I’m pleased to announce Achal Prabhala as our latest Wikimedia Foundation fellow.

Achal is a writer and researcher in Bangalore who has participated as a volunteer in the Wikimedia movement in India and globally for years, and as a member of the Foundation’s advisory board.

Achal will be conducting field research in rural South Africa and India with Wikipedians and non-Wikipedians across three languages to explore ways to compensate for the gap in published/printed sources in many local languages.

From Achal:

Even if every single person in the south with Internet access wanted to become an active editor on Wikipedia, there is still a problem that we are going to run up against. It’s a problem that bedevils everyone working in local languages in Asia and Africa, and it’s something we have no control over: the lack of published scholarly resources in these languages.

For Wikipedias in languages of the south, citations are not difficult to find when the articles being added are translations. However, since we all want the sphere of knowledge to be universally expanded – and not merely transferred from the north to the south – we are forced to confront two specific problems with finding citations for important local subject matter: (i) Published resources may simply not exist. (ii) Even when published scholarly resources exist, they may be limited or inaccessible and thus effectively rendered invisible to Wikipedians.

To put it another way, it’s possible that the sum of published scholarly work from Europe is somewhat close to the sum of ‘European’ knowledge, and that the sum of accessible, published scholarly work in many Asian and African languages is nowhere close to the corresponding body of knowledge that circulates among speakers of those languages.

Despite these problems, Tamil Wikipedia has about 25,000 articles, Malayalam Wikipedia has about 15,000, and Northern Sotho Wikipedia has about 600. In all these language Wikipedias, there are articles – especially when concerning subjects that are specific to a particular people or place where the language is spoken – which lack citations, because there are simply no or not enough published resources to refer to.

The scope of the project is to investigate how one might compensate for the lack of traditional citations; how an alternative means of citation may be constructed; and how this may be feasibly and easily deployed – and improved – by Wikipedians in the future.

I’m looking forward to seeing fascinating and useful results from Achal’s project.

— Zack Exley, Chief Community Officer