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KEEPING ETHIOPIA DIGITALLY IN SYNC: THE ROLE OF A COORDINATING AGENCY FOR PROGRESS ON DIGITAL SUPPORTS FOR ETHIOPIAN LANGUAGES [Abstract ID: 0801-07]
This presentation proposes the vital need for a coordinating organization to help synchronize, organize, and communicate the important progress in Ethiopian language computing that are ongoing and crucially needed. This proposal is based on insights gained from my PhD dissertation entitled “Digitizing Ethiopic: Coding for Linguistic Continuity in the Face of Digital Extinction.” My research documented the important contributions of many individuals to the digital supports that Ethiopian languages currently enjoy. Through this research I identified a number of gaps that a coordinating organization could bridge to spur progress further. For example, much of the work on digital supports for Ethiopian languages has been done by individuals around the globe motivated by a sense of cultural responsibility, patriotism, or pride. While inspiring, unfortunately at times individuals have duplicated the efforts of others due to a lack of awareness of parallel efforts. A coordinating organization could not only help prevent duplication of effort, but could also help connect people with common interests to speed their work through collaboration. Furthermore, it could potentially play a role in helping to recognize and reward efforts that have historically often gone unpaid and underappreciated. A coordinating organization could also act as a liaison between Ethiopian universities, the Ethiopian IT sector, and the international IT companies looking to better support Ethiopian languages but lacking the linguistic knowledge in-house. A coordinating organization could also make recommendations to government agencies about IT policy and standards. It could also play the important role of informing and educating the public about the digital language supports that exist, since widespread lack of awareness has slowed the adoption of technologies like Amharic “voice to text” that have the potential to ease communication and spur the economy. Finally, a coordinating organization could help bring together linguists and the IT sector to ensure that digital vitality does not come at the expense of linguistic and cultural degradation. I will present an evidence-based lecture on this topic and then lead a discussion about how such a coordinating organization could be established.