First time I read of Kola Tubosun’s campaign for a Yoruba name Dictionary Project on fundraising site, Indiegogo, I did not know what to think. Yoruba names are with deep meanings and sometimes hard to explain to a non-native without losing the core meaning of the name. Amazingly for a campaign put up in January, 2015 seeking $5,000, it reached its mark and went above 3 months after. It tells how exciting lovers of the Yoruba language find this project.
The project is almost completed as the website is set to go live. Users will be able to find their Yoruba names, its meanings, etymology, alternate spellings, morphological and phonological information, pronunciation (via sound), and other relevant cultural information. And, similar to the Wikipedia system, users can contribute to the dictionary by inputting relevant information which is absent on the site, or which they believe to be incorrect.
According to Kola Tubosun, “The fundraising felt very exciting. I sent mails to everybody I have ever met – friends, family. And people were very nice. It seemed they liked the idea. From the first week of the project, I started to collect and collate every name I found in newspapers and radio, everywhere. Then I got the first volunteer on the project, Dapo Aderemi, who lives in the Netherlands. Then I met another guy who’s from Brazil and has a burning interest in Yoruba culture, because some of his ancestors were Yoruba. Then there is Koko Godswill. We’ve built a prototype of the site already; all the plans are ready. Now, I have an excel sheet that has thousands of name. We’ve thumb-marked most of them. We are going to input the meanings there; although when we launch, the meanings of all the names will not be there, yet, but the names will be there. And if you know any meaning, and you want to help us fill it, you can send it to us via the website.”
Losing a language is losing a culture, and ultimately the loss of a race. The language of a people is not just for communication, it is tied to their identity and heritage. According to UNESCO, half of 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century if the trend of unwritten and proper documentation continues.
Tubosun has taken it on himself to preserve the Yoruba culture by properly documenting the names. “Our intention is to make sure that African languages are represented, and that communication technologies are adaptable to our own languages. You should be able to type a Yoruba name in Microsoft Word, and not have a red line come under your input. And why that happens – the red line – is because these names are not on record. But if we have these names on record, then we can talk to Microsoft and say we have a database of names which you should incorporate in your products, especially the ones you market in this part of the world.”
A linguist by training, Tubosun was a Yoruba Teacher in the US for ten months when he got on the Fulbright program after his NYSC days as a graduate of The University of Ibadan. He has a Masters’ degree in Linguistics and hopes to bag a PhD in same.
The Yoruba Names is just one of the many projects he has been involved in to make Yoruba adaptable to new technology. Significantly, he led a successful campaign to make Twitter available in Yoruba. Five years from now, he hopes the Yoruba Names project should have become stable enough for he and his team to start working on other local languages.
Tubosun’s overall vision is to start a revolution, and change the way local languages are viewed in this part of the world – as something that can be dispensed and done away with, without consequences. And he wants to starts by documenting Yoruba names.
You should head over to yorubaname.com and explore this innovation.