Presentation of the Practical Orthography of African Languages (1930) for readers of the Bisharat! web site. Requires Unicode font such as Gentium or Arial Unicode MS to view extended characters. Return to Basic Documents.






Revised Edition





Published by the OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS for the














THE first edition of the Practical Orthography of African Languages, consisting of 3,500 copies (3,000 in English and 500 in German) has been sold out within two years. This fact proves that the problem of finding a practical and uniform method of writing African languages has aroused widespread interest, and that the efforts of the Institute towards the solution of the problem have met with considerable response.


The second edition is being printed in English, French, and German.


Up to the present, the principles of orthography recommended by the Institute have been accepted for the following languages: Fante, Twi, Ga, Ewe on the Gold Coast; Efik, lbo, Yoruba, and partially for Hausa in Nigeria; for Mende, Temne, Soso, Konno, Limba in Sierra Leone; Shilluk, Nuer, Dinka, Bari, Latuko, Madi, and Zande in the Sudan; in Mashonaland it is proposed for a written language to be called Shona, based on the closely related dialects of Karanga, Zezuru, Ndau, Korekore, and Manyika. In the Union of South Africa and in other parts of the continent the introduction of the new orthography is under discussion at present. A number of books for school and mission use have appeared in the new orthography in several of the above‑named languages, and others are in preparation. Further information about these can be obtained on request from the Institute.


The aim of the recommendations of the Institute has been, and is, the unification and simplification of the orthography of African languages. Over large areas which have political, geographical, or linguistic unity an unsatisfactory state of affairs is found to exist at the present time owing to lack of agreement as to the general principles of writing down the languages, and as to the letters to be used and the meanings attached to them. In Africa to‑day conditions of life are such that many thousands of natives leave their home districts and, either with or without their families, settle temporarily or permanently in districts where their mother tongue is not understood. Thus, for everyday intercourse, for church and school life, or in order to read a newspaper, they are obliged to learn another language. It would obviously be a great advantage if in the orthography of the new language, the value of the letters were the same, or as nearly as possible the same, as those they have already learnt for their mother tongue. Moreover, in many parts of Africa, children in the early stages of school life receive instruction through the




medium of the mother tongue, and later in a language which is used over a wider area. The change from mother tongue to another language may not be very difficult for the Negro, because of his linguistic ability and because the two languages are generally closely related, and their construction, grammar, idiom, and vocabulary are often very similar. But if the two languages are written with two different systems of orthography, confusion is likely to arise, and unnecessary difficulty is placed in the path of the learner. In such cases the promotion of uniformity is clearly an important need of the moment.


Another urgent need is expressed in the second purpose of the Memorandum, viz. the simplification of orthography. The number of ways in which speech‑sounds are represented to‑day in Africa is overwhelming. In every case the basis is the Latin alphabet./1 As many African languages contain sounds for which the Latin letters are inadequate and which nevertheless must be distinguished in writing, many methods of representing these sounds have been devised. The only systematic orthography which has been used to any considerable extent is that of R. Lepsius, described in his Standard Alphabet (2nd edition, London and Berlin, 1863). It is not necessary here to insist upon the scientific value of this alphabet, and especially of the enlarged and improved forms which Meinhof has devised for the particular needs of African languages, and the alphabets which have sprung from it (e.g. the Anthropos alphabet of P. W. Schmidt). It is possible by means of this system to represent speech‑sounds with great accuracy.


For the practical use of the native, however, the Lepsius and Anthropos alphabets have notable disadvantages, in that they make extensive use of diacritic marks above and below the letters. For practical purposes in everyday life diacritic marks constitute a difficulty and a danger. In the first place it is found that in current writing these marks are liable to be altered so as to be unrecognizable and even omitted altogether, as every one who has had to read written texts in African languages will readily acknowledge. Such alterations and omissions of diacritic marks are also frequently found in print. For example, in Yoruba and in other Nigerian languages the horizontal line which Lepsius used in writing 'open' e and o has been replaced sometimes by a vertical line and sometimes by a dot. In the Lepsius alphabet, however, the dot has the opposite meaning to the horizontal line, and is used to indicate a 'close' vowel. A. T. Sumner has published handbooks in the Mende, Temne, and Sherbro languages (Freetown, 1917, 1921, and 1922). In the first of these, close vowels are represented by a dot under the letter and the open vowels are unmarked; in the Temne and Sherbro books the




usage is reversed, the open vowels being represented by a dot under the letter and the close vowels remaining unmarked. In Sotho school‑books open e and o have been printed in four different ways./1


In the Introduction to the Standard Alphabet (p. xii) the following statement is found: 'For the uncritical Native ... many of the diacritical marks may be dispensed with, or will gradually drop off of themselves.' This expected dropping off has certainly taken place, but proper distinction has not been made in what may and what may not be dispensed with.


The following are some further drawbacks to the use of diacritics. Letters with diacritic marks give a blurred outline to words and thus impair their legibility. Again, a letter consisting of two, three, or four separate elements is much more difficult to grasp and much more likely to strain the eyes than a simple letter. This objection is particularly true of diacritic marks under the letters, as these are most easily overlooked in reading and forgotten in writing./2 Some existing alphabets are so overloaded with diacritic marks that a glance at them is sufficient to show that they are unsatisfactory from a practical point of view. When native pupils are no longer under the supervision of a teacher in school they simply drop most of the diacritics in writing./3


Economic considerations also support the case for uniformity and for the use of letters without diacritic marks. If the types in use differ from language to language and have to be stocked to meet every special case, European printers are less likely to undertake the production of African books than if similar type can be used over large speech‑areas./4 In printing‑types diacritic




marks are apt to break off, and they wear out more quickly than the letter itself, so that more frequent renewals are necessary.


