Pan-African Glossary on Women and Development

Bréhima Doumbia
(Language Update, Volume 7, Number 1, 2010, page 16)

A promising terminology development partnership

The project entitled Coopération technolinguistique – Afrique : développement des langues partenaires africaines et créoles (CTA) [technolinguistic co-operation–Africa: development of African and Creole partner languages] is the result of a Francophone multilateral co-operative effort. It was launched during the statutory annual meeting of the Réseau international des langues africaines et créoles [international network of African and Creole languages], held in Conakry, Guinea, in December 2004, and carried out during the study and fact-finding mission conducted by the Translation Bureau’s Terminology Standardization Directorate (TSD) (Ottawa, Canada, March 2005). Participants included nine African language experts from Guinea, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Seychelles, and two officials from the Languages Directorate of the International Organisation of La Francophonie. A lot has been achieved since this project began.

Ambitious objectives

Despite some minor obstacles inherent to this type of activity, the project is now making headway, slowly but surely and effectively, towards achieving the following objectives:

  • Greater adoption of French in Africa, along with the provision of tools in and the promotion of cross-border African languages;
  • Sharing of practical knowledge, technolinguistic tools and Canadian expertise with partner African countries;
  • Free access to TERMIUM Plus®, the Government of Canada’s terminology and linguistic data bank, for the purposes of consulting and creating terminology compartments in African languages;
  • Setting up of African national terminology centres led by competent national teams working closely and in a network with TERMIUM Plus® experts and managers;
  • Production of tools and reference works (glossaries, vocabularies, etc.) in African languages to provide support for formal and informal education, literacy education and development.

These specific objectives clearly indicate that the CTA project’s primary objective is to build a solid, sustainable linguistic and terminological infrastructure that is likely to produce concrete results in the participating African countries.

A new tool

Picture of the Pan-African Glossary on Women and Development cover page

In December 2009, as part of this major multi-dimensional project, the participants compiled and published the Pan-African Glossary on Women and Development in French, English and five cross-border African languages: Creole (Seychelles), Fulfulde, Lingala, Mandingue and Swahili.

The areas where these languages are spoken stem from what experts in African geolinguistics commonly call "the fragmentation belt," which extends south of the Sahara, from the Atlantic coast along the south coast of the continent to the Indian Ocean. Mandingue is spoken throughout West Africa; speakers of Fulfulde are scattered from West Africa to Central Africa; Lingala is spoken in Central Africa; Swahili is spoken in central, southern and eastern Africa, and even beyond those areas; while Creole is spoken on the islands of the Indian Ocean. Despite the extent of the areas where these languages are spoken and although it is recognized that they have a role to play in communication and liaison among millions of people belonging to various populations, these languages, unfortunately, today still have inferior legal status to European languages such as English, French and Portuguese, which are generally recognized as official languages by all of the countries. Moreover, these African languages continue to be less well equipped in that there is a scarcity of scientific documents, popular reference works and practical teaching and learning tools available in these languages. For that reason, the Pan-African Glossary on Women and Development, a continuation of the Pan-African Glossary series, which began with the Pan-African Glossary of Sports released in January 2005, is proving to be a very promising, sought-after and highly useful reference work.

During the CTA project follow-up and assessment meeting held in Kinshasa, DRC, in December 2008, the compilation of the Glossary was selected as an activity that complemented regular project activities. With the expertise and ongoing technical and material support provided by the TSD and the commitment and co-operation of the national teams of the five African countries concerned, it was possible to compile the Glossary in a short period of time.

Getting underway

First of all, the TSD extracted an initial list of terms in French and English from its Glossary on Women and Development (1995), out of which a 215-term nomenclature was compiled (and expanded through the addition of terms denoting African realities) that met the terminology requirements of the countries concerned. The entries were listed vertically in alphabetical order in the first column of a table created in a PDF electronic file. The national teams were then assigned to "translate" these terms into the target languages and enter equivalent terms in the respective columns designated for that purpose in accordance with the recommended instructions and standards.


