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SA team builds spell checkers for Africa

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Building on the success of its South African language spell checkers, a local university has helped Microsoft develop spell checkers for other African languages. 

The Centre for Text Technology (CTexT) on the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University is currently completing the development of more lexical data (words from a specific language with added information, such as the part-of-speech category these words belong to) for African languages as part of Microsoft’s Local Language Program.
The aim is to produce lexical data (which can then be used for a variety of developments, such as spelling checkers) for five regional languages in Africa: Hausa, Igbo, Kinyarwanda, Wolof and Yoruba. These languages are used in countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger, Ghana, Rwanda and Mauritania.
This initiative aims to provide individuals in Africa with access to desktop computer software in their native language. Through this initiative, people are given an entry to technology in a way that is familiar and that respects their linguistic and cultural uniqueness.
The project has seen close collaboration between computational linguists from CTexT, linguists from Nigeria and the US, and the Proofing Tools Team from Microsoft in Ireland. CTexT expects the development of the data to be completed within the next month.
“Microsoft has an ongoing commitment to making computer software relevant for the people and countries of Africa,” says Dr Cheick Modibo Diarra, chairman: Africa at Microsoft.
“Our Local Language Programme is one of the ways we broaden our reach and empower our customers and partners. It brings the development, growth and proliferation of regional languages together with advances in information technology in a way that is complementary and vital for economic development.”
CTexT has facilitated this empowerment of languages before through the development of spelling checkers for five South African languages. The spelling checkers are for Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa and Setswana.