All these facts, together with practical experience, have led us to recommend the introduction of a few new letters, which in view of their legibility and the suitability of their cursive forms are clearly to be preferred to ordinary Roman letters with diacritic marks attached. The adoption of these letters will put an end to the multiplicity of signs in use at present; each new letter is, moreover, a simple uniform symbol and not a conglomeration of two or more elements. Diacritic marks are manifestly a makeshift, and a practical alphabet for current use should not be constructed of makeshifts. The representation of each sound (or rather each phoneme, see p. 14) by one separately designed letter should be considered as an essential principle of orthography. Such difficulty as there may be in new letters lies in the fact that for Europeans (but not for the African child who is beginning to learn to read) these letters are unfamiliar and strike us as strange. It is difficult to find any other objections to them.


Although the above objection has not much intrinsic weight, it must nevertheless be taken into consideration to some extent in constructing a system that is to be of general practical use. For this reason, in the alphabet proposed the number of new letters is reduced to a minimum, and the principle of representing each essential sound by a separate symbol is not always rigidly adhered to. Thus in some cases‑as for instance in the representation of palatal consonants‑it has been thought advisable to resort to 'digraphs' or groups of two letters to indicate single sounds. Diacritic marks too have not been altogether banished: they are used to show 'central' vowels, nasalized vowels, and tones. Such departures from the general principles are made for two reasons: firstly because due regard must be given to forms of spelling which have long been established in many parts of Africa, and secondly because an alphabet which involves too radical a change from existing alphabets would have little prospect of general acceptance. In many parts of Africa traditions of spelling have existed for some time, and these one should endeavour to preserve in so far as they are not inconsistent with the production of a simple, practical, and unified alphabet. For example, the writing of palatal consonants with digraphs avoids the introduction of a diacritic mark or new letters; moreover, digraphs are already commonly used for this purpose, particularly for ny, which occurs in so many languages.


Diacritic marks are recommended for certain purposes, and notably to indicate nasalization and tones, because in these particular cases the advantages




resulting from their use greatly outweigh their inherent drawbacks; it would be a manifest impossibility to introduce new letters for all nasalized vowels and all vowels with special tones. The marks which we recommend for nasalization and for tones are already widely used. For many languages, however, marks to show nasalization and tone are not required; and where they are essential, it is generally possible to reduce them to a manageable number.


It will thus be seen that the intention of this Memorandum is to show how existing orthographies may be modified and improved. It is hoped that the proposals here set forth, grounded as they are on scientific phonetic principles, may serve as a working basis and bring the ideals of unity and simplicity of writing nearer realization.


This Memorandum is not a document providing ready‑made alphabets for every African language. For many languages the materials requisite for drawing up satisfactory alphabets are not yet available. Even when the sound‑system of a language is known, an alphabet can only be constructed by an expert in the language, who must take into consideration its phonetic and grammatical structure, and sometimes also historical and geographical facts. How far this can be done and how far existing conditions have to be taken into account is discussed in the article by D. Westermann in vol. ii of Africa noted below.


In this second edition recommendations are made for the writing of various sounds and sound‑groups which were not included in the first edition, but which have recently been under consideration by the Institute. It is hardly necessary to add that there still remain many African sounds for which we are not yet in a position to make recommendations.


The question of the orthography of African languages is discussed in the following articles, reports, and books:


(1) A. Lloyd James: 'The Practical Orthography of African Languages', in Africa, i, pp. 125‑9.


(2) I. Carl Meinhof, II. Daniel Jones, 'Principles of Practical Orthography for African Languages', in Africa, i, pp. 228‑39.


(3) A. Lloyd James, 'Phonetics and African Languages', in Africa, i, pp. 358‑71.


(4) R. F. G. Adams and Ida C. Ward, 'The Arochuku Dialect of Ibo', in Africa, ii, pp. 57‑70.


(5) D. Westermann, 'The Linguistic Situation and Vernacular Education in British West Africa', in Africa, ii, pp. 337‑51.


(6) A Common Script for Twi, Fante, Ga and Ewe. Report by Prof. D. Westermann. Ordered by H. E. the Governor to be printed. Gold Coast Government Printer, Accra, 1927.


(7) Report of the Rejaf Language Conference. Published by the Sudanese Government. London, 1928.




(8) Alphabets for the Efik, Ibo and Yoruba Languages. Recommended by the Education Board, Lagos. London, 1929.


(9) Alphabets for the Mende, Temne, Soso, Kono and Limba Languages. International Institute of African Languages and Cultures. London, 1929.


(10) A. N. Tucker, Suggestions for the Spelling of Transvaal Sesuto. Memorandum VII of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures.


(11) A. N. Tucker, The Comparative Phonetics of the Suto‑Chwana Group of Bantu Languages. Longmans, Green & Co., 1929.


(12) R. A. C. Oliver, 'Psychological and Pedagogical Considerations in the making of Textbooks', in Africa, iii, pp. 293‑304.


(13) The New Script and its Relation to the Languages of the Gold Coast. Published by the Crown Agents for the Colonies, London, 1930.



[page 9]



1. The Institute recommends that African languages should be written on a Romanic basis according to the following scheme.




