Unicode and Language Support in Francophone Africa
Donald Osborn (Moderator) - Bisharat! A language, technology & development initiative

Intended Audience:

Session Level:

A panel of experts from the African language community will discuss the current state of support for indigenous languages of the countries in Africa that use French as an official language, and projects to facilitate use of Unicode. The languages concerned, such as Hausa (also important in Nigeria), Wolof, Mande languages, Berber languages, Moore, Fulfulde/Pulaar, Fon, Eve, Baule, Anyi, Sango, and Lingala use extended Latin characters in transcription, or in some cases non-Latin transcription (Tifinagh, Ajami, Nшko). Most languages in the Francophone countries in Africa use extended Latin or non-Latin scripts, making these countries particularly important beneficiaries of the Unicode standard. It is therefore of use to review problems, solutions, and current projects (notably RIFAL). Topics that will be covered include:

  • conversion of text in legacy fonts to Unicode this has been a focus of the RIFAL project in Africa
  • provisions of Unicode and character needs of the languages how well the current repertoire of characters in Unicode meet African language transcription needs is an ongoing issue
  • possibilities of functioning in a mixed system using 8-bit fonts for some purposes
  • input methods and keyboard issues there is a need to develop standards, esp. as there are diverse efforts to develop keyboard layouts
  • environment how to facilitate use of Unicode in the context of limited economic and technology resources and sometimes limited policy support in the region
  • font support lack of fonts suitable for the languages of the region is a major limitation

The panel will be moderated by Donald Osborn, expert in rural development and founder of the Bisharat initiative. Dr. Osborn has over a decade of experience working in West Africa and has published a lexicon of Fulfulde. He is currently teaching in China.

This session will be conducted in French (it could be open to be bilingual) and will be 90 minutes (two session slots). The advantage of using French is that it is the main professional language of the panelists. It is hoped that generating discussion in French at IUC27 will encourage participation by people who work in it on questions of African languages and/or Unicode.