By Olabisi Olaleye and Christine Onwuachumba
MOVED by the need to prevent Nigerian languages from going into extinction, Ms Adebunmi Adeniran, a linguist developed a multi-lingual keyboard for Nigerians in diaspora and those at home, whose children are struggling with their dialect.
According to Adeniran, we have over-borrowed foreign culture and believe same to be ours and this is affecting some of the future generation, who speak their dialect as if it’s a foreign language. With the Multi-Lingua keyboard, users can be rest assured of inflections (signs and tones), that will connote exact meaning.
However, she said that she was surprised when she returned to Nigeria and discovered that Nigerian children are not familiar with their own language unlike the eagerness of those kids who live abroad.
In a chat with Daily Sun, Adeniran further bares her mind on the reasons for the multi-lingual keyboard, partnership and the way forward.
How did the foray into invention started?
I currently live in the UK, London. Before I went to the UK, I was raised and brought up in Nigeria, I went to the University of Lagos, where I studied Russian language alongside Italian and Yoruba languages. Thereafter, I travelled out of Nigeria to the United Kingdom, went into social care. What this mean is that I care for people with listening disabilities and there was a time I had a care home for older people as well. And when all those came to an end, I asked myself the way forward. The need to actually do something about our language came up through some channels. There are instances of children asking me questions like: “Aunty, we would like to learn Yoruba language, can you do this for us?” So, I got into language and I said let me go back because I studied Russian language and understood how best to learn a language where somebody is coming from, having learnt Russian language at the university. The multilingual keyboard is known as Nailangs and is aimed at ensuring that Nigerian local languages are learned with ease so as to prevent the languages from going into extinction
There are some challenges that are peculiar with Nigeria as an emerging country, the issue of funding and not getting enough support from government, because this is a huge project; who have you been speaking with in terms of acceptability and what is the volume of what you have done so far?
For now, funding is an issue and I am yet to get the support of the government. In terms of acceptability, it started from the United Kingdom as I said. I spoke to some people and they said, “Oh, we want this” and I took it forward to see if something has already been done, but nothing has been done, and I got the intellectual property for it. Since I came to Nigeria, I have been trying to market the keyboard. Over there, so many people are looking forward to it. I have contacted some people in America for partnership. There is no need to change keyboard whenever a user wants to type Yoruba language or any other language; everything is embedded. In terms of acceptability in Nigeria, I have met some people and they are actually looking forward to it; we would like to see this actually progressing where we can say this is our own, we can do our own language and type in our own language. I have contacted one or two companies and I won’t mention their names because of confidentiality at this moment. They are looking into it, helping me to do a bit of promotion, because they believe that this is something that should actually belong to us and we can say, this is our own, we have our own keyboard that we can type on.
Are you thinking of any partnership with local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)?
At the moment, there is no partnership, because it is such a simple project that is developed in UK by me. It is actually a software that can be downloaded on android. It works on the system and on any smartphone. If other companies like Zinox are interested in incorporating the app, I am willing to talk to them. I am still trying to find this and that, the acceptability of it as well as sample people’s opinion that it is something that people can tap into, and all I have got is yes, that is how far I have gone, but I have not contacted any of the local OEMs.
Can you mention some of the languages that are on the keyboard?
It is actually 12 languages at the moment. The languages that are on the keyboard include English language, with the keyboard you don’t need to put aside one computer and go to the other one. Once it is downloaded, the user can type in English language, if you want to make it bi-lingual, because part of the beauty is that most Nigerians are bi-lingual; they speak at least two languages. With the keyboard, they are able to type whether on their phone or computer; they can switch from English with the same keyboard without having to make any adjustment to what they are doing. The user is able to type in English, which is official and three other national languages which are Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. We also have six recognised languages from my research which are Efik, Udoma, Hausa, Fulani and Efik, but there are actually two languages which you can actually type in, which I look at explicitly and they are passionate about their language, about writing their language, such language are the Urhobo people, they are very passionate about writing their language; so I have incorporated and made sure that their language is also incorporated. Though, they might not be part of the so-called recognised languages, but because they love to do something with their language, so they are now able to type with this keyboard.
What are the things you have put in place aside the patent right to ensure that your software is not pirated?
I don’t think anybody can claim to have 100 per cent safety on their product, but on can try, first of all this Nailangs keyboard has been put together by a company that works in partnership with Microsoft, so it is not just something that I have done with some local people, there is nothing wrong if I could get them but, that is the way that I have worked with it, and they are people that are up-to-date with malfunction malware. I remember when I came in October to see my family in Nigeria, and I brought it with me just to show them; along the line I couldn’t actually access it, so I had to contact him, the company is actually based in Australia and he had to actually access my computer all the way from there to make sure that it is working for me. What I am trying to say is that the people that put it together they are on board of what is going on around the world with piracy, and they are protecting their own work and these are people who have done more than 1,000 languages for different part of the world, so they have really put in a lot of security that it is very difficult to copyright it. I am actually I am willing to give the copyright to people who need it, because for me, it is something that should be for the country, along the line in few years, as we keep developing, this one that is just being developed would become free for everybody, because every other people have been asking me few other questions, but they are questions that can be incorporated into work like, helping you to do word search or to check spellings for you in all those languages, so by the time it is been taken further, I think for someone to be able to pirate it at this stage would be quite difficult.
Who have you been talking to in the ministry of education, because it needs to be inculcated into school’s curriculum for children in Nigeria because we have some children who can’t speak Yoruba or the Igbo dialect?
As I said earlier, because I lived so long in the United Kingdom, coming back to Nigeria in the last month has been a great eye-opener for me just to see that, while the children over there are itching to speak our languages either, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba; and they want to learn to speak it. I find it very difficult and very painful to learn that I have come to Nigeria and the children are not being taught our own language, and they are putting our language as a secondary language. It is very painful, but with everything that is painful, you have to look at what brought about it. How can we address the issue, and how can we address the situation? I also have a website, which teaches people Yoruba language and I have met one or two people here in Lagos, that are starting Yoruba after school club, for children that once they have come back, when they come to their club they should be speaking Yoruba; and I thought this is something that would take me time to come in because I have being away for some time and I am coming from another angle looking at the issues and I am going back to reflect on, how do we start to do this? I have also seen some television channels where people are really speaking Yoruba and Hausa, and I am thinking, some people are actually taking this on board slowly.