African language Wiktionary Update

Wikipedia never ceases to amaze me. I remember meeting a teenage Alaskan editing on the Malagasy Wikipedia. Thanks perhaps to those long wintery nights, he was learning languages like some collect stamps, and Malagasy, being an interesting language, had attracted his attention.

Updating sports results as quickly as possible seems to be as popular as writing “fitrs psot” in most forums (and a lot more useful). I visited the FA Cup article immediately after watching the FA Cup final, and already the page had been updated with the results, as well as updated total wins and other statistics.

Perhaps its understandable that a hugely popular global sports event would be popular. But what about, say, an obscure Afrikaans poet? The English Wikipedia covers South African literature very poorly, and it’s probably the area I’m most interested in improving on the English Wikipedia, and one of the few remaining areas that it’s still easy to create new articles and make a notable contribution.

In my recent wanderings I created an article on A.G. Visser, the early 20th century Afrikaans poet, translating it from the Afrikaans. It sat for a week, not attracting any further edits until today I saw a language link. Someone has created an article for A.G. Visser in Belorusian!

How wonderful to think of someone translating away into Belorusian, creating an article on something that seems so obscure, just a week after the English article appeared – it appears to be a translation from the English, judging by the formatting. Why? Is A.G.Visser big in Belorussia? Is he studied in all the schools? Are the opening lines of Wit en Swart (Black and White) used to reduce school truancy?:

Die klein kinder-engeltjies
Moet almal skool-toe gaan

which translates as

The little angel-children
All have to go to school

Or is it just someone, like me last week, having fun one evening? Wikipedia is truly the long-tail of interests.

I recently took a look at African-language Wikipedias, but didn’t have time to look at Wiktionaries. So how are the African-language Wiktionaries doing?

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 3/8/2009 30/5/2010 15/5/2011
Malagasy 142 4253 1 193 977
Afrikaans 14128 14669 14731
Swahili 12956 13000 13027
Wolof 2675 2689 2693
Sotho 1387 1389 1398
Zulu 127 131 510
Swati 31 371 377
Amharic 311 319 377
Tsonga 358 359 363
Rwandi 306 306 306
Oromo 186 218 264

Right, some action on the Malagasy Wiktionary then. Having gone from four thousand to over a million (what’s a hundred thousand here or there) it’s clear the Malagasy have been extremely excited by the arrival of the EASSy submarine cable and have been typing away furiously.

Or maybe not.

A closer look indicates that of the 1.1 million articles, all of 3196 are Malagasy words. Remember that Wiktionary aims to be a dictionary of every word in every language, in that particular language. So the English Wiktionary aims to have every English word defined, as an ordinary dictionary, but also an English translation and defintion of every other word in every other language.

You would expect a Wiktionary to be best represented in its own language, but what’s happened in the Malagasy Wiktionary is that some intrepid followers of Volapük, the constructed language, have used bots to create hundreds of thousands of entries on Volapük words. Over 800 000 actually, which is more than any single language even in the English Wiktionary.

A raw count is a poor metric of measuring quality, and I can’t comment on whether these hundreds of thousands of entries have any value although, with Wiktionary, it’s easier for a bot to actually add value and create valid and useful entries. So, in the constant battle for bragging rights between the constructed languages, Volapük takes pride of place, and then some, in this instance.

So, with first place well and truly sewn up, what about the rest? While the Swahili Wikipedia has soared past Afrikaans, there’s been almost no activity on the Swahili Wiktionary in the last two years, and it remains behind Afrikaans, which has shown an equivalent lack of activity recently.

There’s almost no activity in any of the other languages, with the exception of Zulu.

And the South African languages specifically?

Language 9/12/2007 3/8/2009 30/5/2010 15/5/2011
Afrikaans 9312 14128 14669 14731
Sotho 1381 1387 1389 1398
Zulu 102 127 131 510
Swati 31 46 371 377
Tsonga 166 358 359 363
Tswana 0 22 23 33
Xhosa 11 Closed Closed Closed (38)*

*The Xhosa Wiktionary was closed and moved to the Incubator, where it’s gained a few entries but is nowhere near making a return as an active project.

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  1. I really couldn’t believe my eyes when i say malagasy has one of largest wiktionaries on the world… I didn’t even kno the language before… Really exiting.

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