Langa Khumalo is a Professor and Executive Director of the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) at North-West University (NWU). SADiLaR has a strategic function to stimulate and support research and development in the domains of human language technologies (HLT), natural language processing (NLP), language-related studies and digital humanities (DH). As an area of scholarly activity, DH lies at the intersection of computing or digital technologies and the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences.
‘My research interests are mainly in corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, DH and the morphosyntax of African languages. I am also interested in the development of digital resources for African languages, their intellectualisation for their improved use in all forms of technology and their contribution to the global knowledge economy,’ Langa explains.
Prior to joining SADiLaR, he was the director at the Language Planning and Development Office of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. There he was responsible for the development of isiZulu human language technologies.
Langa holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Oslo (Norway), and an MPhil in Linguistics from Cambridge University (UK). He is the current Chair and Coordinator of the Africa Union (AU) IsiZulu Language Commission and an expert in Corpus Linguistics and Computational Solutions for the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), which is a secretariat of the AU. Among others he also completed an Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme (OSLP) at the Saïd Business School and is a member of the Oxford Business Alumni Network.
He talks more about his background: ‘I trained in Italy in corpus linguistics at the then Tuscany Word Centre. It is there that the use of datasets in a computational environment got my interest. I would go on to publish the first monolingual dictionary in isiNdebele that used corpus-based approaches in term extraction and sense disambiguation. I have subsequently built various corpora for teaching and for developing specialised dictionaries. Working in collaboration with other scientists, particularly in computer science and engineering, we have used various datasets in re-interpreting various grammatical and theoretical assumptions in linguistics. I have also used computational solutions in developing human language technologies.’
What makes being a scientist interesting to Langa? He says: ‘Working with data has been very exciting. The use of various digital approaches and software in the digital humanities have led to very insightful research outputs. It has also led to collaborative research with other scientists, something that is rare in the humanities. Straddling computer science and the humanities has led us to revisit some of the old research questions and using the prisms of DH and the affordances of fast and error free computational approaches, has led to novel contributions in the field of corpus linguistics, semantic web ontologies and grammar.’
His list of achievements and associations is impressive. He is the Chair of the Universities South Africa (USAf)’s Community of Practice for African Language Teaching and Learning (CoPAL), a member of the SARIR Planning & Management Forum, and a Fellow of the Cambridge Commonwealth Society (FCCS). He is a former Language Champion in the Oxford Global Languages programme (OGL) for Oxford University Press (UK), a member of the Scientific Board of the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS, University of the Western Cape) and the current President of the African Association for Lexicography (AFRILEX). Furthermore, he is a member of the inaugural Executive Committee of the Digital Humanities in Southern Africa (DHASA).
Langa’s enthusiasm for his subject and its prospects is clear: ‘Data is the fountain of all future answers! We just need the right (digital/software) tools to explore the truth. In short: with data, the future has endless possibilities!’
To that he adds: ‘I am proud to be an Associate of NITheCS and the vast network of researchers and scientists that I am connected to through NITheCS. It is indeed an honour to work in such an interdisciplinary environment.’