March 2019 African language Wikipedia and Wiktionary update

It’s been quite a long time (four and a half years in fact) since I looked at the state of the African language Wiktionaries. For those new to Wiktionary, the idea is that it will describe all words of all languages using definitions and descriptions in the particular language edition. An ambitious task!

So, how are the projects progressing?

A portion of the Octateuch in Ethiopian

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 30/5/2010 15/5/2011 29/10/2014 22/3/2019 % +
Malagasy 4,253 3,599,084 5,482,632 52.33%
Afrikaans 14,669 14,731 15,794 20,831 31.89%
Swahili 13,000 13,027 13,903 14,029 0.91%
Wolof 2,689 2,693 2,310 2,312 0.09%
Somali 1,635
Sotho 1,389 1,398 1,343 1,343 0.00%
Lingala 673
Zulu 131 510 586 599 2.22%
Igbo (incubator) 375
Kinyarwanda 306 306 367 366
Tsonga 359 363 92 359 290.22%
Oromo 218 264 322 335 4.04%
Swati 371 377 290 292 0.69%
Amharic 319 377 206 217 5.34%
Egyptian Arabic (incubator) 195

In short, although it’s been so long since the last update, there’s not much to show. The only project to more than double its articles in four and a half years is Tsonga, off a minute base. Malagasy has always had a huge amount of bot activity, and is still growing from a large base, and Afrikaans shows some signs of life. But overall, the state of the African language Wiktionaries can be described as dormant.

Perhaps the African language Wikipedias will fare better?

African Language Wikipedias > 1000 articles

Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +
Malagasy 79,329 84,634 84,996 91,528 7.68%
Afrikaans 35,856 46,824 50,275 76,965 53.11%
Swahili 29,127 37,443 42,773 49,555 15.86%
Yoruba 31,068 31,577 31,672 31,867 0.62%
Egyptian Arabic 14,192 17,138 18,605 20,405 9.67%
Amharic 12,950 13,789 14,286 14,558 1.90%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,823 8,050 8,018 -0.40%
Somali 3,446 4,727 4,898 5,456 11.39%
Shona 2,321 2,851 3,630 4,278 17.85%
Hausa 1,345 1,525 1,856 3,494 88.25%
Lingala 2,062 2,915 3,023 3,113 2.98%
Kabyle 2,296 2,887 2,844 2,986 4.99%
Kinyarwanda 1,780 1,810 1,823 1,821 -0.11%
Kikuyu 1,349 1,357 1,358 0.07%
Igbo 1,019 1,384 1,320 1,392 5.45%
Kongo 1,176 1,179 1,193 1.19%
Wolof 1,023 1,157 1,166 1,184 1.54%
Luganda 1,153 1,162 1,169 0.60%
Zulu 683 942 959 1,067 11.26%
Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +

The Zulu Wikipedia is the latest addition to the 1000 club, having reached this milestone just before Wikimania last year, and progress has been steady since then.

At first glance, Hausa looks like it’s in great shape, with an 88% increase in the number of articles. But this is misleading, as many of these are one line articles on football players, the entirety of which translates as, for example, “Kenny Allen (footballer) is an English football player.” No disrespect to Kenny Allen, but I’m not sure he and the 100s of other footballers listed there are critical components of Hausa knowledge. There’s a move to delete these articles (you can see the impressive list here while it’s up), but even if they survive, it’s not a sign of a healthy project.

Leaving aside Hausa, it’s once again Afrikaans, growing at an impressive 53% over the period, that provides an example for the rest. At current rates, it’s on track to pass Malagasy and reclaim its position on top in about a year or so.

Besides Afrikaans, only Shona, Swahili, Somali and Zulu show a growth rate above 10%, while quite a few sit idle.

Moving on to the South African language editions specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +
Afrikaans 35,856 46,824 50,275 76,965 53.11%
Northern Sotho 1,000 7,823 8,050 8,018 -0.40%
Zulu 683 942 959 1,067 11.26%
Xhosa 356 708 738 789 6.91%
Tswana 503 639 641 641 0.00%
Tsonga 266 526 562 585 4.09%
Sotho 223 523 539 546 1.30%
Swati 410 432 439 467 6.38%
Venda 151 256 256 265 3.52%
Ndebele (incubator) 12 12 11 -8.33%
Language 26/6/2015 5/9/2017 30/6/2018 2/4/2019 % +

Afrikaans remains the only project that could be described as a usable Wikipedia – the other languages are still very much in the formative stages. Zulu is also showing signs of life. Besides these two, only Xhosa and Swati see growth rates above 5%. It’s sad to see the stalling of Northern Sotho, while Ndebele shows no signs of getting out of the incubator anytime soon.

2019 has been proclaimed the Year of Indigenous Languages by the UN, but so far there’s not much sign of a change in the status of the African language projects. Later today sees the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources, in collaboration with the Academy of African Languages and Science from the University of South Africa, present an interactive day workshop on contributing to Wikipedia in South African languages. It’s great to see this initiative, which arose with no help that I’m aware of from Wikimedia South Africa. I’m always hopeful with events like these. Generally very few people to stay around to edit Wikipedia, but as projects like Northern Sotho and Swahili show, one person can make a huge difference in the early stages, and it justs needs a committed editor to stick around. It’s a lonely job editing in the early stages, wondering if it’s worthwhile, no community, no idea if their work is being read. Hopefully someone will take on the challenge!

If you are looking to contribute, but don’t know where to start, please reach out to Wikimedia South Africa and we’d be happy to assist.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

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