Swahili Wikipedia now the largest African-language Wikipedia

The Swahili Wikipedia has just passed the Afrikaans Wikipedia to become the largest African-language Wikipedia by number of articles.

African Language Wikipedias – number of articles

Language 1/1/2007 16/12/2008 3/8/2009
Swahili 2980 7807 12631
Afrikaans 6149 11285 12568
Yoruba 517 6246 6261
Amharic 742 3251 3333
Lingala 292 1074 1148

Full list of Wikipedias

So while Swahili has raced ahead with great momentum (it grew by four in the course of writing this article), and Afrikaans continues solidly, the pace has slowed somewhat for Yoruba, Amharic and Lingala. The Wolof Wikipedia is also approaching the 1000 article milestone, and, currently on 969 articles, should reach it this year.

I haven’t specifically looked at the African-language Wiktionaries before, outside of the South African languages. Here, Afrikaans still leads. Yoruba and Lingala don’t feature at all, while some languages show surprising interest relative to their Wikipedia size; Malagasy, Oromo, Sotho and Tsonga, for example. I wonder if a relatively more active Wiktionary shows more linguist interest in the project rather than community interest. Outside of linguists, most people would tend to gravitate to the much more exciting task of writing an encyclopedia rather than writing a dictionary.

African Language Wiktionaries – number of entries

Language 3/8/2009
Afrikaans 14128
Swahili 12956
Wolof 2675
Sotho 1387
Tsonga 358
Amharic 311
Rwandi 306
Oromo 186
Malagasy 142

Full list of Wiktionaries

So while at least a few African languages Wikipedias show progress, besides English and Afrikaans, it’s the same old refrain for the South African languages. All have shown short bursts of energy, mainly due to individual editors, there’s not been much progress.

South African Language Wikipedias – number of articles

Language 1/10/2007 16/12/2008
Afrikaans 8374 11285 12568
Zulu 107 182 187
Tsonga 10 150 169
Swati 56 146 157
Venda 43 120 124
Xhosa 66 109 112
Tswana 40 102 103
Sotho 43 68 79
Northern Sotho* 0 301 311
Ndebele 0 0 0

* – incubator

Besides Afrikaans, none of the other languages have shown any progress at all. Northern Sotho still remains stuck in the Incubator and is unlikely to emerge with current levels of activity. Articles bemoaning the undervaluing of the humanities and the related disastrous effect on the general standard of education still appear regularly in the local media, and many South Africans are still unable to communicate effectively in any language. First languages, with the exception of English, and mainly for historical reasons, Afrikaans, are not well-served, and people are not learning them properly, instead being encouraged to communicate in a second-rate English.

It’s an indictment of South African universities that have local language departments that there’s been so little activity, and so little progress with integrating and raising the profile of the other nine languages.

Similarly, most of the South African Wiktionaries have had almost no activity this year.

South African Language Wiktionaries – number of entries

Language 9/12/2007 16/12/2008 3/8/2009
Afrikaans 9312 13036 14128
Sotho 1381 1383 1387
Tsonga 166 347 358
Zulu 102 124 127
Swati 31 46 46
Tswana 0 22 22
Xhosa 11 Closed Closed

Still, although progress is slow, the dream of a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge is getting ever closer to reality.

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  1. Congratulations on reaching the largest volume Wikipedia in a language from the African continent to the editors of the Swahili language Wikipedia. Although it is a moment to celebrate for the Swahili speakers, it is sad to see on a broader level that even though there are a few dozen Wikipedias in other African languages, very few Wikipedias in languages from Africa flourish.

    I was happy to see that recently a fast Internet cable was made available to the continent, that is currently mostly using very expensive satellite connections for Internet connectivity. And there are most projects delivering additional Internet capacity soon.

    As some of the readers of this blog may know, I am heavily involved in the localisation of MediaWiki – as a translator for Dutch, and as a facilitator for all other languages through my work at http://translatewiki.net.

    It strikes me that only 33% of the MediaWiki user interface messages (MediaWiki is the software Wikipedia runs on) have been translated into Swahili. This means that if a Swahili speaker uses Wikipedia, he will most likely be confronted with English user interface messages. In my opinion this does not work well for the feeling a user gets when he is using software. Software ‘talks best’ to users in their native language (I assume that is Swahili if users are reading in and working on the Swahili Wikipedia).

    I hope for two things, and please let me know if there is some way in which you can help these hopes become reality: that the Swahili localisation of MediaWiki may get a whole lot better in the near future, so that Swahili Wikipedia users may feel (even?) more at home there, and that African languages as a whole get better support in MediaWiki. We have the tools, we are ready to help at translatewiki.net. Are there any people here that can get speakers over there that can makes this happen?!

  2. Glad to help in Swahili translation or any other kind of Swahili advancement.

    Kind Regards,

  3. If you think education is expensive try ignorance. let us all support this programme for the benefit of making kiswahili be an international language. lets us speak in kiswahili and be proud of the language since nobody will despise us as people speaking inferior language. Avoid corruption or monetary interest just be your self.

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