Ousmane Ndongo

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2008
ANAFA (Association Nationale pour l’Alphabetisation et la formation des Adultes)


This profile was prepared when Ousmane Ndongo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Ousmane first gathered Senegalese linguists, programmers, poets, and other professionals to determine how to adapt the language of Wolof to computers. By covering all aspects of the process—programming, literal translation, and conceptual translation—he was able to incorporate Wolof into the keyboard display and digital programming in a way that appealed to native Wolof speakers. He will do this for three most-widely spoken West African tribal languages of Pulaar, Sonninka, and Mandinka.

The second element of his approach is to demonstrate creative ways to grow language content. For example, he has identified an opportunity to transliterate a large corpus of historical documents originally written in Arabic script, but based on Wolof phonetics. (Most Wolof speakers are not familiar with Arabic script.) He also discovered that he can use computer programs to cross-train adults with Wolof fluency into basic French, and that this greatly accelerates their range of access to web-based content.

Ousmane envisages a sharply ascending curve of advanced literacy driven in the early stages by adults learning in both their local and other easily mastered non-African languages that provide access to broader web content. He encourages those users to “open source” translate their newly acquired knowledge back into African languages by creating a “wiki” type approach in which people post content and have it edited, revised, and commented upon by others, including the members of his original interdisciplinary teams. What he wants to see is enough information available so that local languages can be used in school systems up to and including the university.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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