languages the way forward. Kiswahili is a success.

Kiswahili is spoken in 11 countries and has official status in 5 of them: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Union of the Comoros (where it is known as Comorian). The other countries with first-language Swahili-speaking populations are: Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. In most of these countries there are much larger populations of second-language Kiswahili-speakers, who make use of the special, useful and convenient characteristics of this great language.

As we will see in the next item, only four other languages have comparable international reach in Africa, and they are all languages that originated outside the continent. They are Arabic, Portuguese, French and English.

Of the hundreds of indigenous African languages, only Kiswahili has been able to grow in the modern period to compete with the former colonial languages. This is why we can say it is unique and that it shows the way forward for other African languages.

Kiswahili is a modern language

The rise of Kiswahili has taken place in modern times. Kiswahili is contemporary in this respect to two other languages that have established themselves in the modern world: Modern Hebrew and Afrikaans. All these three languages have ancient origins, but became what they are today in a deliberate phase of modern development starting in the 19th Century, and consolidating in the 20th Century.

Kiswahili has many dictionaries

As far as we can ascertain, Kiswahili first broke through the missionary barrier in 1981 with the publication of the “Kamusi ya Kiswahili sanifu” (Standard Kiswahili Dictionary) in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. This dictionary has been revised and re-published at least 43 times to date. It can also be downloaded from the Internet.

The publication of “Kamusi ya Kiswahili sanifu”, known as KKS, was met with great pride and joy by Kiswahili speakers everywhere. It has been followed by many more monolingual Kiswahili dictionaries, some of them derived from the KKS and others being substantially new projects. One publisher alone offers five different monolingual Kiswahili dictionaries (see here).

Kiswahili has literature

Kiswahili-language publications are abundant in all aspects of literature from school and university books, to newspapers and magazines, to poetry and novels and comics. Swahili language appears in drama and in song.

Kiswahili is still growing

Because Kiswahili is a living language, with speakers, writers, readers and dictionaries, it is able to expand its vocabulary and its usages to accommodate modern life as it develops.

Kiswahili by comparison

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of indigenous languages spoken in Africa. Many of them are well known. We can mention Ovambo, Luba and Lingala, Yoruba, Wolof and Ashanti, Baganda, Luo, Masai and Kikuyu, and many Central and Southern African Languages including the nine indigenous official languages of South Africa.

In none of these cases does it appear, as it does with Kiswahili, that the major problems have been solved. On the contrary, in all cases it appears that the commanding heights of the literary and most conspicuously, political world are generally occupied by the four principal former colonial languages: Arabic, Portuguese, French and English.

Projecting forward, it is hard to see how the indigenous African languages will avoid a decline, or find a turning-point in that decline. It is only with Kiswahili that we can see anything like an international challenge to the former colonial tongues. That challenge rests upon the vigour of scholarship and on its products, the monolingual Kiswahili dictionaries, and upon the literary culture that is in turn buttressed by the existence of monolingual dictionaries.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

6 October 2013


Languages, Part 4c

The Rosetta Stone: One text, three languages


An example

Hugh Tweedie has contributed the following link: http://www.njas.helsinki.fi/salama/index.html

The linked web site appears to present an automatic generator of dictionaries, which would in principle be a good thing, and a very good thing.

But it is not very clear as to whether these are what it calls “monolingual” dictionaries (i.e. proper dictionaries that define words in the language itself), or whether they are dictionaries which are definitions of words in English. If the latter is the case, then one would want to look elsewhere, because the mediation of languages via English translation is not really what we want in the post-colonial time.

This would seem to be confirmed on the Salama web site under “dictionary compilation” where it says:

“Application to other languages

“The system can currently be applied to the compilation of dictionaries between Swahili and any other language, provided that a conversion dictionary between English and the target language is available.  Using an electronic conversion dictionary, most of the English glosses can be converted into the target language. Manual editing is needed for checking and correcting the result, because only part of lexical data can be converted in this way.”

