The Linguistic Association of Nigeria recently announced that more than 50 minority Nigerian languages might become extinct in a few years; and Dahunsi Akinyemi, a language teacher and Yorùbá author shared his worries that the third most popular Nigerian language, the Yorùbá language, may die out in 20 years.
Well, technology is giving us a chance to save our language and by extension, our culture. Linguist, Kola Tubosun started Yorubaname.com, in 2015, as an online intervention to preserve and document all Yorùbá names in a multimedia format. The initiative is part of a long-term project to document all types of African cultural experiences on the internet as a way of ensuring the survival of African identities in their various expressions.
The project is supported by funds from hundreds of individual donors who contributed to an Indiegogo fundraising campaign that ran from January to March 2015. The website was fully launched in February 2016, and now has over 5,000 entries.
Now, Yorubaname.com is taking their goal a step further with their Yoruba text-to-speech initiative, TTS Yoruba. TTS Yorùbá is a program to be created for the purpose of turning written Yorùbá text into spoken word/utterances. The aim is to create a Siri-like application or assistant that can be used by Yoruba-speaking people locally and abroad - and maybe by non-Yoruba speaking people, to learn - and ultimately ensure the language’s longevity. It's interesting to imagine what attitude a Yoruba mobile assistant will have...
Kola emphasizes the importance of having this software in Yoruba, in an interview with Okay Africa:
"Yoruba has over 30 million speakers. That is already a huge population that can benefit from this kind of innovation. Many of those 30 million do not speak English at all, which means that they are shut out of a number of things involving technology."
"If a market woman can use an ATM in her local language, I think that empowers her. If she can speak to her phone in Yoruba and it does what she wants, that’s a leap forward."
He makes a great point: African languages have been left out, for too long in global conversations in technology. For example, Siri exists in Danish, Finnish, and Norwegian, three languages which, combined, aren’t as widely spoken as Yoruba.
The initiative is trying to raise $4,000 to create the application; and Kola hopes that he is able to show, with this project, that any African language is worth preserving and they're capable of adapting to changing times, in this case with technology.