Martin Benjamin


Biography and current work


Martin Benjamin leads the Kamusi Project, an international effort to map human linguistic knowledge and make it available for social and technological development, and has recently joined EPFL as a Senior Scientist. An American from a small town in Vermont, he trained at Columbia and Yale as an anthropologist, examining issues related to poverty, health, environment, and gender in rural Africa.

He began studying Swahili in preparation for his field research in Tanzania. Lacking a good dictionary, he set out to create one in 1994 by initiating a collaborative project on the then-nascent Internet. That project became one of the most widely used computer resources for African languages, leading Benjamin to focus his full attention on multilingual lexicography and computational linguistics.

He has lived in Lausanne for family reasons since 2007, working on a variety of activities related to African ICTs, from moderating the localization of Microsoft Windows and Office in Swahili to developing ICT terminology for a dozen languages and managing the creation of computer locales for nearly 100. During that time, he has used the initial online Swahili experience to re-engineer the dictionary from the ground up, building a data model that will make possible language tools and scholarship at a much finer level of detail than previously considered realistic. Kamusi is now an independent Swiss-based NGO through which Benjamin directs language development activities that are expanding throughout and beyond Africa.

In September 2013, to pursue the informatics potentials of massive multilingual data, including structuring data for highly accurate translation systems and the development of self-regulating crowdsourcing for reliable data collection, Benjamin joined the Distributed Information Systems Laboratory in EPFL's School of Computer and Communications Sciences.

Martin Benjamin

Senior Scientist

Fields of Expertise

  • Computational linguistics, lexicography, African languages, anthropology, development