from Keyboard for Africa’s Largest Spoken Mother Tongue
Though, global communications explosion plays a major role in the gradual yet steady extinction of languages, projects like the Yoruba Keyboard Project undertaken by African Languages Technology Initiative (Alt-I), winner of this year’s IICD Award on Local Content Applications are taking advantage of information technology to rescue Africa’s drowning languages writes Tunde Okoli


The seeming preponderance of tiny language communities in contemporary times points to the fact that majority of the world’s languages are vulnerable and may not just decline, but vanish into extinction. A recent study established that most human languages today, are spoken by exceedingly few people. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) raised alarm that majority, of languages will soon vanish. The organisation backed its claim up with scary statistics. It said, over 50 percent of the world’s 6000 languages are endangered; 96 percent of the world’s 6000 languages are spoken by four percent of the world’s population; 90 percent of the world’s languages are not represented on the Internet and that one language is disappearing on average every two weeks.

Studies have identified some of the forces which make for language loss to include: the impacts of rapid growth in urbanization, Westernization and global communications, all serving to diminish the self-sufficiency and self-confidence of small and traditional communities. This is aside the fact that discriminatory policies, and population movements are also taking their toll of languages. Post-modern linguists are of the opinion that languages are being lost, because we now live in a world that is fast contracting to a tiny global village. A world where a defined identity is what makes a man, nation, or race. A world where everyman, community, nation or race need a strong presence in the world’s information superhighway to remain in sight.

More than ever before, people across the world are awake to the reality of saving their mother tongues from extinction. This is because it is the first mark of being and identity.

Africa has been at the receiving end in world development. More than any other continent in the world, the continent has lost of most of its indigenous languages, by extension culture to modernity.

The advent of information technology has opened new vistas in world information order. And researchers are taking advantage of the phenomenon to salvage endangered languages. It is in the light of this that the effort of African Languages Technology Initiative (Alt-I), a research and development organisation headed by Tunde Adegbola, a computer scientist and linguist, is receiving accolades from within and outside Nigeria for developing Africa’s first indigenous language keyboard – the Yoruba Keyboard for which it won this year’s edition of IICD Award on Local Content Applications of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs).

The award is one of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) Media Awards of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The award aims to recognize users of innovative or pioneering applications of ICTs to local content defined as ‘the expression of the locally owned and adapted knowledge of a community’ in Africa. It is established to recognise and reward efforts from different sectors using any medium with a demonstrated link with ICTs that provide opportunities for local people to interact and communicate with each other, expressing their own ideas’ knowledge and culture in their own languages. The Alt-I-developed Yoruba Keyboard Project fits that bill, especially for its innovative features and in applying ICT to the local context. Moreso, because of the present needs of the continent.

Adegbola disclosed that he was inspired to develop the scheme when he realised the need to save the Yoruba language, which he described as ‘the largest spoken mother tongue in Africa’, by extension other African languages and its literature from going extinct as the world inches faster into the information age. Yoruba language, by extension most African languages, according to him, are tonal languages in which tone marks play important role when communicating.

He said it is a fact that the common personal computer (PC), as it is today, is not designed to accommodate text in many, if not all African languages. “Neither the hardware nor the software on most popular computer platforms considers the language needs of the African. Hence, African computer users are constrained to communicate with their kith and kin in languages other than their mother tongues.” Usually, desperate African computer users have to device rather awkward and often tortuous means to force the computer to produce text that may bear some resemblance to those based on the orthographies of their mother tongues.

Prior to Alt-I’s Yoruba Keyboard, most approaches for the application of tone marks to Yoruba texts on the computer have been based on desperation. Alt-I’s research reveals that for Yoruba, the production of one single character may sometimes require up to five keystrokes on the computer keyboard. “In response, Alt-I developed a statistical language model of Yoruba language and designed an ergonomic and efficient keyboard layout for the typing of Yoruba texts,” he said.