2. (i). b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, s, t, v, w, z shall have their English values, subject to the General Principles mentioned in 20‑31, and to the following special conditions:


(a) When it is necessary to distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated p, t, k, the simple letters shall be employed to represent the unaspirated sounds, and the aspirated sounds shall be represented by ph, th, kh. ph is thus to be pronounced as in loop‑hole (and not as f), th as in at home (not as in thin or then), kh as in back‑hand.


(b) When it is necessary to distinguish between dental or alveolar t and d and retroflex (cerebral) t, d, the ordinary letters shall be used for the dental or alveolar sounds and the special letters ʈ, ɖ for the retroflex sounds. (Alveolar consonants are those formed by pressing the tongue‑tip against the teeth‑ridge, while the retroflex consonants are those which have the tongue‑tip placed somewhat further back, so that it touches the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth‑ridge or even further back still.) In Ewe the words du (town) and ɖu (powder), da (snake) and ɖa (hair) must be distinguished.


(ii) g shall have its hard value as in get, go.


r shall stand for the rolled lingual (tongue‑tip) r of Scottish pronunciation or for the fricative r of Southern English.


x shall be used to represent the Scotch sound of ch in loch (the German ach‑sound). When in any language the German ich‑sound occurs in addition to the ach‑sound, and the use of the two is determined by the character of the neighbouring vowel, both can be written with x.


y shall have its consonantal value as in you, yet.


ty, dy, ny, ly, sy, zy may be used to represent palatal t, d, n, l, s, z.


ky, gy may be used to represent palatal or 'fronted' k, g.


When a palatal consonant is preceded by a vowel, a kind of i‑sound can often be heard between the two. This arises from the palatal character of the consonant and is an unavoidable 'glide'; thus the sound‑group anya is often heard as ainya and has therefore been written ainya by some authors. But as this i is only the




'on‑glide' to the palatal consonant and not an independent sound, it is not necessary or advisable to write it; the group should be written anya not ainya.


kp, gb shall be used for the labio‑velar consonants of many Sudanic languages.


(iii) It is recommended that the following special consonant letters be used to supplement the ordinary Roman letters (subject to General Principles, 31):


ŋ for the 'velar n', i.e. for the sound of ng in English sing, German singen.


for 'bilabial f', as in Ewe u (bone), o (to beat), which have to be distinguished from fu (feather), fo (to tear off). The symbol has also been suggested instead of .


ʋ for 'bilabial v', i.e. the German sound of w in schweben, schwimmen. In Ewe the words ʋu (boat), ʋɔ (python) have to be distinguished from vu (to tear), (to be finished).


ʃ for the English sound of sh, French ch, German sch.


ʒ for the English sound of s in pleasure, French j. The symbol ǰ has also been recommended for this sound.


ɣ for the 'voiced velar fricative' sound as in the colloquial pronunciation of g in German Lage.


ʼ for the 'glottal stop', as in Hausa aʼa (no).


(iv) It is recommended that the Affricate Consonants be represented by groups of two letters thus: pf as in German hapfen, bv the corresponding voiced sound, ts as the German z, dz the corresponding voiced sound, the sound of English ch, the sound of English j. In some cases it is advisable to dispense with and and use the single letters c and j in their place.


(v) It is recommended that consonants pronounced with simultaneous 'glottal stop' be represented thus: , , , , tsʼ, &c.; e.g. Hausa kʼofa (door). It seems preferable to write the ʼ before the y in the combination of ʼ and y occurring in Hausa, as in ʼyaʼya (children).


(vi) Implosive Sounds. Implosive sounds are consonants of plosive nature formed by a sucking in of the air./1 In many languages glottal closure accompanies an implosive consonant, but the exact nature of the sound is not yet definitely known in every case. To represent the peculiar character of these sounds, the ordinary letters preceded by an apostrophe are recommended: thus ʼb, ʼd, ʼg. It frequently happens that a language contains only one implosive sound, namely implosive b; for such a case the special letter ɓ is recom-




mended. The letter ɗ is recommended for use in those languages where implosive d also occurs.


In many dialects of Ibo an implosive b is found, while in other dialects the corresponding sound is gb. For Union Ibo the spelling gb has been adopted, because this notation is used in neighbouring languages and in some of the existing Ibo literature.


(vii) Dental Sounds. In the new orthographies for Bari, Nuer, Dinka, Shilluk, and other Sudanic languages where the distinction between dental t, d, n and alveolar t, d, n is found, the notation th, dh, nh has been adopted for the dental sounds. Such a device is only possible in languages which do not contain aspirated t.


(viii) Lateral Sounds. A decision is likely to be reached in South Africa itself in the near future as to the writing of the lateral sounds and clicks which occur in South African languages. We therefore give here only the present spelling and the letters suggested by Dr. C. M. Doke.

Present Spelling.





for laterally exploded t.



for aspirated tl.



for lateral s (voiceless fricative l).


for lateral z (voiced fricative l).


The current use of hl and dhl to represent single sounds is far from satisfactory. In comparison with this Dr. Doke's suggestions, even though they introduce two new letters, are an improvement.


(ix) Clicks. The letters at present in use in South Africa to represent clicks are:

c for the dental click

q for the retroflex click

x for the lateral click.

There exist also the following click‑combinations:























(Here nc, nq, nx indicate n followed by a click, while ŋc, ŋq, ŋx denote

clicks completely nasalized throughout.)

As the letters c and x are used in other languages to represent quite

different sounds, and as the clicks are sounds of a very special nature,

it has been suggested that special signs should be used for them. The

following letters have been recommended:

ʇ for c

ʗfor q

ʖ for x




It should be noted, however, that the only important languages containing clicks are found in South Africa. Moreover, even if the new symbols for the clicks were adopted, it would still be necessary to use the letters g and ŋ in special conventional senses differing from those which they have in other languages, namely g for denoting voice, and ŋ for denoting nasalization (not a separate nasal consonant).