As soon as they received the table and appropriate instructions, the African national teams proceeded with the "translation" work. They found or coined equivalent terms in the respective languages, entered them alongside the source terms in the corresponding columns of the table, then sent them to the TSD via the Internet. After an initial analysis, the Canadian terminologists produced a critical assessment dealing with relevant issues and indications that led to the implementation of the measures listed below. Decisions were made as follows:

  • Select, standardize and harmonize the spelling and fonts to comply with official alphabets and transcription rules in effect. The font used in the Glossary for Creole, Mandingue and Swahili terms would be Arial; the font for Fulfulde terms would be Lucida Sans Unicode; and the font for Lingala terms would be Mali Standard SILSophia. This was the solution to the eternal debate about using special phonetic characters for writing in African languages;
  • Adopt methods for processing and matching simple terminology units (uniterms) and complex terminology units (multiterms, synonyms, syntagms, phraseological elements, etc.) while complying with the structure and functioning of the source languages in relation to the target languages;
  • Establish principles and methods for identifying, arranging and aligning terminological material in order to facilitate immediate comprehension of the diverse information using a matrix (synonyms, equivalent terms making up subsets of units that are also listed as entries referring back to the main units);
  • Take into account the characteristics and potentialities of the languages concerned in order to distinguish the special-purpose language from the general language as a subset of the total language, and in order to encourage lexical and terminological creativity (derivation, composition, complexification, etc.);
  • Determine the abbreviations to be used to represent the language name,Footnote 1 African Union geographic regionFootnote 2 and countryFootnote 3 in accordance with the ISO 639-2 standard and conventions, that is, entry term in bold face, and equivalent terms listed vertically, preceded by language codes in alphabetical order. Equivalent terms are sometimes followed by synonyms to which a number is assigned if they have a slightly different spelling or meaning. The => sign refers the synonym to the main entry. The geographic region code enclosed by square brackets is shown alongside the term, synonym or equivalent, and is followed by a hyphen and country codes, separated by a comma, as in the following:
    • puberty
      Language Code Equivalent term and region code
      fra puberté
      crs piberte [AASC]
      ful timmugol debbo/gorko [AOML, SN]
      ful kellefuye [AOGN]
      lin lipúka [ACCD]
      man faridaye [AOGN]
      man balikuya [AOGN, ML]
      man ka se jènyògònya ma [AOML]
      man baalikuyaa [AOSN]
      swa hali ya kijana binti ao mume [ACCD]
    • ILO => International Labour Organization
    • drinkable water => potable water
  • Verify and assess the authenticity and appropriateness of terms and their relationships, borrowing techniques, and harmonization of terminology and record drafting;
  • Take into account the realities of African civilizations, societies and cultures as a fundamental aspect, while remaining open to the cultures and civilizations of the source languages (for example, the term single-parent family, which is unrelated to any concept in the Mandingue community, was nonetheless rendered by a neologism, kelenna denbatigiya, kelenna denbayatigi, created by the national teams of Guinea, Mali and Senegal).

In short, the use of the TSD critical assessment as a base document, as well as the opinions, contributions and information shared among all of the Canadian and African players involved, made it possible for

  • the national teams of Seychelles and the DRC to review, improve and complete the information they had with regard to Creole, Lingala and Swahili;
  • the national teams of Guinea, Mali and Senegal, at a joint meeting held in Dakar, Senegal, in June 2009, to re-examine and adjust all of the Mandingue and Fulfulde nomenclature and to harmonize their methodologies for handling data with a view to the regional—and continent-wide—standardization and management that they would have to do in the medium and long terms, particularly by implementing the structures for representing each geographic area that were adopted for the purposes of the project.

A major step

The African language specialists who compiled this glossary for the public, with the technical and material support provided by TSD experts, have made a collective attempt to take up the challenge and address three major concerns:

  • Fulfill the substantial and pressing needs of the African continent’s working populations, who simply aspire to live, work, learn and communicate in their own distinctive first languages;
  • Help in tangible ways to equip and enhance African languages so that they can officially exercise the primary role they are called on to play in building nation states and the African Union;
  • Strictly comply with the standards and scientific, theoretical and practical foundations that govern the development, design, editing and publication of this type of reference work.

If you are now able to leaf through a hard copy of this reference work, it is also because of the outstanding final production work carried out by the TSD employees who reread the material, finalized and determined the layout of the text, did the graphic design work, formatted the final product, looked after post-editing and post-publication, and so on. The electronic version of the Glossary is available on the Publications, glossaries and more page on the Translation Bureau’s website. In addition, persons with visual impairment can access the Glossary if they use a screen reader that works on websites that comply with the Government of Canada’s Common Look and Feel 2.0 standard.


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