He explained with video demonstrations that the Yoruba Keyboard layout which is a modification of the QWERTY keyboard guarantees that no Yoruba character will require more that two keystrokes. “The keyboard layout is based on the statistical distribution of characters in typical Yoruba documents, taking due advantage of the unique features of the Yoruba language in relation to the English language on which the QWERTY keyboard is based. The scheme takes advantage of the fact that written Yoruba never uses the letters Q, Z, X, C and V, to develop Yoruba fonts and other software complements that take account of the complete Yoruba character set and remap the QWERTY keyboard accordingly,” he said.

The first Yoruba Keyboard layout developed by Alt-I took advantage of widespread familiarity with the QWERTY layout. But they found this somewhat deficient. Yoruba language being a very tonal language places premium of certain letters, especially vowels and diacritical signs which are frequently used. These letters are found to be too far from the strong fingers. Alt-I then remodel another layout based on the statistical distribution of characters in typical Yoruba texts that enhance typing efficiency and user ergonomics. The rearranged keyboard shares the general principle of the Dvorak layout of the English keyboard.

Adegbola explained that “Yoruba is a tone language in which meaning is determined by appropriate combination of consonants and vowels as well as tones. The need to represent tones in written form presents an orthography challenge, particularly for the computer. This is because, when the Yoruba orthography was developed, nobody anticipated the computer age. But we are today faced with the reality. Even though Yoruba orthography is based on the Latin script (which has enjoyed generous attention in computing), the need to indicate tones by the application of diacritical signs in position that are not normally supported by popular computing platforms presents a fundamental problem for Yoruba literature in the digital age. That challenge lead us into developing the Yoruba Keyboard,” he said.

Aside developing the Yoruba keyboard, Alt-I is also developing a Yoruba text-to-speech software, which Adegbola said, “would educate even those we considered literate to effectively read and write Yoruba.” For him, though Yoruba has a mature writing system, there is still a high level of illiteracy, among the Yoruba. And due to the widespread use of English as the language of education and officialdom in Nigeria, many literate Yoruba are incapable of reading Yoruba with fluency. Furthermore, the circumstances of the differently-abled (particularly the blind) Yoruba can be substantially improved by the creative use of modern ICTs. According to him, it is in realisation of this fact that Alt-I is implementing the Yoruba text-to-speech software with which a common multimedia computer would read any Yoruba text typed in standard orthography. “This automatic Yoruba text reader which will read any Yoruba text in standard orthography with functional intelligibility is presently undergoing aesthetic enhancements,” he enthused.

As the world proceeds into the information age with more and more of human interactions being mediated by information technologies, he disclosed that Alt-I aims to continue to strive to ensure the inclusion of as many African peoples as possible in the information society by making their languages relevant to information technologies.

The initiative is aimed at salvaging dying African, by extension world languages. “Alt-I aims at appropriating Human Language Technologies (HLT) for use in African languages via advocacy and service projects.” To this end, one component of the project addresses HLT awareness and research capacity building by supporting the Africa Regional Centre for Information Science in the University of Ibadan. Alt-I is also contributing to the research on the Yoruba language which is spoken by about 30 million people in Nigeria, Benin and Togo. The research led to the designing and implementation of the Yoruba Keyboard and consultations towards the standardization of mapping of the full Yoruba character set in ASCII and UNICODE and Yoruba text-to-speech software to meet the information demand among non-literate people.

“We recognise that people who are not literate in the normal languages of communication suffer certain deficiencies. We at Alt-I want to be able to use this software to take development information to the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.”

Alt-I found in the Yoruba language a convenient starting point for obvious reasons. “One, because it is the largest spoken mother tongue language in Africa. Two, because Yoruba was Africa’s first language to be written. It was written in the 1800s, so has a matured orthography. Three being that it is the only language in the whole of Africa that has been used to write a Ph.D. thesis.”

