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A new type of dictionary. The multilingual Kamusi dictionary offers an innovative approach to the way speakers of the world's languages interact with each other. Innumerable Kamusi applications for education, health, commerce, technology and beyond will facilitate communication across linguistic barriers to access and share global and local knowledge. The key challenge for a dictionary of one language is to clarify meanings within that language. For a dictionary between two languages, the challenge is doubled; senses in both languages and translations between them must all be clear. A dictionary among many languages, which can serve as the foundation for a universal translation engine, has the even larger challenge of maintaining the integrity of each idea in each language, while also linking each to the next. This challenge is Kamusi’s mission.
A dictionary beyond words. The root of Kamusi's new approach is concepts, not words. A term such as “spring” is conceived as separate ideas that happen to share a spelling - a mechanical device, a water source, a season. Each of these different concepts can be defined in its own language and mapped to equivalents in other languages. The Kamusi Project has spent the past four years completely re-engineering the dictionary, building on technological and lexicographical best practices while designing totally new data, editorial, financing, and public distribution systems. Kamusi has a modular structure that enables parallel development for languages worldwide. The project focuses on languages spoken in economically disadvantaged regions of the world. Their speakers will be the first to reap the rewards of this cutting-edge technology. As the resource grows, Kamusi will become both a rich monolingual resource for each included language, and a unique translation tool that links all languages, concept by concept.
Local content and academic rigor. In addition to general-purpose dictionaries, Kamusi offers an innovative platform for participatory development of technical terminology. Through our system, language and subject specialists work with their user communities to generate vocabulary sets for any domain, such as health, governance, commerce or the environment. These terminology sets will open access to global knowledge from which most of the world's people are currently linguistically excluded. The public is invited to participate in both dictionary and terminology development, but scholarly oversight is tightly maintained, thereby combining local knowledge and academic rigor to ensure breadth and quality.
Partnerships and capacity development. Kamusi teams with partners around the world who can lead the development of their languages. Developing capacity within African universities, NGOs, and technology enterprises as content providers is an integral part of the Kamusi approach. Formal cooperation agreements are in place or in preparation with partners in Algeria, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, D.R. Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somaliland, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, in addition to collaborations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. When funding becomes available for a language, these partnerships can be ignited to rapidly produce high-quality linguistic data at low cost.
The business model. Producing high quality linguistic data does not come free, but the costs are low relative to the impact. Once an entry has been created, it is in the system, ready to be joined with multiple languages and used in multiple technologies for multiple purposes. Core programming has already been accomplished. Based on our previous experience, each entry costs approximately 5 US$ to ensure that it is accurate, verified, tested, and available. To guarantee results, partners receive payment after achieving tangible metrics. A basic dictionary with 10,000 entries would cost 50,000 US$ per language. A meaningful resource with ten languages - that is, ten parallel monolingual dictionaries that result in 45 fully linked bilingual dictionaries - would cost 500,000 US$ and take about one year to produce. Once a language reaches the 10,000 term level, its coverage is sufficient for general use, and its further development can continue through support from its user communities. Considering the many immediate and ongoing uses of the resource for translation and learning, the up-front cost of data development is a small investment with large and enduring returns.
A free resource for the public domain. The Kamusi Project strongly commits itself to making all of its outputs available to the public as widely as possible, for free. Africa accounts for a large proportion of current users, with numbers increasing as internet and mobile access expand. Providing access to Kamusi by people farthest removed from the engines of global growth is a continuous effort of the project.
Through the combination of these social and technical foci, careful expert attention, public participation, and a fundamental redesign of what a dictionary can be, the Kamusi Project is building a next-generation communications tool to unite the world's languages in the cause of greater knowledge sharing and mutual understanding./content/explaining-kamusi-dictionary-future