Development of Innovative Applications in African Languages Explored
The fourth Biennial Language Research Symposium organised by the University Language Planning and Development Office (ULPDO) was hosted virtually.
The symposium aims to promote and develop indigenous languages, particularly isiZulu.
Titled, The Development of Innovative Applications in African Languages: Efficacy and Innovation, the symposium featured guest speaker, Mr Chee Wai Mak from Western Digital Storage Technologies in Thailand.
In his welcome address Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Teaching and Learning, Professor Sandile Songca asserted that the promotion of indigenous languages should not be a Eurocentric project, but should be spearheaded by those that own them.
Addressing the topic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in Relation to Language from an Application Perspective Wai Mak said: ‘It is important to recognise that all languages, including indigenous languages have a big role to play in driving, organising and applying the 4IR.’
He highlighted the four industrial revolutions comprising of: 1IR in the 1800s which focused on the mechanisation of manufacturing; 2IR in the 1900s that resulted in mass production; 3IR in the 1970s which centred on automated production; and the present day 4IR that uses autonomous decision making.
Wai Mak reviewed the link between language and thought and explained that speech is required for a word to possess meaning, while thought is necessary for it to communicate a general theme or concept. Examining the functionality of language and organisations he said that ‘language can be defined as a system of communication and reasoning that makes use of representations, metaphors and grammar.’
He discussed the workforce and the difference between the division of labour and the current 4IR which connects the divides. Wai Mak focused on the importance of developing the necessary multi-disciplinary skills in order for machine learning to take place and added that ‘for the syntactic, semantic and sentimental analyses of things, words and speech to occur we need to impress upon the rest of the world that structure, grammar, metaphors and representations are of utmost importance when we try and implement this in the 4IR.’
Dr Ashley Subbiah an Information Access Officer at UKZN’s Disability Support Unit (DSU) shared the University’s progress in adopting a digital framework for the delivery of South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreting services. Highlighting the Unit’s role in supporting students with diverse disabilities and how they benefit from specialised services he added that UKZN currently employs six sign language interpreters.
Subbiah commented on the steady increase in enrolment in deaf students, with 11 currently registered across three campuses. Turning to the technical and academic challenges confronting interpreters in using sign language - as a language that is still developing - he noted that online learning has assisted interpreters to gain access to the teaching and learning material. He also added that interpretation services/ interpreters are available on the UKZN Moodle/LEARN 2021 site; PowerPoints encoded with SASL; live lectures accessed on Zoom; and through WhatsApp texts or video calls.
Mr Njabulo Manyoni from the ULPDO and the programme director for the opening and closing sessions, explored integrated approaches to IsiZulu terminography and lexicography. He said that terminology development, which is one of the building blocks for language advancement consists of five stages, namely, harvesting, consultation, verification, standardisation and dissemination.
Highlighting the importance of lexicography (dictionaries) and its various uses in understanding Language for General Purposes and Language for Special Purposes, he referred to UKZN’s Language Policy which promotes both English and IsiZulu and noted that ‘bilingual dictionaries are able to meet the needs of users of both languages.’
Dr Lolie Makhubu-Badenhorst, Acting Director: ULPDO discussed the development of a user-friendly Mandarin-English-IsiZulu trilingual dictionary, as a joint project that is still underway, having been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Showing a sample of the dictionary, she explained that it aims to provide users with an elementary level of the three languages and to assist them with a specific need or problem.
Other topics explored during the symposium included the intellectualisation of isiZulu as an African language in Higher Education Institutions; the importance of language in the 4IR: A case study of UKZN’s Bua Le Nna project; procedures applied in UKZNdaba Online translations; Python computer programming; and perceptions of the use of the IsiZulu Termbank Technology.
Mr Luke Vorster a researcher and lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, closed the symposium by thanking all those in attendance and guest speaker, Wai Mak. He also extended his thanks to the ULPDO, the Corporate Relations Division and the Information and Communications Services Division for making the symposium possible.
To watch the webinar, click here.
Words: Hlengiwe Khwela