The Fon language is spoken by about 1.7-2 million people. With very few related resources available online, it is one of the truly low-resourced African languages, which still needs attention despite its rich and dense morphology.
Summary of the language
Fon is an African language spoken by the Fon people, mostly living in the center and south of the Benin Republic. Read more about Fon on Benin Langues and Wikipedia. The Fon people are originally from Abomey, formerly known as the Kingdom of Danhomè [Dan-ho-mè: in the belly of the snake], ruled by King Gbehanzin.
Highlight of Efforts
At Lanfrica, we have been able to curate some efforts towards this language. Here are some highlights.
- FFR v1.1: Fon-French Neural Machine Translation: The FFR project is a major step towards creating a robust translation model from Fon.
- AfriVEC: Word Embedding Models for African Languages. Case Study of Fon and Nobiin: This paper describes the creation of Word Embedding models for Fon and Nobiin.
- OkwuGbé: End-to-End Speech Recognition for Fon and Igbo: This paper describes the creation of Automatic Speech Recognition for Fon and Igbo.
- Crowdsourced Phrase-Based Tokenization for Low-Resourced Neural Machine Translation: The Case of Fon Language: Using Fon language as a case study, this paper revisits standard tokenization methods and introduces Word-Expressions-Based (WEB) tokenization, a human-involved super-words tokenization strategy to create a better representative vocabulary for training.
- FFR Translate: The Neural Machine Translation built on the FFR and WEB research papers.
- Fon Automatic Speech Recognition Model
- First automatic Fongbe continuous speech recognition system: Development of acoustic models and language models
- Fon French Daily Dialogues Parallel Data: Dataset of daily/common conversations, sentences, built through manual crowdsourcing, Google Form Surveys
Interview with Dr. Frejus Laleye about his research on Fon language
Profile of Dr. Frejus Laleye
I am an NLP Research Scientist and responsible for the R&D department at Opscidia
Can you give us a tour of your research on the Fon language?
I worked on the Fon during my Ph.D. The main topic of my thesis was automatic speech recognition in the Fongbe language. It was the very first scientific contribution to the very poorly endowed language of Benin. My work initially made it possible to improve the index of the level of computerization of Fongbe thanks to the construction of the first linguistic resources for the use of Machine Learning. In a second step, they allowed the development of the first automatic segmentation algorithms depending and not depending on the speech text in Fongbe, fon speech acoustic modeling, and the first fon speech transcription system.
What is your motivation for working on Fon?
The choice of language for my thesis comes from my proximity to the fon and especially from the number of native or non-native speakers of this language. Fon is spoken by more than 60% of the Beninese population, and even in some neighboring countries of Benin such as southern Nigeria and Togo.
What are the other works you have done on Fon beyond what we have in Lanfrica?
I don’t know all the jobs you have in Lanfrica (smiling). I would definitely make sure I catch up
What are the future directions you have for Fon?
Like many African cultures, the language culture in Benin incorporates foreign expressions from the official language of French. This has, over time, created a strong link between French and Beninese dialects and the richness that French can bring to local languages and vice versa in linguistic diversity. An undeniable fact is that today we can no longer approach African dialects without mentioning the official languages, given their impact on the use of local languages. Since most African dialects are oral and aligned with official languages these days, the best way I believe to deal with these languages is to move to audio transcription from dialects to text/audio in French or English. This should remove the lock of the non-existence of a writing system of certain dialects. My current and future work on the Fon language is therefore oriented towards automatic translation from speech to text and speech in French.
Interview with Fabroni Bill Yoclounon, founder of IamYourClounon
Profile of Fabroni Bill Yoclounon
I’m Fabroni Bill YOCLOUNON. I’m a Beninese journalist-writer and a lawyer in training. I’m passionate about cultural issues and I develop a love for literature. I’m the promoter of the IAMYOURCLOUNON platform, an initiative that promotes Beninese languages on the Internet. I fight for a fairer and happier society. I’m for popular education in all sectors and promoting the green economy.
What is the goal of the IamYourClounon label?
IamYourClounon is a digital platform that aims to promote the Beninese languages, in particular, the most spoken, Fongbé (Fon) via digital creations. IamYourClounon’s mission is to reference Beninese languages as much as possible on the Internet in order to have them recognized all over the world. This requires the creation of quality content in large quantities in these languages.
What is your motivation for working on Fon and more about the IamYourClounon label?
I am convinced that each people breathes through the soul of their culture. Culture is the compass for every country in search of development. The national languages constitute for each people the vehicle for transmitting its culture. Thus, without national languages, there are no national cultures. My major motivation comes down to the desire to ensure the sustainability of Beninese culture through the development of its languages. In particular, I chose Fon because it is the Beninese language that brings together the most speakers and is used in most cultural and tourist content exported internationally. Fon is the Beninese language that sells the most internationally.
What have you done for Fon beyond what we have in Lanfrica?
Our works are numerous. I will name the most important. We have created two mobile applications for Android users:
- Stickers in Fongbé is an application that allows Internet users to send emoticons to Fon on Whatsapp. This application mainly affects young people. The presence of a glossary in the application allows non-Fon speakers to know the meaning of certain popular words and expressions. Thanks to these Stickers, users know how to express their feelings in Fon. The first two versions of the application total more than 100,000 downloads.
- Beninese and African Languages Keyboard is a keyboard that can be used on Android. This allows Internet users to write in all Beninese languages and by extension in African languages, thanks to the palette of special characters and diacritics that we have inserted. It’s a smooth, fast, and smart keyboard.
- In addition to these solutions, we produce audio, video, and text content on our social networks to interest people in learning the Beninese languages.
Future directions you have, if any, for Fon.
We see the future as very dynamic. We are already collaborating with other platforms and individuals such as Robot Fon, Bonaventure Dossou, Chris Emezue from edAI and Lanfrica, and many others to impact more people. In the short term, we are working to develop an online-offline French<->Fon dictionary to facilitate language learning.
Call for Contribution
We call on all who have worked/are working on the Fon language to share their valuable resources on Lanfrica.
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