Interviews, People

Twitter can now be translated into Yoruba

– The success story of how Yoruba became the second African language to be supported on the micro-blogging site 

+ Exclusive interview with the campaign’s frontliner, Kolawole Olatunbosun and tweets in Yoruba

A team of passionate young Yoruba speakers set micro-blogging site, Twitter.alight on March 1, 2012, when they declared a Tweet Yoruba Day, tweeting exclusively in Yoruba. Their aim? To get the language supported on the social network platform.

It seemed their efforts were unsuccessful, even after the event was held again in 2013 and 2014, – not until last week when news broke that Twitter could now be translated into Yoruba.

ENCOMIUM Weekly, had an exclusive interview with the campaign’s frontliner, linguist and Yoruba scholar, Kolawole Olatubosun, who shared his passion for the language and why he embarked on this journey…


Finally, Yoruba is now supported on Twitter. How does it feel?

It feels great! But because it is not the end that we seek, but a means towards that end, the work goes on.

Like that astronaut on the moon said, it’s just one step for Yoruba, a larger one for language diversity and survival.

More important, the response to the news has shown that it’s more than a personal reward, it’s for the community of speakers, learners, and enthusiasts of the language.

What’s the next step at this point?

The destination is very long. Twitter is just one of the many popular social media apps. There is Facebook, Whatsapp, Tumblr, blogger, etc. Most of these aren’t even available in any African language. I know that Apple iPads/iPhones now have some Yoruba functions.

That’s also an encouraging start. It will be a great day if international apps consider Yoruba as one of their first “other” languages they work with whenever a new service is launched.

Of course, another important step is being able to have a good machine translation service into Yoruba. Google is testing its Yoruba translation machine at the moment, but the result hasn’t been great,

also because one-to-one translation from English to Yoruba (or vice versa) isn’t as smooth as other languages. Yoruba is heavily nuanced and sometimes elaborate. If we can get the Google machine to translate into Yoruba or back into English, then that would be a huge leap.

How did it all start to get Yoruba supported on Twitter?

The journey was long, at least over two years. As you probably read in that TechCabal interview, we decided (myself and a group of friends passionate about the subject) to declare March 1, 2012, as a Tweet Yoruba Day.

We just thought that it would be fun to use the day to tweet in Yoruba all day to our followers. That was a couple of days after the International Mother Tongue Day, which takes place in February. Anyway, we chose March.

However, I had heard a few days before that Twitter had opened up its translation centre to a few international languages. Yoruba wasn’t one of them.

So I thought: “Why not try to pressure them to let Yoruba be one of these languages into which Twitter is going to be translated?” After all, I had some free time I could dedicate to translating. I had a few friends who could help too, and I was sure that there are many volunteer translators around the country and abroad who would jump at the opportunity to help make this a reality.

In any case, I found out what the Twitter translation centre’s username was on twitter, and I told everyone participating on the Tweet Yoruba Day to copy all their Yoruba tweets to that handle. I also asked them to keep asking twitter to allow Yoruba to join the list of languages.

Anyway, it worked. Before the end of the day, Twitter sent a representative to respond to me that they heard us and they would get back to us soon. I kept in touch with them, over the months and years.

We kept reminding them through the Tweet Yoruba Day of 2013 and 2014. And finally, last month, I got news that Yoruba has been added. Now, we had to do the translation.

How do you think this breakthrough will influence the speaking of Yoruba worldwide?

I don’t know, this one event will add one speaker to the already large list of followers. However, I am sure that it will offer more ways to use the language for those who already delight in speaking and using it. The intention was to celebrate the language by making it more adaptable to the electronic age. If that is successful, that will be a major accomplishment.

Why are you passionate about Yoruba?

For starters, it is my first language. It is a language that brought me joy in many respects. My parents speak it, as well as my grandparents, with great dexterity. If I can make my grandfather fall in love with Twitter only because it exists in Yoruba, I would have achieved something.

Also, I am a linguist, so it is my job and vocation. If I spoke Igbo as a first language, I will be equally as passionate about Igbo or Hausa or Swahili. But Yoruba is what I speak, so here we are. As a linguist, I believe that language death is as gruesome as the death of a culture or a people.

Those with wisdom have already said that if one can’t speak his language, he/she’s as good as someone who doesn’t know who he/she is. So, there’s my motivation.

How would you describe Kolawole Olatubosun?

My problem with answering questions of this nature is the dilemma of what to include and what to leave out. I can say that I grew up in Ibadan. I went to school there and in the United States. I have been a Fulbright Scholar and a teacher of Yoruba at the Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, USA.

I maintain a travel blog at and can be found on twitter at @baroka. I’ve worked in broadcasting, translation, teaching, research, linguistics, and creative writing. I now live in Lagos with a wife and a son.