This notwithstanding, he said “we do not intend to stop there. For Alt-I, the award provides a much needed impetus to continue on a project that our immediate environment does not seem to recognise as necessary. We celebrate therefore, not merely because the award bestows international recognition and honour on our work, but because at least somebody somewhere is in agreement with us that language is the soul of culture and that death of any language spells the death of the culture it supports.”

He stated that the lessons learnt in the Yoruba project and the best practices that were developed in the process have inevitably become part of the body of academic literature of human language technology which are available as intellectual foundation for work in other African languages.

“It is rather heartening that barely three weeks ago, while the award ceremonies were being held in Addis Ababa, I was in Bubaque, one of the 28 islands of the Bijagos archipelago, off the coast of Guinea Bissau discussing the prospects of extending the evolving orthography of the language of the Bijagos into forms that will ease their use on the computer.” For him, any orthography being developed now should take into consideration, the application of information technology.

He explained that Africa’s development will only come when it is tied to its culture with language as the anchor. “Asian countries like Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea among others as good examples of countries with culture-based developmental plans. These countries learn science in their own languages.” Hence, he suggested a return to Professor Babatunde Fafunwa’s earlier experiment wherein science was taught in Nigeria in indigenous languages. “The experiment, we would recall, never produced a single drop-out,” he said.

For now, Alt-I’s Yoruba Keyboard is not yet available in Word Document. “We hope to approach big time players like Microsoft to help develop it in MS Word. Once they know that the application has a potential of about 30 or 40 million prospective users across the world, they will do it,” he said.

Market the software then would pose no problem. In fact, he said Alt-I is not particularly interested in the commercial viability of the venture now. “Alt-I is a research and development organisation. When the time comes, we will identify a capable marketing outfit to handle the marketing of the product.”

For him, the money’s worth of the awards, ($1, 500) is not the issue. “I see the award as confirming that what I have spent the last 20 years doing is correct. It does not matter the money’s worth. We live in a world where every Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, or Idoma, is speaking English to their children. The value of it (the awards) to me is that we’ve done something that will make the impetus to other African languages, something that will glamourise the Yoruba language and make Africans love their respective mother tongues,” he enthused.


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  1. Adebayo Oladapo Says:

    Please visit my web site as I have a software that has all the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa keyboard including audio pronounciation of over 1000 words and phrases.

    Your intention has already been produced as I have same imtent as you.

    Odabo (bye)

    Bayo Oladapo

  2. Folorunso 'o marcus Says:

    The most populous tribe in this country of Nigeria is Yoruba tribe, they’re well educates and intellects, their cultures and customs are much elegant their history are comprehensible the visitor and strangers are welcome amidst them; the heterogeneous ethnic group are indulgent and accommodates in the Yoruba nation.
    The Yoruba land have enough space to deem fix as a nation, if it’s not the national integration, suppose we are separate nation , its population is between 38-42% of Nigeria , inarticulate to the proliferation of Yoruba people in Diaspora.
    Definitely Yoruba is a separate nation classed amidst the heterogeneous Nigerians, this does not means we should secede from been part in this country of Nigeria, but what shall we do to proof as a separate nation , a nation of Odu’a republic, we have to exert a strenuous effort to develop Yoruba land , or shall we be continue to follow Hausa , Igbo and the minority group while they make a tangible clout in development of their states and territories what effort are Yoruba elders exert that can make the young generation to exemplify. The Yoruba leaders may be improvident while they refuse to slant an elderly knowledge and funds to improvement of Yoruba land.
    This generation consist many intelligent youth with bright knowledge, may the elite in Yoruba land can afford their wealth to acquire more knowledge in technology development and collaborate to build severe firm where the intelligent people can display their knowledge, should the plutocrat hire foreign expertise in technology and skill to teach and train unskilled people more technologies, importation of some machine equipment to start a newly factory idea and some specialist in Nigeria will use to proliferate quality products. [ read more]

  3. Folorunso 'o marcus Says:

  4. Samson Ademikanra Says:

    Please direct me toAdebayo Oladapo’s web site whre I can access Yoruba language fonts.

