Q&A with Cynthia Amoaba and her work with natural language processing in Ghana Rising Voices

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Amoaba and used with permission.

As part of our ongoing series highlighting the work of activists promoting African languages ​​in digital spaces, we’re excited to show Cynthia Amoaba @thea_ceen) from Ghana. She is a native speaker of the Kusal language.

Through the initiative Natural Language Processing in GhanaCynthia has strived to increase the presence of Ghanaian languages ​​in digital spaces, from the creation of a translation app to abundant research on the languages ​​themselves.

Rising Voices recently emailed Cynthia to learn more about her work.

Rising Voices (RV): Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Cynthia Amoaba from Ghana. I have been working with Ghana Natural Language Processing for the past two years as a member of the data and unsupervised method teams and also as an assistant head of communications.

RV: What is the current state of your language, both online and offline?

Currently, the local languages ​​are spoken by a greater percentage of the people in Ghana than the official language, English. There is little to no information on the internet in most local languages. There is currently material written offline across 11 local languages ​​for use by schools. These resources are even restricted for use by students and teachers.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

Recently, it has been realized that language technologies have left behind certain languages, including most African languages. Ghana NLP is an open source initiative focused on natural language processing (NLP) of Ghanaian languages ​​and its applications to local problems. We have released the very first language translation app for Ghanaian languages ​​based on artificial intelligence. Our ultimate goal is for our tools to be applicable throughout the West African sub-region and beyond.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully exploited online

A major challenge we face is funding to enable us to do more research on our local languages ​​and other African languages ​​in the natural language processing space.

Also, the media houses are not doing enough to support spreading the news about the new digital solutions such as Khaya (the first translation app for Ghanaian languages). Khaya was developed to help Ghanaians, especially students, teachers and foreigners, to learn, teach and connect well with the Ghanaian languages. Meanwhile, it would have been advertised or broadcast for free on news platforms if it had belonged to a foreign organization. The local support is nothing to write home about.

RV: What concrete steps do you think could be taken to encourage young people to learn or continue using their language?

The Ghanaian media platforms can help advertise the digital tools created to aid in the learning and teaching of Ghanaian languages. Also, the Ghana Education Service should use digital tools and resources to make learning our local languages ​​attractive and less labour-intensive. This will expose students to digital knowledge and stimulate their curiosity to know how these resources are developed.

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