Qalam-2003-05-18a

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From: "Don Osborn" <dzo@xxxxxx>
To: qalam @ yahoogroups . com
Subject: Re: ISO 6438, the Niamey keyboard, and ISO/TC46/SC4/WG1
Date: Sun, 18 May 2003 15:59:45 -0000

Peter, Do you have a reference for the "Africa Alphabet"? The only mention I have for it is in the proceedings of the Niamey conference at http://www.bisharat.net/Documents/Niamey78en.htm (in reference to Ugandan languages).

As for the extended alphabet, Mann and Dalby did not come it all on their own. There are different strands to the history of the use of modified characters in languages of Africa (esp. the western part). As I understand it, one of these had to do with the development of Latin orthography for Hausa in Northern Nigeria under British rule. Later on in 1966, a key "expert meeting" of linguists and other specialists both from Africa and specialized in African languages was held in Bamako under UNESCO auspices. The conclusions of this meeting concerning transcription have been a reference point ever since.

The Niamey "expert meeting" in 1978 was in effect part of a series of conferences that ensued (a partial list is at http://www.bisharat.net/Documents/ ) dealing in large part with how to "harmonize transcriptions." Africa's borders of course divide virtually every language community, and it made sense for there to be a comparing of notes and if possible common approaches among different national literacy & applied linguistics authorities.

One thing that came out of the Niamey conference was a bicameral "African reference alphabet" (ARA). One of the problems, of course, with using an extended character set is that traditional typewriters had no place for the extended characters. I suppose that there could be different ways of dealing with that - at about the same time Mann and Dalby suggested getting rid of the upper case, the IBM Selectric would permit using interchangeable typeballs with whatever configuration of characters you wanted (in theory).

I'm not sure on what "authority" Mann and Dalby adapted the ARA in the way they did. Not having read the "Thesaurus" I'm not aware of what kind of collaboration and communication they may have been involved in on the different propositions made.

On the face of it, though (two decades later), it would seem that a technical focus that did not disaggregate "keyboard" from "typebars" was inopportune. In addition to the possibilities afforded by IBM's replacement of the typebars with a typeball, it was also possible to have typebars with changeable letters (I had one way back when on which one typebar could be so modified). And then all this was on the eve of the personal computer revolution with a completely different set of possibilities and problems (in which the typebar/ball is replaced by fonts and keyboard drivers).

There's a lot of history in this which would be interesting to see pulled together in one place.

Don Osborn
Bisharat.net


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