As a language activist seeking that “no one is left behind because of the language barrier,” Mohammed Kamal-Deen Fuseini has been working through Wikimedia projects to promote Indigenous languages of Ghana.
Currently he is the co-lead at the Gurene Wikimedia Community as well as a team member at the Dagbani Wikimedians User Group.
According to Mohammed, the Gurene or Farefare language was not taught in schools up until recently. As a result, generations of older speakers did not develop literacy in their language, which caused challenges for its use in digital spaces. However, some of that is changing with a new generation seeking to place the language on the digital map. It’s one of the reasons why he is a part of the planning team for the upcoming Ghanaian Wikimedia Languages Meetup to take place on May 12–14, 2023. In addition, Mohammed will be taking over the @DigiAfricanLang rotating Twitter account to share news in the run-up and during the event.
Rising Voices interviewed Mohammed about his work and about his aspirations for Ghanian languages.
Rising Voices (RV): What is the current state of your language both online and offline?
Mohammed Kamal-Deen Fuseini (MKF): In the offline space, the Gurene/Farefare language is currently spoken by over 800,000 people in towns and villages in the Upper East region of Ghana. It is a major program of tutelage at the University of Education, Winneba, at the Ajumako campus. It is also studied as a course in most of the colleges of education in Ghana and as a subject at the basic schools in the Upper East region.
In the digital space, it is currently a language on Wikipedia. The language is currently being used to train AI algorithms to speak and translate between Gurene and English on the Khaya app.
RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?
MKF: I have a dream, and in the dream, I see a future where all educational content will be made accessible in my language for people to understand easily, faster, and better. Once we put the language online, we have given life to it till the end of time, so that even when the last speaker dies, the language will still live on.
RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?
MKF: Celebrating the Gurene language and culture can be a powerful way to motivate young people to learn and use the language. This can be done through festivals, language camps, and other cultural events that promote the use and appreciation of the language.
Parents and community leaders should encourage young people to use the Gurene language in their daily lives by speaking it at home, at community gatherings, and at cultural events. This helps to reinforce the importance of the language and encourages its continued use.
Immersion programs can help young people learn and use the language in a natural and immersive setting. These programs can be organized during school holidays or as after-school activities.