Writing Sytems of the African Continent

This is also Appendix II (Section 12.2) of the Survey Document

When considering localisation on the African continent, it is often necessary to consider the issue of scripts used. Pages on the major scripts give background (historic, technical with regard to computing in Africa) and brief overviews of technical issues important to localisation.

Africa has quite a number of alphabets, especially if one includes those that never achieved wide or sustained use. This list includes in addition to those that are well established in terms of usage (current and/or historic) and incorporation in international standards, other scripts that are either currently used by some significant population but not yet recognized in standards (such as Mandombe), or are recognized in standards even if they were never widely used (such as Loma).

1.  List of scripts used in Africa

1.1  Major scripts used in many countries for many languages

1.2  Regionally important scripts

1.3  Language-specific scripts

Some of these are no longer in active use.

1.4  Historically important scripts

2.  Overview

2.1  Use of diverse writing systems in Africa

The whole continent to one degree or another uses the Latin script even in regions where other scripts are dominant. This is a legacy of colonial history and current global realities. And indeed, many countries, especially south of the Sahara, use only this script, although often with additional modified characters.

There are of course living writing systems established much earlier on the continent (Tifinagh, Ge'ez/Ethiopic, Arabic), as well as other newer indigenous ones (such as Vai, Mende KiKaKui, Bamum, N'ko, and Mandombe).

2.2  Other ways of looking at what is a "writing system"

There are other ways to look at what is a "writing system" that include various kinds of designs and graphical elements that can be used individually or in combinations to convey various concepts and ideas. The African Writing Systems website mentioned below has some information on these.

In the context of localization, however, we are focusing on scripts that represent the full range of a language's communication.

3.  Some websites about writing systems in Africa

3.1  General

3.2  Character/alphabet information

4.  Codes for the representation of names of scripts

The ISO 15924 standard defines 4-letter codes and 3-number codes for various writing systems, including many of the above. These may be used in the locale defitions or in HTML markup, but in most cases they are not necessary (you would not need to use a code for Arabic script for a webpage in Arabic language, for instance). For a complete list of the codes, see http://www.unicode.org/iso15924/iso15924-codes.html .

These codes are also available as part of the IANA registry of codes at http://www.iana.org/assignments/language-subtag-registry

5.  Issues in the display of text in African languages

A brief overview of ways people adapt African language orthographies for text in ICT is given in a revised version of an article from several years ago: African Language Text Issues.

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