  5. Leke Olalemi Says:

    You make good and interesting points. But you also wrote: “The most populous tribe in this country of Nigeria is Yoruba tribe…” – While it is doubtful that the Yorùbá are the most populous (ethnic) nationality within the Nigerian space – and on emust question even the lower end of the 38-42% range -, the Yorùbá certainly cannot correctly be referred to as a “tribe”. There is hardly any dictionary definition for the word “tribe” that would apply to the Yorùbá nation. Ire o.

    • Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:


  6. adekunle Gbenga Says:

    kindly send me link on how to get the yoruba tonal software so that when i write on Naija forum i can make my intent clearly made by putting the accents on the vowels as this allows clear communication

  7. alimi, p.o. Says:

    how can i get the keyboard/computer that can apply the tone marks? pls help.

  8. alimi, p.o. Says:

    Please direct me to Adebayo Oladapo’s web site whre I can access Yoruba language fonts and how to get the computer that can type Yoruba and apply the tone marks.


    Please can you assist me on how i can get a Yoruba Keyboard. I need it very urgently.

    • Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:


      Yoruba Language capable font with incorporated

      simple keyboard input software program

      A major objective of Bis Bus International
      is the promotion, growth and use of the Yoruba

      language in a multimedia format on the World
      Wide Web. In pursuance of this goal, Mr. James

      Kass in a cooperative effort with Dr. Adebusola
      Onayemi released a freeware font –

      YorubaOK.ttf sometime ago.

      Yoruba School

      L M N O Ô P R S ß T U W Y

      Yoruba translation of the English
      text on the right to follow.
      This font, designed for typing Yoruba text on the computer keyboard, makes it possible to render Yoruba in its full acceptable orthographic form – complete with all the characters of its alphabet, accent/diacritic marks inclusive. This font is available for download on our web site – .

      Unlike the regular English language alphabet, typing accented characters or the letter of other languages is usually a tedious process requiring multiple keystroke combinations to produce a single character. This usually involves depressing the Ctrl, Alt and Shift keys in combination with a letter character or a series of numbers which are the assigned ASCII code numbers for that particular “foreign” letter. Moreover, it is also necessary to have a chart of the ASCII code numbers handy or memorize the numbers to type in to produce each special character.

      Mr. Kass has recently written a keyboard reconfiguration file for the YorubaOK font. We are delighted to present you with this simple keyboard input program which when used in conjunction with YorubaOK.ttf facilitates the typing process. This does not require the use of cumbersome multiple keystroke combinations, neither does it entail manual remapping of the keyboard or the need to memorize any numbers. On installation of the Yoruba font (YorubaOk.ttf), the keyboard reconfiguration file (YorubaOK.kmx) and the freeware keyboard input software (keyman6-0-164-0.exe), all that is required is to remember the characters of the English alphabet that are not present in the Yoruba alphabet i.e. z, x, c, v and q. ( Incidentally, the letters z, x, c and v are conveniently located contiguously on the keyboard.) These five letters have been programmed with the YorubaOK.kmx file to insert the accent/diacritic marks required to produce the complete character repertoire of the Yoruba language in any text document. You can now type directly into any text editor including your e-mail with this program and input the accent/diacritic marks on the fly.

      Here is a summary of how to proceed.

      1. Download the YorubaOK.ttf font into a specified folder on your computer.

      Go to the Home page of and Download the YorubaOK.ttf by clicking on YorubaOK font.

      Save it to the a folder of your choice.

      (The next step to install the file can be done when you go off-line or immediately as you wish)

      To do this:
      Go to the bottom Task bar of your computer
      Click on Start, Control Panel, Fonts
      then go to Files
      Install New Font


      Select the Folder where you saved the font and you will see that there is a file
      “YorubaOK (True Type)” in the folder.
      Select it and Click “OK”
      The YorubaOK Font will be added to the numerous fonts that are already in your computer’s Fonts folder.

