New director takes the helm at SADiLAR

Issued by North West University
Johannesburg, Aug 14, 2020

The South African Centre for Digital Language Resources, SADiLaR, on the campus of the North-West University (NWU) in Potchefstroom, has a new centre director. Prof Langa Khumalo has taken the reins as of 1 August. SADiLar is a research infrastructure funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) as part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

Prof Khumalo, who is the former director of language planning and development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, will be leading the centre – the first of its kind in Africa – to achieve the constitutional imperative to recognise all the South African languages as key resources in innovation and science.

In 2016, Prof Khumalo completed an intensive advanced leadership programme for higher education, which made him acutely aware of the vast challenges with which higher education is confronted in generating knowledge that is innovative and responsive to our ever-evolving human needs.

During the early stages of his career, Prof Khumalo was introduced to working with language data. “Trained by many luminaries in corpus linguistics, including none other than the late Professor John Sinclair at the Tuscan Word Centre in Italy, I was one of the first editors to compile and publish the first corpus-aided monolingual dictionary of isiNdebele,” he said.

Prof Khumalo has been involved in various human language technology (HLT) projects, including the development of the isiZulu national corpus, an isiZulu oral corpus and the English-isiZulu parallel corpus. These corpora are carefully designed to enable, among other things, HLT development. His involvement in various exciting projects such as the development of discipline-related terminology for isiZulu, which culminated in the publication of glossaries such as the illustrated glossary of architecture terms and the glossary of law terms, has contributed to raising awareness of the profile and role of African languages in the academic world.

“SADiLaR became an attractive and inevitable destination for me because of what it is doing, what it seeks to do in terms of developing language resources, and its national character and reach,” Prof Khumalo stated.

Prof Khumalo has been involved with SADiLaR as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) since its inception in 2017. Given his close association with SADiLaR, Prof Khumalo has insight into all the projects that have been rolled out internally, and into projects driven by the various nodes.

“The centre has a young and dynamic team and I hope that my experience and skillset will be a useful addition to an already amazing array of skills,” Prof Khumalo said about working with the SADiLaR team.

At the core of it all, Prof Khumalo wants the centre to churn out research, (technology) solutions and (digital) resources that have an impact and have a transformational effect in the communities where these languages are predominantly spoken and/or taught. He also aims to embrace the quality research and productivity culture and the links that the centre has already produced, achieved and established in the short period of its existence.

“Language is at the centre of our human existence. It carries and conveys the identity of humanity. It records our human achievements and spurs on our innovation and development. It is notable that our Constitution recognises 11 official languages. It is a constitutional imperative to develop all of them in order to achieve ‘parity of esteem’ between them,” said Prof Khumalo.

Since its inception, SADiLaR has made strong connections with similar research infrastructures internationally, such as the European Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure (CLARIN), the European Language Resources Association (ELRA) and the Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC) of the USA. The centre has been guided by experienced leaders in the field of human language technology (HLT), linguistics and digital humanities.

Important links:
Department of Science and Innovation:
Constitutional imperative (see 6.2):
Prof Khumalo’s profile:

Contact Person: Willie Du Plessis
Contact Details: [email protected].