It is therefore doubtful whether in these circumstances the introduction of new symbols for the clicks themselves is feasible./1


In Nama, a dialect of Hottentot, other symbols for clicks have been used for some time. These are:


ǀ for the dental click;

ǂ for the alveolar click;

ǃ for the retroflex click;

ǁ for the lateral click.


As Nama is a language of little importance and somewhat removed from the other languages in which clicks occur, it will no doubt be best not to alter the existing spelling.


(x) Labialization. In the new alphabet for the Shona dialects the letters ʂ and ʐ have been adopted to represent labialized s and z.


A symbol seems desirable for 'front labialization' which plays an important part in the grammar of the languages of the Suto‑Chwana group. Tucker has suggested ɥ for this purpose (see Suggestions for the Spelling of Transvaal Sesuto, pp. 15 ‑18) .




3. The vowel letters a, e, i, o, u shall have the so‑called 'Italian' values. In cases where it is necessary to distinguish between a 'close' e and an 'open' e,/2 the letter e shall represent the close vowel and the special letter ɛ shall be used for the open vowel. And when it is necessary to distinguish between a 'close' o and an 'open' o/3, the letter o shall represent the close vowel and the special letter ɔ shall be used for the open vowel.


4. When a language contains a 'middle' o in addition to a close o and an open o, as in Ibo, the letter ɵ is recommended to represent the 'middle' o.


5. Central Vowels. There exist vowels of a 'neutral' or intermediate character, which are neither 'front' (like i, e) nor 'back' (like u, o). Such a sound is the first vowel in the English words about, along. There are numerous varieties of central vowels: some have lip‑rounding and others




have not; some are nearer to the front series and are therefore more e‑like, while others are nearer to the back series and are more o‑like.


6. When a language contains only one central vowel and this is e‑like, the letter ə is recommended for representing it. The letter o with the diacritic mark ̈, thus , is recommended for the representation of an o‑like central vowel. When in any language there are several central vowels which must be distinguished, it is difficult to avoid the use of diacritic marks. For example, in Nuer besides o, ɔ, and a there are three central vowels which cannot well be represented otherwise than by , ɔ̈, and .




7. It is recommended that diphthongs be represented by groups of letters, e.g. ai, ɛi, ei, au, ɔi. Ya and wa might also be regarded as diphthongs and could be written ia, ua, &c. But as the spellings ya and wa are in common use, their retention is recommended.




8. It is recommended that nasalized vowels be represented by the sign placed over the vowel‑letter.


9. It is not necessary in every case to indicate the nasalization of a vowel, particularly when a nasal consonant (m, n, ny, ŋ) precedes or follows it. Even in some cases where no nasal consonant is present the nasal sign can be omitted. For example, in Mende the word for 'in' is pronounced hũ, but as no other word occurs in the language in any way resembling it ‑ i.e. there is no hu ‑ there can be no doubt about the meaning. For this reason, and because the word is such a common one, it has been decided to leave out the nasalization mark in this word.


10. Good illustrations as to when and how far the use of nasalization marks can be omitted will be found in the New Ga Primer, Teachers' Handbook, by C. P. Moir, Chapter I, Notes on the new Ga Script (London, 1929).


11. The use hitherto made in certain languages of the letter n to indicate nasalization is not to be recommended, as it undoubtedly leads to misunderstanding.




12. It is recommended that long or doubled sounds be represented by doubling the letter. This applies to both consonants and vowels. Examples: Luganda siga (sow (verb)), sigga (scorpion); Akan ɔm (he gives), ɔmm (he does not give); Ewe godo (yonder), godoo (around), fa (to be cool), faa (freely).


13. In some cases, especially where the lengthening of a vowel can be used for expressing two different meanings, the mark ‑ following the letter may be used to denote length.




14. Vowel‑length, like nasalization, need not always be marked. It will suffice to mark it in those cases where vowel‑length is the only method of distinguishing words otherwise alike in all respects, but which differ in meaning or in grammatical usage.




15. In books for Africans, tones, generally speaking, need only be marked when they have a grammatical function, or when they serve to distinguish words alike in every other respect; and even then they may be sometimes omitted when the context makes it quite clear which word is intended. As a rule, it will suffice to mark the high or the low tone only.


16. For marking tones an accent above the vowel is recommended: thus high tone , low tone . Rising and falling tones may be represented, if necessary, by ǎ and respectively, and mid tone by . Examples: Ewe m (we), mi (you, pl.); l (seize), le (be), Efik m (me), m (here), mi (my), ef (shed), efe (flying squirrel), fe (which (interrog.)), (it flies). (The syllables here unmarked have low tones.)


17. Professor D. Jones recommends the following more comprehensive system of tone marks: ā for a high‑level tone, for a low‑level tone, for a high‑rising tone, for a low‑rising tone, for a high‑falling tone, for a low‑falling tone, for a rise‑fall, and ǎ for a fall‑rise.


18. This system may be recommended for those languages in which a more precise method of tone‑marking is necessary, and for scientific purposes. In certain languages, e.g. the Kru‑group, even these tone‑marks are not sufficient to show the whole tonal system of the language. It should be stated once more, however, that this Memorandum is concerned with the representation of tones only in so far as their marking is necessary for the understanding of the African.


Table of Sounds.


