The love two researchers from the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) have for language and their determination to promote and develop it have received a further boost with their inclusion on two language bodies of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB).
Mmasibidi Setaka, digital humanities researcher in Sesotho, and Benito Trollip, digital humanities researcher in Afrikaans, are now members of the national language bodies (NLBs) for their respective languages within PanSALB ― an honour they both cherish.
Both Mmasibidi and Benito are based at SADiLaR, which is hosted at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University (NWU).
Promoting language is key to serving on the national language bodies
Mmasibidi says the vision of PanSALB is to promote multilingualism and to also develop all South Africa’s official languages, including the Khoi, Nama and San languages, as well as South African Sign Language.
“This is a great honour. PanSALB is the custodian of language. I feel they have recognised my potential by choosing me to serve on the Sesotho National Language Body (SNLB).” According to Mmasibidi, who started with the SNLB in June 2022, her work will largely centre around promoting Sesotho in various ways.
For Benito, who joined PanSALB’s Afrikaans National Language Body (ANLB) in June 2020, being part of the body and understanding their mandate to promote languages overlaps greatly with the work he does at SADiLaR. He says promoting and developing language, and especially in his research field of Afrikaans, is an important part of his work as researcher.
Inclusion on the board leads to new opportunities not only for networking, but also for collaborative research. Both Mmasibidi and Benito are especially excited about the many network opportunities with like-minded people whom they might never have met if they had not been serving on the NLBs.
Passion for languages started at young age
Mmasibidi says her enthusiasm for language and language development already started in high school, where she was often affectionately referred to as the Sesotho guru.
“At that time, I did not think my career would be in languages, but after studying African languages at varsity as part of my degree a whole new world opened for me. I was introduced to human language technologies and computational linguistics by my then lecturer at Wits University, Dr Setshedi. From there I ran with it and took courses at various universities that eventually led to my work at SADiLaR.”
Benito, who initially studied law at the NWU and complemented it with language studies, says he realised that one could have a lot of fun with language. In his second year, his lecturer, Prof Gerhard van Huyssteen, inspired him to study language data and how it can be represented in a way that makes sense. “I call that the maths of language, and it has since become the focus of my work at SADiLaR, where we investigate how to create resources for people to base their research on.”
His role on the language infrastructure and resource subcommittee of the ANLB includes investigating how to find Afrikaans resources online and why it is sometimes difficult.
Mmasibidi Setaka and Benito Trollip say their team at SADiLaR is proud of them for being included on the NLBs. As digital humanities researchers their aim is to grow the digital humanities field and language technology research in the country.