My role as a pointsman is to mobilize the diverse brains of language enthusiasts who can be of help to positive use. The enforcer, if you will. None of this would have happened without the friends with whom we started the first Tweet Yoruba Day and those whose silent and consistent help have kept it going every year without thinking of it as a waste of time.

There are also others, scholars, friends, and enthusiasts who are currently participating in translating twitter who may not get the acclaim. We may not have a real physical meeting point. There are thousands of Yoruba (and other language) enthusiasts around the world.

I haven’t met them all. But we get these things done (the “Tweet Yoruba” campaign, the “Twitter in Yoruba” project, etc) because I was able to bring into a convergence their intentions and a real communal project. And before the Tweet Yoruba project or the twitter translation project was conceived, people like Tunde Adegbola, Tunde Kelani, Francis Egbokhare, Ron Schaefer, Larinde Akinleye, Sophie Salffner, Yemi Elebuibon, Tubosun Oladapo, among hordes of others, have worked actively, and some without universal acclaim, in language documentation at different levels. I salute their precedence.

What prompted this drive?

An intention to preserve my language. A chance to put my knowledge in linguistics and experience as a Fulbright scholar and teacher into positive use. A drive to leave something tangible as a

by-product of my training. The current appearance of nonchalance among today’s youths and youngsters about speaking the language. All of the above, mainly. I know, and I’ve said before, that the first Tweet Yoruba Day came as a convergence of many things.

One of them was my anger at an argument I had with a young man of around my age who swore that Yoruba was useless and wasn’t important in the larger scheme of things. He is a Yoruba boy, but he believed that English has won and we should just give up.

Nothing I said mattered to his colonized mind, so I decided not to give up. And somewhere in my mind, I’d have believed that nobody would care about the Tweet Yoruba Day experiment. I was wrong. There were thousands of Yoruba tweets. And here we are. When you look around today and see the generation of young people we’re raising, who don’t see anything good in speaking their language, it is easy to be discouraged.

But isn’t it better to do something about it than to merely despair? I wanted to do something about it. I speak Yoruba to my son. He will learn English in school. He will grow up bilingual, as it should be. But he is just one person. What if everyone did that. And, perhaps, if we manage to get Yoruba into all the online platforms where these young ones spend their time, maybe there will be some attitude change. It is worth a try.



@OlayemiOniroyin: Kini Awon Eniyan N So Nipa Goodluck Jonathan?


#GEJ #GMB #APC #PDP #INEC #Nigeria #tweetYoruba

@alakoweyoruba: Toò. Mo kí gbogbo yín ẹ kú ọ̀rọ̀ látòór. Èmi náà ò bá roj jù báyìí l àm month wà ni ìrìn-àjò. #tweetYoruba #TwitterYoruba

@AbiodunMBStreet : @kolatubosun e ku ise opolo ooo. #tweetYoruba

@Adunnibaby: Ki Olodumare Ba wa da si oro Boko Haramu yi ni o. Bawo lo se wa je to won pa awon omo olomo bayi? Ti eni ma wa kuku ga o!! #tweetYoruba

@olatoyan: Odaro o! Oko kan laaji o. Emin se faaji arami. #TweetYoru

@ogundamisi: Oko Eru ODUN MESAN

@Arsenal o do pin. Egbe Arsenal ka agbako ni Stole City. @chelseafc ku ori ire #tweetYoruba

@rmajayi: Ni ilu Ado-Ekiti naa. Awon to ni, won ta ni N120 #TweetYoruba ||RT @baroka: A ò rí epo rà o. Kí ló n selè nílùú yìí?

@MrBanksOmishore: #TweetYoruba Woni Abi yamo okin gno iku omo re, ko ma. tati were. Moni kon shey bi ti tawon Jona. Won ma run shey faji centenary lo ri re.

@adebolarayo: Ó ní ìfé sí mi sùgbón kò níí jé kí n gbádùn

“@molarawood: @adebolarayo @tobiamoo Oro eyin mejeeji ko see dá sí. E maa ba n #TweetYoruba

@Titilolaoluwa: “@atmfash: Looool… afenifere “@Dejifan:

@atmfash famzer of life #Erinkkkkk but wait kini “famz” ni Ede yooba #TweetYoruba”

@Dejifan: Inumidun lati ri Ede yooba lori TL mi eku ise moodudwa #TweetYoruba”

@folypatfilm: “Ose jare. Oye ki won fun mi ni ebun nla

“@Dejifan: @bolajuade Ebun wo ti Ema fun @folypatfilm fun gbogbo ibeere yi ??? #TweetYoruba”



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