19. The letters recommended by the Institute are classified and set out systematically in the Sound Chart on p. 15.





1. Phonemes.


20. It often happens that two distinct sounds occur in a language, but the Native is not aware that they are different, or at most regards one of them as an unimportant variety of the other. This happens where one of the sounds occurs only in certain positions in connected speech, while the other never occurs in those positions.


21. Thus in English the k's in keep and collar are different sounds, but the use of these sounds is determined by the following vowel. Hence we regard




them as two varieties of k. The same applies to the k's in the French qui, quoi, and the German Kiel, Kuh.


22. Again, there are languages in which the sound ŋ occurs only in the groups ŋk, ŋg, ŋw, ŋh but not in any other circumstances. In such a language the ŋ may be regarded as a variety of n, and these combinations can be written nk, ng, nw, nh. For instance, the n in the Italian banca, lungo has the sound ŋ; but since ŋ does not occur in Italian as an independent sound (e.g. before a vowel), it may be regarded as a variety of n. On the contrary, in English and German, ŋ is not a variety of n, because both occur in identical positions; compare English sin, sing (phonetically sin, siŋ), German sinnen, singen (phonetically zinən, ziŋən).


23. There exist languages and dialectal variants of languages showing a tendency to give the velar pronunciation to every final nasal consonant, i.e. to substitute ŋ for every final m or n. If the pronunciation with m and n exists and ŋ is not found as a separate phoneme, it is better to write m and n and ignore the velar pronunciation.


24. If, on the other hand, ŋ is found in a language as a separate phoneme, it is recommended that the sound should be written ŋ wherever it occurs, that is to say not only before vowels but also before k, g, &c.


25. In Zulu there exist a 'close' e and an 'open' e. These sounds are, however, used in accordance with a certain principle of vowel harmony. Therefore they may for practical purposes be regarded as one speech‑unit in Zulu, and may be written with the single letter e. In the Akan language of West Africa the w in wu, wo, and is quite a distinct sound from the w in wi, we, and , but as the use of the two sounds is determined by the following vowel, they may be considered for practical purposes as one. In Kikuyu the sound g only occurs in the group ŋg, but the related sound ɣ occurs in other positions though never after ŋ; g and ɣ may, therefore, be treated as a single entity in Kikuyu. In Chwana a d‑like variety of l is used before i and u, but an ordinary l is used before all other vowels. The distinction is negligible from the point of view of the Natives.


26. The term Phoneme is used to denote any small family of sounds which may be regarded as a single entity for reasons such as those applying to the above examples.


27. In very many cases phonemes consist of only one sound. Thus phoneme and sound are identical in the case of English f, m, n, v, since the pronunciation of these sounds is not appreciably affected by neighbouring sounds in the sentence.


28. It is phonemes that serve to distinguish one word from another in every language. Thus the phonemes n and ŋ distinguish words in English and German, as mentioned above. Close and open e and o (i.e. e and ɛ, o and ɔ) distinguish words in French, most West African languages, Chwana,




Suto, and many other languages in other parts of Africa; they are separate phonemes in those languages.


2. Diaphones.


29. Very often different speakers of the same language pronounce the same word in somewhat different ways. For instance, the value of the a in bad is different in different parts of England. In French and in German r is sounded by some with the tip of the tongue and by others with the uvula.


30. The term Diaphone is used to denote a normal sound together with the variants of it heard from different speakers of the same language.




31. The following general principles should be observed in fixing the orthography of any particular language:


(1) The orthography of a given language should be based on the principle of one letter for each phoneme of that language. This means that whenever two words are distinguished in sound they must also be distinguished in orthography.


(2) The existence of diaphones must be recognized and allowed for. Thus Fante speakers of Akan pronounce the syllable di as dzi and ti as tsi; but the orthography di, ti is adequate for covering both pronunciations. Again, the Hausa f is pronounced in some dialects as labiodental f and in others as bi‑labial and in others as p; but the letter f can be used in orthography with the necessary conventions as to dialectal pronunciations.


(3) It may sometimes be convenient to depart from a strictly phonetic system, in order to avoid writing a word in more than one way. Thus it is better to write in Luganda soka oleke (wait a bit), although the pronunciation is sok oleke. Similarly, it is better to write in Akan ɔ hwɛ no (he saw him), although in many districts the final o is not pronounced. Again, it is preferable to write always the same form of the Akan word hwɛ, in spite of the fact that it is actually pronounced hwe when followed by a syllable containing i or u (as in ɔ hwɛ mu).


Similar considerations hold good for numerous other cases of vowel harmony in Akan and in other languages.


It must, however, be very definitely stated that the rules governing vowel harmony and assimilation in Akan and other languages are often numerous and complicated. It is not possible to formulate them once for all by means of a simple rule. The extent to which these phenomena should be reflected in current spelling must depend upon the special phonetic and grammatical usages of each particular language.




(4) As a concession to existing usage an ordinary Roman letter may sometimes be used in place of one of the special new letters, when the sound denoted by the Roman letter does not occur in the language. Thus f may be used instead of in writing Sechwana, because the labio‑dental f does not occur in that language. Similarly, s may be used instead of ʃ in writing Oshikuanyama because an ordinary s does not occur in that language. Again, if every t in a language is retroflex, the letter t can be used to represent it; it is not necessary to employ the special symbol for the retroflex sound. In Hausa there exists a ts combined with glottal stop (tsʼ); this sound is replaced in some dialects by sʼ and in others by . As, however, the language has no ts without glottal stop, it is recommended that the sound be written simply ts without marking the glottal stop.




