The Executive Director of the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR), Prof Langa Khumalo, was recently honoured for his contribution to multilingualism at the 1st International Conference on Language, Multilingualism, and Decolonisation Practices in Higher Education.
Organised by the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Academy for Multilingualism from 12th to 14th of July 2023 at its Bloemfontein campus, the conference brought together scholars from 18 universities in South Africa, as well as from Namibia, the Netherlands and the US.
Prof Khumalo, who was invited to be the keynote speaker for the conference gala dinner, was the recipient of the inaugural Academy for Multilingualism Recognition Award in celebration of his invaluable contribution to multilingualism on a national and international level.
Advocate for linguistic social justice
“The purpose behind the awards is to recognise individuals who have made meaningful and impactful contributions in the development, intellectualisation and promotion of African Languages – especially those that were previously marginalised – for use as academic languages in the spaces of higher education,” says Dr Nomalungelo Ngubane, Director of the UFS Academy for Multilingualism.
“It is our hope that the awards, even though they are institutional, will inspire academics, scholars, practitioners, tutors, all other stakeholders to see the project of developing and promoting indigenous languages as important and urgent,” she adds.
“Prof Khumalo was recognised for his impactful research, globally and nationally, on the development of Africa languages and their digitisation so that they can be accessible in different media forms to all users of these languages. We see him as a catalyst for the development and intellectualisation of all official African languages. He is an advocate for linguistic social justice. His dedication to this project is inspirational and worthy to be recognised. At the UFS especially, he has been instrumental and supportive during the conceptualisation of the Sesotho terminology development. He gave powerful and transformative keynote talks at both the UFS Language Policy Seminar 2023 in June, and during the inaugural UFS Conference 2023, where he was recognised.”
Improving access to epistemologies
Khumalo has served in several leading roles in Africa and Europe over the years to develop African languages as languages of research, innovation, teaching and learning in higher education. This includes the development of human language technologies and advances in machine learning, and other digital solutions.
“I was truly honoured to receive the Recognition Award,” he says. “It is as much an individual recognition as it is an important accentuation of the milestones that the country has achieved in advancing multilingualism in higher education. I think a number of universities in South Africa have done extremely well in improving the role and function of African languages to improve access to epistemologies.”
In his key note address, titled ‘Language, Education and the Future’, Khumalo posited that re-intellectualisation in the South African context means the radical transformation of the capacity and role of indigenous African languages in carrying and conveying all forms of knowledge in all spheres of life.
“The context of 4IR, and particularly the affordances of generative artificial intelligence, while it provides challenges, also presents opportunities for the attainment of such a feat through hastening the development of the much-needed digital language resources.”
*Prof Khumalo is also celebrating the publication of a new article “Making Open Scholarship More Equitable and Inclusive”, which he co-authored and has been published in the Publications journal. Read it here: https://doi.org/10.3390/publications11030041
Caption: Award recipient; Prof Langa Khumalo (Executive Director – SADiLaR) with Dr Nomalungelo Ngubane (Director: Academy for Multilingualism – UFS) and Dr Engela van Staden (Deputy Academic Vice-Chancellor – UFS).
Written by: Birgit Ottermann