      2. Install it from the folder, so that it now appears as on of the numerous like Arial, Times New Roman, etc.
      fonts in your fonts folder

      Also, from the Learn Yoruba home page, click on the link: Keyboard
      This will bring you to the page that provides the links and explains the steps required to enable you type Yoruba text on your computer.

      This is what you need to do

      1. Go to and
      download the file keyman6-0-164-0.exe to a specified folder on your computer

      2. Go to and from the list of languages, select Yoruba you will be prompted to download yorubaok.kmx
      Go to the folders where you have downloaded the 2 files and install them.
      You are now Ready to Type Yoruba Text!!!!


      Load the Tavultesoft keyboard program. (It may be preprogrammed to launch automatically at startup.

      Toggle the keyboard profile to “ON”

      Set the “Font” to yorubaOK and select the desired font size. You are now ready to begin typing.

      To input the accent/diacritics


      “c” after the vowels (and m or n ) to input the acute sign ( ‘ )

      “z” to input the grave sign ( ` )

      “x” for macron (sometimes required on letters “m” and “n”

      “v” for the underbar (preferable to the under dot used when required with the letters “e”, “o” and “s”.

      “q” for the low-rising tone mark ( v )

      Use ‘ Shift + ^ ‘ for the Naira symbol


      (you need to have installed YorubaOK.ttf to view the following Yoruba text correctly)

      Type “e”, see an “e”
      Type “c” immediately after, see an ” é ”
      Type Ade and then “c” get Adé
      Type O “v” ba get Ôba
      Type E “zv” ko “cv” get Êkö
      Type Is “v” e”cv” get Iÿë

      Note: You have to type the “c” or “z” first to insert the accent mark then followed by the “v” for letters requiring the underbar to obtain the desired composite character (i.e type the letter “e” or “o” then “cv” or “zv” as indicated. Putting the “v” first will not work)

      English (or other) keyboard can be clicked on or off for entering non-Yoruba passages to the text. For one or two words, in case the user does not want to take the time to toggle, the letters c,q,v,x and z appear correctly if they have a dash typed in first. Thus “Victoria” could be entered as “Vi-ctoria” at the keyboard and it will be stored in the document correctly.


      This package, with the exception of the keyboard program (keyman32) from SIL International, was developed by Mr.James Kass with a little help from my humble self. If you find it useful and feel inclined to you may send a short ( or long) thank you note to Mr. Kass at and visit his web page

      As for me, A kìí dúpë ara çni
      or in our trade mark color code to enhance
      recognition of the changing tone in pronounciation
      A kìí dúpë ara çni

      Visit our website often, e-mail suggestions for improvement, and buy our book and CD –


      Mõ ön kô, Mõ ön kà

      Ìwé Kïnní 1 Book One

      Fún àwôn ômôdé Children’s Edition

      Please feel free to distribute this program as long as the html sheet – YorubaOK.htm is included.

      In summary, the three important download files you need to install are:

      1. YorubaOK.ttf
      2. YorubaOK.kmx and

      3. keyman6-0-164-0.exe

      ……. and you are in business. You can go ahead and publish your Yoruba book or novel.

      Best regards,

      Adébùsölá Ônäbàjò Ônäyçmí

    • Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:



      “ABD Yoruba” Keyboard Layout

      Created On: Oct 27th, 2004

      Created By: Bomi Olamijulo-Oki

      Now with accented N and Japanese Yen



      Free, Easy Download

      Extremely Easy to Use

      Unicode Compatible

      Send pure Yoruba email to family and friends with Hotmail, Yahoo, MS Outlook

      Create MS Word documents in Yoruba, Transfer Yoruba documents via internet, Publish your Yoruba work online

      Create, Present, Transfer Yoruba MS Office documents – Works with MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher, etc

      Type both Yoruba and English with the same keyboard, no need for keyboard switches

      Preserves conventional English keyboard use – No need to learn any new key strokes for English characters

      Reduced keystrokes by using the Alt Key only to replace AltGr (or Alt + Ctrl)

      Right Alt key reserved for most Yoruba functions, Left Alt key remains for English functions

      Variations of each character are very close to each other

      Can use with a variety of Unicode Compatible fonts, including Arial Unicode MS, Tahoma, Code 2001 and more

      – Currently works best with Arial Unicode MS


      africanPortal……..The World’s Portal to Africa!