32. A table is subjoined showing the printed capital forms of the most important of the special letters, also the handwriting forms of both small and capital letters. Information as to the precise forms of other letters may be had on application to the Institute.


[click for table]






The following is recommended as the alphabetical order of the principal letters:


a b ɓ c d ɖ e ɛ ə f g ɣ h x i j k l m n ŋ o ɔ p r s ʃ t u v ʋ w y z ʒ ʼ


Nasal vowels should follow ordinary vowels, and central vowels should follow nasal vowels, thus: o . Other new letters should follow those from which they are derived: thus ɖ should follow d, and ʂ should follow s. If special letters are introduced to represent clicks, it is suggested that they be placed at the end of the alphabet.


It is recommended that in vocabularies and dictionaries words beginning with digraphs (dy, dz, , kp, ts, , &c.) be placed in separate groups following all the words beginning with simple d, k, t, &c.


Names of the Consonant Letters.


































































(The specimens illustrating the languages marked * are taken from books in which the new orthography is employed.)




Ɔdɔ dwo ne ani, ne yam ye, ɔdɔ nyɛ ahɔyaw, ɔdɔ nyɛ ahoahoa, eŋhoraŋ, ɛnyɛ neh sɛnea emfata, eŋhwehwɛ nea ɛyɛ ne aŋkasa de, ne bo ŋhaw no, ɛmfa bone ŋhyɛ ne yam, ne ani nye nea ɛntẽɛ h, na ɛne nokware ani gye, etie a ade nnyina, egye ade nnyina di, enya ade nnyina mu anidaso. Ɔdɔ to ntwa da. Na afei gyidi, ɔdɔ, anidaso na etr hɔ, na ɔdɔ na ɛne mu kɛse.


(From 'Ɛha amanne kwaŋ so aware Ɛsɔ Ŋhyira', p. 7)




Kŋo sogo bee yi i nyog la dye k u be dlo d u ko sogo o sogo bee ka na ni nyo more more ye. Sogo bee nana n ata ye. Suruku ba e o me mi ŋke a y ala muru ba ta, a bina a da la dia la.




Tlhaloxanyɔ ya tIou xoŋwe yane ekete ke ya motho. Betʃwana ba boxoloxolo bare tlou ekile ya foloxɛla mo nokeŋ ya Sampisi, ya fitlha ya nwa.




Erile e santse e nwa, ya utlwa kwena e e kapa ka selɔpɔ, ere e e xɔxɛla mo metsiŋ. Kefa tlou e inola kwena, e e tʃholetsa ka selɔpɔ, e e kakamara, e e isa ko, naxeŋ, kxakalakxakala le noka. Erile e fitlha ko likakeŋ ya baya kwena fa fatshe, yare: 'kana orile oa m polaya? Sala jalo hɛ, ke bɔnɛ, xore a o tla tshela kwa ntlɛ xa metse !'




Ngokolo na dibobɛ ba ta dikɔm, ba yenga babɔ babanɛ ponda yɛsɛ. Nde ba ta ba ja o ekwali bunya bɔɔ, nde na, ngɔkɔlɔ e kwalanɛ dibobɛ na: A dikɔm lam la ndolo, na malangwea nde oa na mbalɛ, bato ba si masenga, be ndɔki.

(From a text in Africa, vol. ii, P. 72, Jan. 1929.)




Tiŋ enyin tim se uŋwana oro, neŋere tiene enye; ke ntre ke afo edikut inua‑otop oro; tuak, ndien mɔ eyeteme fi se afo edinamde. Ndien ŋkokut ke ndap mi nte owo oro otibide itɔk efege. Ekem enye ika‑ikaha kaŋa anyan usuŋ ikpɔŋ ufɔk esie; ndien kadaŋemi ŋwan esie ye nditɔ esie ekutde, mɔ etɔŋɔ ndifiori ŋkot enye, ete afiak edi; edi enye esin nuenubɔk ke utɔŋ, efege itɔk, ete, 'Uwem ! uwem ! nsi‑nsi uwem !'




Asime. Asi ɖina le tee geɖewo le ŋkeke ene sia ŋkeke ene megbe. Ame geɖewo va oa u ɖe afima. Wotsɔa bli, te, mɔli, agbeli, fofoŋ, fetri, agbitsa, atadi kple kutsetse bubu geɖewo, ɖetifu, de, nɛi, amidzẽ, nɛmi, yɔkumi kple nu bubu geɖewo va dzrana. Ga si woxona la, wotsɔnɛ lea avɔ, ɖeti, atama, sukli, kple ŋudɔwɔnu siwo wohi. Ɖeviwo lɔ̃a asimedede.

(From 'Eʋegbegbalɛ̃xɛxlɛ̃ na Gɔmedzelawo', p. 64.)




Dʒata ko hi ʃi yɛ dʒeŋ ahu. Agbɛnɛ egbɔ hewɔ lɛ enyẽẽ emomo hewalɛ na doŋŋ. Enɛ hewɔ lɛ eyak ʃi yɛ ebu lɛ mli akɛ ehe mi‑ ye. Koloi lɛ ba eŋo ekome‑kome ni amɛbasra lɛ yɛ ebu lɛ mli. Osɔ le ene fẽ hewɔ lɛ ete koni eyasra dʒata helatʃɛ ne. Beni ete lɛ, ebotee bu lɛ mli. Edamɔ sɛ, foŋŋ ni ebi dʒata lɛ akɛ, 'Helatʃɛ ! te oyɔ teŋŋ ?'

