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Role of the Linguist in Age of AI Takes Center Stage as UNILAG Linguistics Dept. Hosts Workshop

There could be no better time to be a student of Linguistics, if the professional insights shared at a Language Workshop organised by the the Department of Linguistics, African and Asian Studies of the University of Lagos, are anything to go by.

Gathered at the Faculty of Arts Boardroom on Friday, May 24, 2024, Linguistics students of the department were treated to quality presentations by scholar-practitioners who showed them the practicalities of gaining relevance as Linguists in the fast-emerging world of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Bringing Value to the Table

An Assistant Lecturer in the department and Lead Researcher at Yoruba Digital Library, Mr. Bode Adedeji, delivered the first presentation on Linguistics: From Theory to Practice. He charged the students to snap out of the “you-can-work-anywhere” mentality and get serious with identifying the particular area of Linguistics that want to specialise in.

Mr. Bode Adedeji

His words: “Studying Linguistics does not limit you to teaching. That is the lazy way out. What should be on your mind is what you can do for the field of Linguistics itself. You should identify spaces that are yet to be filled in terms of theoretical application and get in there, leveraging the power Artificial Intelligence. That is the way you create value, and that is how you will attract money”.

The doctoral Researcher at Yale University, USA, used a chart to illustrate to the students how they could apply their Linguisitic training to a variety of fields, ranging from Medicine to Media, and from Computer Science to Law. He charged them to value their traning as possesors of Natural Language data, and to be ready to leverage same for value delivery in the emerging fields of Machine Learning and Large Language Modelling.

The Linguist’s Edge

Mr. Aanuoluwapo Aremo

Practicalising Linguistics: Data Annotation and Language Models was the second presentation made by Mr.  Aanuoluwapo Aremo, Data Officer at   LELAPA AI. He defined Natural Language Processing as “giving a machine the ability to delivers tasks with a natural language to a reasonably efficient extent”.

He emphasised the centrality of the Linguist to Language Model development, because the machine and the Computer Scientist who programmes it need his input as the language data supplier.

“For the machine to carry out desirable tasks, language data is required; and that is where  you as the trained Linguist have an edge.”

He, like the first presenter, emphasised the intersection of Linguistics & Artifical Intelligence and urged the student-participants to quickly identify which specialist area of Linguisits they would build mastery in.

Both presenters are alumni of the Department of Linguistics, African and Asian Studies, who have both carved a niche for themselves in the area of Computational Linguistics/Natural Language Processing.

Fatherly Counsel

Research Professor Ayodele Yusuf

Earlier in his opening address, the well-respected Research Professor Ayodele Yusuf congratulated the students for their participation in the workshop. He expressed gratitude to the Department in general and the Convener, Dr. Adedoyinsola Eleshin, in particular.

He urged the participants to keep an open mind and explore the intersections that exist between the fields of Linguistics, Computer Science and Mass Communication.

“I urge you to go those departments and audit courses from them. It will expose you to other concepts and enhance your capacity to leverage your strengths as Natual Language Processors in the digital world of Artificial Intelligence”.

Dr. Adedoyinsola Eleshin

Ready for the Digital Age

The Convener of the workshop, Dr. Adedoyinsola Eleshin, gave the rationale for the initiative.

“The aim of this workshop is to expose our students to the world of AI and its interface with indigenous languages.  My closeness to some of the students in the department made me realise how much they yearn for practicals. That realisation birthed this workshop. The focus is to equip the students with the basic tools required to face the current reality of African languages and technology-dominated world.”

REPORT: Isaiah Kumuyi

PHOTOGRAPHY: Samuel Dosumu

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