The PALDO Concept - New Paradigms for African Language Resource Development

TitleThe PALDO Concept - New Paradigms for African Language Resource Development
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsBenjamin, Martin
BooktitleAGIS11 - Action Week for Global Information Sharing (AfLaT2011 Breakout Session)
LocationAddis Ababa, Ethiopia

Sharing knowledge across languages depends on shared knowledge about languages. Dictionaries document the base of linguistic knowledge, and are essential for inter-language communication and information technology development. Important as they are, most bilingual dictionaries suffer from serious inherent weaknesses, including:
• Difficulty showing different senses or shades of meaning
• Non-equivalence between languages
• Incommensurability between dictionary projects
• Limited ability to update or add new terms

African languages face many additional challenges, including:
• Lack of resources to pay for language development
• Limited infrastructure to support lexicographic research or publication
• High cost of producing and accessing dictionaries relative to people’s income

PALDO, the Pan-African Living Dictionary Online, is an emerging multilingual reference for African languages that is being developed by the Kamusi Project ( It is designed to surmount most of these problems, through three new paradigms that will be elaborated in this presentation:
1. The system is designed for open community participation to keep the data accurate and growing, while remaining under the control of language scholars.
2. All project outputs are available to the public for free, while language partners are compensated at a fair wage for their lexicographic undertakings.
3. Instead of bilingual dictionaries, PALDO is a collection of commensurate monolingual dictionaries that are linked at the level of the concept. Because each concept is treated independently, confusion is eliminated about how to translate different senses, and non-equivalence between languages can be shown. The act of creating a monolingual entry for one language and linking it to a second language results in cascading links to all other included languages, magnifying the effort into a broad multilingual entrepôt for inter-language communication.

PALDO does not overcome the paucity of financial resources available for African language development. It is hoped, though, that the effectiveness of these new paradigms – open development, free access, and rich interlinked monolingual data – will attract the support necessary to produce a resource that bridges barriers of knowledge and communication for many of Africa’s 2000 languages.