(From the New Ga Primer, by C. P. Moir, Part 2, p. 24.)




Uʃɛsu udi kwizɛulu, nadiile iʒina dyako, nabuzize buɔneki bwako, nalutʃitwe luzando lwako anʃi ano ubudi kwizeulu. Ʃidyo nʃi tubula utupe bwasunu. Utulekelɛle milandu, bubɔna mbu tubalekelɛle kale obadi milandu kudi uswɛ. Utatuenʒa mu kutepaulwa, utuʋune ku bubiabe. Ukuti buɔneki mbu bwako, iinsana, obulɛmu, ʃikwense o ʃikwense.






Ide wito we igoro, reetwa reaku nereamoroɔ. Odamaki waku ookɛ. Ɔ orea wɛndɛtɛ wɛ, newekagwɔ goko de, ɔ ta orea wekagwɔ kou igoro. Tohɛ omode iriɔ ciito cia gotoigana. Na otorɛkɛrɛ madire maito, ɔ ta orea idue torɛkagera area mare na madire maito. Na ndogatotwarɛ magɛriɔ‑ine, nɔ kohɔnɔkia otohɔnɔkagiɛ ooru‑ine.




Bowase atolimba ɔnɔkɔ.

Mbuu esoofeta.

Bosokola ngwa nda liulu, inde koicakae anyo.

Itɔɔ kwa ʃa ombolo wa koba.

Loo loca okuki, angowa ae kosinga.




Mu gɔnɛi gbe, ngi mayomboi manyɛingɔ, tɛli lɔ hu kɛ kolei.

Ngi yamɛisia gbe kea ta vo do.

A kulɔlɔ a foloi kɛ kpindii.

Ta hani manɛma tɛnga nyina mia.

Ta hei kpɛ, ngi wolii mia a sɛsia.

Ngi longɔ i ye hanii hou ngi lenga va.

(From 'Koyɛima kaa Gɔlɔisia', Yehalayɛi, p. 2 5)




Mphepo yakumpoto ndidzua zinali kumenyana, imodzi yaizo inati ine ndiri wamphamvu kupambana iwe, ndipo inzace inati iai ine ndiri wamphamvu kupambana iwe. Koma zinaona, mlendo mmodzi alikupita anabvala ntsaru yorimba ndithu, zinapaŋgana ndani abvule ntsaru yamlendo uyu adzaitanidwa wamkulu kupambana mnzace. Mphepo yakumpoto inaomba kwambiri koma iŋgakhale inaomba ndithu, mlendo uja anagwiritsa ntsaru yace. Ndipo mphepo yakumpoto inalephera kumbvula ntsaru, ndipo dzua linaturuka ndikutentha ndithu. Mlendo anamasula ntsaru yace ndikucotsa yontse, ndipo mphepo yakumpoto inati wanditha ndiwe mfumu.




Moleta ŋwedi o leta lefsifsi.

Moruswana xe o tshela lefao o eletʃa o moŋ.

Pshiu tʃa tlou xa di pataxanywe.

Mpʃa e tala e bolaya ka xo tsoxɛla.

A e tswhe dibza.

Mokxola morithi xa se modudi wa ɔna.




Xa o tʃhaba pula o tʃhabe modumo; xa o tʃhaba marotholodi a pula, ea, xonela.

(Mma, tʃaka xe diapɥa se ʃetʃe; ke pɥhapɥha diatla, ka lesa tʃampholoxa ka maxetla.)/1




Ya yito ki gin dɔc. Agin? Ya yiti riŋo. Dɔc, kani yuk othal wa. Riŋo mi awany ki kɛli lum. Kani loth o yiejo nak. Yanythɛnho anaki yiec ma gir. Kɛtho wak dway yuk. Ya yito ki tɔŋ mia ma dɔc. Ya dwato bɛth ki loth anan. Gin cam athal? Ŋɛ! Dɛ wa bɛ cam. Wa ocamo, anan.

(From 'Wanyo Kipa Tiiŋ Gwɛt' No. 1, p. 11.)


Shona (Zezuru Dialect).


Ruŋgano rwaTsuro naHamba.


Ʋakafurirana, kundocera. tsime. ino Tsuro akaramba. Hamba wakaenda kundotʂaga ʋanaƩumba. ino, ʋanaƩumba ʋakacera tsime. ino Tsuro, wakauya kuzoɓa mvura. Akauya namaɗende, ake. Akawana Hamba, aripo. Akamuwona, akatiza.


Rimŋe zuʋa akawana, Hamba akahwanda mumvura. ino, akaɗa kucera, mvura. Hamba akaɓata ruwoko rwaTsuro. ino, Tsuro akati, 'Rega kundiɓata.' Tsuro akati, 'Rega, ndinokutʂagira huci.' Hamba waregera Tsuro. ino, Tsuro wakapa huci kunaƩumba. Tsuro wakati,'Rega, nditaŋge ndakusuŋga sekuru'. ino, Tsuro wakayisa mabge muhuci. Akayisa mabge mukanwa maƩumba. ino, Tsuro, wakasimuka oroʋa Ʃurnba.


Shona (Karanga Dialect).


Ʃuro, icinyeŋgere‑ʃumba.


