Spelling unification movement in Africa

In Italian, the “ch” in “che” and “chi” stands for the /k/ sound. In Spanish, “ch” is used for the “ch” English sound. In French, “ch” is used for the “sh” English sound. All of these languages use the Latin alphabet, but the orthographies, or writing systems, differ.

How about if the orthographies of English, French, Italian and Spanish were unified so all letters and letter combinations were pronounced consistently in each language? It would be much easier to read and learn all four languages.

When creating a unified orthography, it would be necessary to consider sounds unique to each language. For example, “th” could stand for the sound as in “thick” and “dh” for the sound as in “this.” The combinations “th” and “dh” are not used in French, Italian or Spanish, so there would be no conflict. The combination “gl,” however, has a different pronunciation in Italian than English, French and Spanish. Perhaps an acceptable solution would be for “gl” to remain as in English, and for “ly” to be used for the Italian sound currently spelled as “gl.”

According to “Presenting the new orthographies” on the Next website, this sort of “orthography harmonization” for Igbo (ibo), Ijo (family), Hausa (hau) and Yoruba (yor) has just been completed after about six months of work.

This work was performed by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization and the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society. CASAS has worked on similar projects in the past as part of their “Africa-wide Harmonization and Standardization of African Languages Project,” and the next such project will focus on Nigerian Fulfulde (ful) and other languages in Nigeria.

With the unified orthography completed, dissemination must be carried out, including providing new textbooks to educators to ensure the system takes hold.

The unified orthography is provided in four volumes published by CASAS, numbers 240 to 243.

Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba as well as Nigerian Fulfulde each have millions of speakers, but the family of Ijo languages range from Okodia (okd) with a 1977 estimate of 3600 and Nkoroo (nkx) with a 1989 estimate of 4550 to Izon (ijc) with about one million speakers.

3 Responses to “Spelling unification movement in Africa”

  1. Spelling unification movement in Africa – Ethnos Project Crisis Zone Says:

    […] Link to the original site Filed in Language by Mark Oppenneer SHARE THIS Twitter Facebook Delicious StumbleUpon E-mail « Uncontacted tribe fires warning arrows at fishermen » Growth, inequality, and poverty reduction in developing countries: recent global evidence No Comments Yet […]

  2. Alexander Dietz Says:

    This is quite non-sense. For this will break with long established spelling traditions. This will lead to sudden changes of the script image to which the people are used for a long time. And this is probably not really necessary.
    Things are different in the case of uniting dialects of a language where harmonizing is really necessary to help it survive and gain ground. An example for that is Sardinian. But in this case, too, changings ought to set up carefully in order to be accepted by the people.

  3. wakablogger Says:

    Thank you for the response.

    A major activity of CASAS is the (re)”classification of African Languages on the basis of mutual intelligibility” (http://www.casas.co.za/History.aspx). I cannot find the reference now, but I believe what is going on is that when Europeans classified African languages, many times, they failed to grasp proper relationships among languages. As a result, two varieties of language that should be considered dialects of each other are classified as separate languages. CASAS therefore seeks to establish more proper relationships and to bring orthographies closer so that people with similar languages can communicate easier.

    See also http://www.iag-agi.org/spip/fiche-organisme-156_en.html for a description of CASAS.

    With the exception of a few languages such as Okodia and Nkoroo, these languages do not seem to be great danger of dying. Rather, the purpose seems to be social and cultural cohesion through closer linguistic ties.

    As you say, dramatic changes in orthography can cause a major disruption in a people’s culture.

    Some well known cases of orthographic reform:

    FWIW, it appears that English is immune to any significant orthographic reform.

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