      Comments, Articles or Suggestions? Contact:

      africanPortal© 2004 Terms of Use

      Last Updated: Nov. 7th, 2004

    • Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:


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      • Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:


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        3.AppStoreHQ will notice that you’re linking to one of our pages. We’ll index your blog.
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    • Yeye Akilimali Funua Olade Says:


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      Yoruba keyboard
      Click on the image to get a good look.

      Posted by Jeremy at 10:00 AM
      Anonymous, 11:46 AM
      I thought you would be interested in this. Note the comment from a certain Andrew Fowler who worked in Naija

      Anonymous, 1:18 PM
      How many websites and indeed documents are out there written in Yoruba to really justify this keyboard?

      Anonymous, 2:32 PM
      dumb ass statement from chxta. the only way to get more documents in yorubas to provide people with the tools to be able to make them

      St Antonym, 2:39 PM
      Punds, dollars, euros. Sorted for the Yoruba.

      The rest is sauce.

      Marin, 2:46 PM
      Are you sure this is really a Yoruba keyboard? I do not see a gb or sh, written as an s with a dot underneath.

      Anonymous, 4:02 PM

      umm, to type gb you press g and then b… 😛

      The S with a dot is there, using the S key with the Ng modifier key.

      I would love to grab one of these, if they’re not made with rubbish keyboards. I remember a few years ago, hearing about a Nigerian PC Assembly company supplying Nigerian keyboards, but I thought at the time this was just a keyboard with a ₦ on it. This is much better.

      You would also need a Yoruba Font

      Soul, 4:06 PM
      ohh I would buy this sharpish..

      Considering that Yoruba is spoken in many countries and that the it’s such a pain to try inserting symbols into names and documents.
      this would be great!

      I was actually thinking of this as a pet project for myself.. I’m actually a bit bummed that someone has already come up with it. but happy at the same time.

      Marin, 6:09 PM
      This post has been removed by a blog administrator.
      naijajams, 7:29 PM
      I have this keyboard. As some have pointed out, the gb & sh are not there. You also find unicode support in the popular word processors to be somewhat shaky and most of the popular typefaces to not have the complete unicode character. To make an (S.) I have to make an S & then use the . as a combining character. Microsoft Word has problems rendering this properly…

      Here is the link to the actual site:

      Overwhelmed Naija Babe, 11:00 PM
      oh whao.. thats sooo cool

      Anonymous, 12:12 AM
      Sorry Marin, I hope you realise my remark was facetious.

      I know gb is a separate single letter, but is it really necessary to create a single key for the task when the two latin characters are already there? The language of my people uses two latin characters to represent one letter too.

      And Naijajams, thanks for the link, I assumed that some sort of driver would be provided with the keyboard in order to make it operate with Windows apps and the Characters/Fonts. Is that not the case?

      The method you are describing sounds like a microsoft hack for people with regular keyboards to enter Yoruba characters, making the extra features on this keyboard redundant.

      As a linux user I will probably have to get keyboard maps from wazobia linux to use this. It will take more than a fancy keyboard to move me from Debian.

      Marin, 12:34 AM

      you got me there with the gb. I guess that is what happens when one is trying to sneak a comment onto a blog from work 0).

      I will not read blogs at work.
      I will not read blogs at work.
      I will not read blogs at work……………………..

      learningyoruba, 4:24 PM
      So can I ask…how can I get access to such a keyboard? I’ve been looking for ages!

      Post a Comment


    Additionally, i want a set of the complete works of Ugundare Foyanmu, the popular musician from Ogbomosho in the 80s. Please can somebody assist me with information as regards how i can get it. Thanks


    i mean Ogundare Foyanmu

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