The English language therefore becomes the medium and the yardstick of the other language. Which is not such a good thing, after all.

The Rosetta Stone

The rediscovery in 1799 of the “Rosetta Stone”, by a soldier in Napoleon Bonaparte’s invading force in Egypt, with one text on it in three ancient languages, led to the deciphering of two ancient Egyptian scripts, arranged in a very early form of “Cross-Language”.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

5 October 2013

MIA Cross-Language

Languages, Part 4b

MIA Cross-Language

MIA is a large archive of literature in many languages. Its nature allows the MIA operators to create an extra category called “Cross-Language” (X-Lang) so that readers can easily move, for example, directly between a work in one language, to the same work in another language.

What this points to is the possibility of, through the Internet, effectively publishing one work in many languages.

Seeing the way that the requirement for publication in all official languages is handled (e.g. by the SA National Planning Commission) in South Africa, it is clear that there is no standard. The way the NDP is published is in full in English, with Mickey Mouse versions for everybody other than English-speakers.

Probably the best option is for each column in a South African “X-Lang” table, representing one of the languages, to be edited by separate agencies accountable to their language groups.

So, for example, if the a document like the NDP is not published in any given SA official language, then an agency responsible for that language would have the resources to go ahead and make and publish a translation.

X-Lang in Political Education

Language is an issue when it comes to political education. The above diagram can show how it will be possible to compile parallel material for the Communist University, for example, in all of the official languages, and to run the Communist University as a simultaneous multi-lingual provider of political-education reading material for discussion.

What a pleasure it will be to sit in a study circle, having a discussion in Zulu, Pedi, Sotho or Xhosa, about Marx or Lenin or Agitprop, or about African Revolutionary Writers

Language is a revolutionary issue.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

4 October 2013

MS-Office Translate

Languages, Part 4a

MS-Office Translate

In MS-Office, in Word, under “Review”, the above icon can be found with the word “Translate” under it.

Clicking it leads you into a process of translation of your document. This is done via the Internet, through the browser Internet Explorer, which must be available on your computer.

The controls appear in a panel on the right of your screen. You choose from drop-down menus which language you want to translate from and to. When you click “Translate the whole document”, the browser opens and you will soon have a translation.

The number of languages it offers is less than Google, and it does not include any indigenous African languages at all.

It is an effective instrument for translating from French to English, and vice-versa. As such, it is a help to Africans.

But this Internet translator is another example of the regrettable dominance of the same dominant languages, even with this tool that is capable of redressing the balance.

It may be that government action would be required, say in the form of subsidy to service providers or academics, so that automatic translation services in and between all of our South African official languages is made available.

But the history of PanSALB does not encourage an expectation that this could happen easily, or soon.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.

3 October 2013

Google Translate

Languages, Part 4

Google Translate

Google translate will translate text from and to the following languages:

These languages are 71 in number, and they include only one indigenous African language: Swahili.

The advent of free, online, automatic translation services is a great boon and a help to people a lot of the time. In a continent where hundreds of languages are spoken, it opens the prospect of people being able to communicate much better than before across language barriers, if they have written text.

But none of this is possible if only one African language is available.

The absence of indigenous African languages works in an opposite way. It means, at this stage, that the selected languages are even more privileged than before. The playing field, up to now, is not more, but less even.

Machine translation

Computer translation is a great assistance, but it is not perfect. Computer translation has to be corrected, because it always contains errors, and serious errors at that.

Computer translation is an assistance, because it quickly gives you a draft to work on.

To correct, you must apply your own knowledge or use an old-fashioned dictionary, or the computer equivalent of an old-fashioned dictionary. Beyond that, too, translation is an art. South Africans have not come to terms with translation, yet. This is not only true in terms of the eleven languages and other languages spoken in South Africa, but also in terms of international languages.

This becomes at some point a political problem.

·        To download any of the CU courses in PDF files please click here.