Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Christopher Green has written me the following,

I study an African language called Senari for which a native speaker and myself are devising a standardized orthography in hopes of being able to develop computer programs to promote literacy in the language.

A graduate student in sociolinguistics at Florida State University, his blog is on "a wide range of linguistic topics, many of which are about language maintainance and policy."

This is from his post Language of the Week - "N"

The language is Nafara, a dialect of the Gur-language Senari spoken by a cultural group in the northern part of CotĂȘ d'Ivoire. I've had the privilege of studying Nafara alongside a native speaker of the language...who incidentally also speaks English, Dyula, French, and Yoruba! This may sound like an amazing and unusual talent, but a great deal of people living in multiethnic west Africa often known 4 or more languages fluently.

So why do I love Nafara so much? Well, back when I first decided that I wanted to be a linguist, I was introduced to Sidiky Diarrasouba, the native Nafara speaker I mentioned just above. He is an educator turned linguist, who decided to come to the United States to investigate a way to develop the necessary materials to revitalize his native language and to promote literacy within his culture.

I have been assisting Sidiky in analyzing the discourse structure of Nafara fables in order to determine a functional grammar and the rules of syntax of his language. We have also attempting to find a practical orthography so that his language can begin to be written.

I thought that I would look up the little that is already available about this language for starters. Above is the Hail Mary in a previous orthography dated 1931. Next, according to this link, "Detailed dialect survey work is currently being carried out by the SIL in the area." The Rosetta Stone Project also records some kind of orthography for Senoufo (Senari) here.

However, the Ethnologue reports these rather bleak literacy rates so it doesn't sound as if any orthography has much currency at the moment. "Literacy rate in first language: 1% to 5%. Literacy rate in second language: 5% to 15%." and further references here. This is a bit of a reality check for some of us.

For a few dry details, traditional issues in orthography creation or revision, are whether the orthography is similiar or dissimilar to the official language orthography; whether it will be phonemic or morphophonemic; at what level it will be standardized, i.e. village, region or district; and whether it will underdifferentiate or not. These are some of the linguistic considerations and there are dozens of books on this topic, so enough of that.

I spend most of my time now checking to see if an orthography 1. displays well on the internet, 2. is easy to search and 3. most of all how easy it is to keyboard.

Some people of interest when working on African orthographies are Don Osborn at Bisharat.net who has written about Senufo here. Also Chris Harvey and Moyogo. Good luck, Chris!


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