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Wiki goes the oral citation way

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jun 18, 2012 06:18 AM
In a way to overcome lack of any citable sources in print on several interesting, but lesser-known topics, an Indian researcher on the Advisory Board of the Wikimedia Foundation, has evolved The Oral Citations Project.
Wiki goes the oral citation way

Achal Prabhala

This blog post by Chokkapan S was published in Cyber Media on June 11, 2012

Limpopo, South Africa. What does it remind you of? The northernmost province of the Rainbow Nation? The river that snakes through SA, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique?

There is more to Limpopo than one might have imagined. Many local women in the region are experts in brewing a unique beer from the Marula fruit.

Or, for that matter, how many of us would have heard about Dabba Kali? It's a traditional game played by children in North Kerala, which even many Malayalis from the southern districts of the state may not be well aware of.

In both the cases, there is lack of any citations on official sources, either in print or on the Web, despite them being utterly interesting topics.

This is where Achal Prabhala, an Indian researcher and writer based out of Bangalore, has stepped in to look for a solution. A member of the Advisory Board of the Wikimedia Foundation, he is working on The Oral Citations Project, a strategic research work funded by a grant to help overcome lack of published material in emerging languages on Wikipedia.

The Advisory Board is an international network of experts who have agreed to give the Wikimedia Foundation meaningful help on a regular basis in many different areas, including law, organizational development, technology, policy, and outreach.

"I began to get interested in Wikimedia in 2005. I think Wikipedia, especially in English, doesn't reflect exactly the world we live in. There is some degree of a gap; a huge disparity between what is published and where it is published from," says Prabhala, settling down in his chair at his Cooke Town residence.

"I am more interested in knowing everyday things and conversations,  which are not recorded in books," he adds, even as he concedes that the printed book has become the final authority, because of the rigorous, scholarly processes involved in validating the contents.

To put it in better perspective, the number of books published in India and South Africa are nowhere close to the number of books churned out in the United Kingdom. About seven years ago, the UK had 161,000 books published benefiting its 60 million people, whereas India had about 97,000 books for a population of 1.1 billion and South Africa mere 6,100 for 48 million people. That should explain the wide chasm.

Prabhala says, "The amount of media in non-English languages (vernacular) in India is tremendous, but there is not much scholarly content, other than developing news." Basically, in countries like ours and South Africa, there is very little citable, printed material in local languages.

So, oral citations from the local populace naturally fit in as a viable alternative. As a part of this project, Prabhala and his video directors, Priya Sen and Zen Marie, spoke to people in African and Indian villages and recorded the conversations on several niche, but unexplored topics.

Later, the audio interviews were uploaded and linked to the article as sources, which served as oral citations, good to be quoted anywhere.

They worked on three languages: Hindi, Malayalam and Sepedi, which is formally listed under the language category Northern Sotho in South Africa. But why these three languages, in particular? "These are the linguistic communities that evinced interest and came forward to work together on this project," replies Prabhala.

As for Hindi, he says that there are so many articles, but less number of authors and in Malayalam, slightly less articles, but a lot of professional editors available.

Ultimately, the entire project turned out to be quite organic. "People are looking at it in a universal way. We want to converge people to make their own audio citations. There are huge oral archives being used around the world," says Prabhala, who also serves on the board of the Centre for Internet and Society.

Wikimedia Foundation has over 19 million articles written by about 90,000 editors across the world. Would you be contributing to this unique project?

Filed under:
ASPI-CIS Partnership


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