Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia recently sent out a call for internet users in Africa to contribute more articles in their native language, so that the site can cater to a wider audience.
But how much work still needs to be done so that South Africa’s languages can play a meaningful part in the online search for knowledge?
To put it in perspective, currently there are over five million article in the English language, 1.8 million in German, almost 1.3 million in Russian, and 1.2 million in Spanish and Italian.
Given that there are over 10 million people who speak Afrikaans, and around five to fifteen million people who converse in Swahili, one will quickly see that the amount of articles are rather paltry compared to the combined 25 million speakers.
For the rest of the African languages, the picture is even bleaker.
Afrikaans and Swahili are miles ahead of traditionally South African languages, as the closest one is isiZulu with 697 articles.
As you can see from the chart above, it becomes clear why Wikipedia urged Africans to start writing articles in their native language.
“If Wikipedia ever hopes to be able to provide ‘the sum of human knowledge to everyone, everywhere, for free’ then increasing the size of the editing communities on African language Wikipedia is extremely important,” wrote Douglas Scott, current president of Wikimedia South Africa. “A larger, stronger community of editors leads to more articles of higher quality, which in turn makes that language version of Wikipedia ever more useful and relevant for everyone else.”
But Scott added that not only are there a small amount of African language articles, but even the English Wikipedia has very little South African content on it.
“This in turn means that many important South African subjects are simply not covered on Wikipedia, or are poorly covered as there are just too few people editing about them. Sometimes there is even a reluctance by the existing community internationally to accept an article as notable enough to warrant an article on Wikipedia, even though there might be a general agreement in a particular country where that article is relevant to, that it is in fact important and notable.”