Qalam-2003-05-18b

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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 20:44:04 -0000

Peter, Replies in text:

--- In qalam @ yahoogroups . com, "Peter T. Daniels" <grammatim@w...> wrote:
> Don Osborn wrote:
> >
> > 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).
>
> There's at least two Peters in this thread ...
Thanks, I did realize that, but so far I've been able to keep track...

> I happen to have two pamphlets published by the folks who came up with
> the Africa Alphabet in the 1930s (two editions), but I don't remember
> where else I've seen it. I was annoyed that Bendor-Samuel didn't put a
> table for it in WWS.

Is there a table in those? Would it be possible to scan & post? (or send to me to post?

> It's discussed but not with a table in Tucker's chapter in Current
> Trends 7.

I don't have access to this now but may be able to visit a library that would have it next month.

[ . . . ] > > 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.
>
> I've tried to find examples of languages that straddle borders between
> colonies that would have a standard French-based orthography and a
> standard English-based orthography in different countries, but couldn't.

I'm not sure there ever was any standard French-based orthography for African languages - that's after having been through a lot of material, including materials specifically about languages (esp. Fula), and other materials with lists of local terms and names such as monographs and books on flora. Mainly people improvised, though there are typical patterns relating to French phonetics and evidently (for later publications) reference to earlier publications. These improvisations seem to have evolved so that for instance what we write in English as /ch/ and /j/ were sometimes seen as /ty/ and /dy/ in the later colonial period.

I'd be surprised if there was a standard English-based orthography either, other than perhaps the alphabet you are referring to (mainly in East Africa??). For instance in Nigeria, there is at least one inconsistency in consonants (for the sound we write /ch/ in English, Igbo uses /ch/ and Hausa /c/), and a stylistic difference in the marking under the o in Igbo and Yoruba. (You may be familiar with John Philips work on the Latin Hausa orthography.)

Since I haven't studied the history in detail I'm a bit hazy on this but think that the impetus for harmonizing transcriptions came not so much from encountering great differences - not a whole lot was written (at least in Latin transcription) for most languages - but because of some foresight as newly independent countries looked at possible literacy work, how to record oral traditions, etc.

The Bamako 1966 meeting was very interesting in this regard, even though not all of its specific conclusions re characters have been retained. To their credit the former French colonies made reference to the orthography in northern Nigeria used for Hausa (also a major language in Niger) as well Fula (present in many countries of the region), and in fact the latter was adopted as the basis for orthographies in these languages. Later meetings were apparently in the same spirit. If you don't find many differences in orthographies of languages straddling the "Anglophone/Francophone" divide, that may be in part a testament to the success of this process, at least in this regard: more or less ad hoc transcriptions based on English or French phonetics (or random choices on opposite sides of borders) were more or less harmonized.

There are exceptions that may fit what you're looking for, and one is Yoruba/Ife. I understand that this is basically the same language, but Yoruba in Nigeria uses its own orthography that dates back to Crowther if I'm not mistaken, and Ife in Benin uses an orthography of a form similar to the rest of the region (influenced by Bamako '66 and subsequent conferences).

Hope this helps.

Don Osborn
Bisharat.net


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