Rimŋe zuʋa ʃuro, yakaʃoŋgana neʃumba, ikati, 'Sekuru munoʂakei?' Ʃumba ikati, 'Ndinovima.' Ʃuro ikati, 'Cihendei kugomo, muŋgondoʋata, makaita majaɗa pamukwara wemhuka, ini ndigondodziŋge‑mhuka mugomo, imi makagaridzira.' Nambera ʃuro inonyeŋgere‑ʃumba, kuti ʃumba igotakwa nebge rinokuŋguruswa mugomo, neʃuro. ino ʃumba yakandoʋatapo, ndokuhwa hurumatanda. dziciʋirima dzicibvo‑mugomo. Ʃumba ndokuʋata paɗiʋi, mabge aya ndokupfuʋura. Ʃumba ndokudzokera, paya payasiyiwa neʃuro, ndokuʋata ʐe yakaita maneɗe. ino ʃuro, ndokuʋaŋga, ndokuti, 'Ndakaŋguʋa ndarubvira, rwokuʋuraye‑ʃumba!' ino ikati icitore‑ɓaŋga rokuʋuraye‑ʃumba, ʃumba ndokuɓate‑ʃuro, mambaʋa ndokuwadzuka, ʃuro, ndokutiza icidziŋgana neʃumba. Ʃuro ndokupinda mugwiriŋgwindi, ʃumba ndokuɓato‑mŋise weʃuro. Ʃuro ikati, 'Mandikoniwa maɓato‑mudzi!' Ʃumba ndokuregedza. Ʃuro ikati, 'Ohii, hamuzandikoniwa!' Ndokugara mumŋena kuʂika ʃumba yainda.






Woŋ fafe, naxaŋ na ariana, i xili xa sɛniyeŋ. I yamanɛ xa fa. I sago xa niŋa dunia ma, alɔ a niŋaxi ariana kɛnaxai. Woŋ ki to woŋma lɔxɔ o lɔxɔ doŋse ra. Anuŋ ixa woŋma fekobi kafari, alɔ woŋtaŋ nee kafarima kɛnaxai naxaŋ fekobi niŋa woŋ ra. Anuŋ i nama woŋ raso fekobi maniŋa. Kɔnɔ i xi woŋ rakisi fekobi ma. Katugu itaŋ naŋ gbe yamanɛ ra, anuŋ sɛmbɛ anuŋ yigi ra abada anuŋ abada.




Akanena yule mtume: 'Ee Muungu wangu, aliyecukua feza mtu mgine, na aliyeuawa mgine, amezulumiwa yule.' Mwenyiezi Muungu akamʃuʃia walii akamwambia: 'Wewe tazama ibada yako, na ukitaka mambo haya, si kazi yako.' Akamwambia: 'Baba yake yule wa kwanza alimnyaŋanya dinar alf katika mali za babae yule kijana, hamleta yule kijana kuja twaa mali ya babae. Na yule mcanja kuni alimua babae yule wa kwanza hamleta kijana kuja kutoa kisasi tya babae.'/1




Hawa ɔ yi ro rɔ su.

A lɔkɔ o lɔkɔ ɔ ti kɔ ro karaŋde.

Hawa o ti karaŋ akafa kətɔtɔkɔ kaake.

Ɔ karaŋ mump məfinɔ ɔ yema ŋa.

Anfəm ŋa Hawa ɔ bɔnɛ ŋa tək karaŋ ka ɔwan kaŋaŋ.

Hawa ɔ karaŋ akafa ka ɔkas kɔŋ yi ɔya kɔŋ.

Aŋ yema yi ɔbana.

(From 'Atafa Takarŋ ta Koyɛima', Kətɔtɔkɔ, p. 13).




Kwathi xa umoya wase zantsi wauphikisana ne laŋga ukuɓa ŋguwuphina onamanlʒa kuɓo ɓoɓaɓini, kwa fika urnhambi ambethe iŋguɓo efudumeleyo. Ƃavumelana ukuɓa oŋgaqala a mendze umhambi ukuɓa alaɬe iŋguɓo yakhe woɓa woyisile. Utheke umoya wase zantsi wavuthuza ŋgawo oŋke amanlʒa awo, kwathi okukhona uvuthuzayo kwaɓa kokukhona umhambi ayisondezayo iŋguɓo yakhe. Ekupheleni umoya wase zantsi wancama. Laza ke lona ilaŋga la khanya ŋgokuʃuʃu, waza umhambi wayilaɬa iŋguɓo. Wavumake umoya wase zantsi ukuɓa lilaŋga elinarnalʒa.






Ida li akɔ. Aroko, tu ile. Ɔmɔbirĩ wɛ ɔwɔ rɛ. Onile ra iʃu. Ki ɛ duro, de wa nihyi titi awa o fi lɔ si ɔhũ. Ŋwɔ su adi. Apɔ̃ da ɛkɔ̃. Aŋwo aroko ro oko. Ɛ nyĩ fa kɛkɛ. Awa bɛ nyi. Alase se onjɛ. Ʃile mɛta ni yi. Mo, ri ɛgbɔ̃. Ewurɛ jɛ koriko. Ɔro otitɔ li o ŋsɔ. Ŋwɔ ŋlu agogo ile‑ɛkɔ wa.




Aɓelungu ɓahamba ngemikhumbi, ɓayizingele. Ƃaphatha imikhonto eminingi emikhulu, enezintlenlʒa, nezintambo nemiphongolo emingi. Ƃathi qedi ɓafike elwanlʒe umkhomo uɓonakale, ɓasondela, kaɬe ɓathekelezele intambo emkhontweni ɓawugwaze.

(Adapted from the version in Doke's Phonetics of Zulu, p. 279.)


Thanks to Dr. Konrad Tuchscherer of the Dept. of History at St. John's University for furnishing us with an original copy of this document to scan. Appropriate permissions being sought.

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