Article published in:Language Documentation and Endangerment in Africa
Edited by James Essegbey, Brent Henderson and Fiona Mc Laughlin
[Culture and Language Use 17] 2015
► pp. 153–176
“Is this my language?”
Developing a writing system for an endangered-language community
It used to be taken for granted that language documenters would develop an orthography for the language which they document in cases where no writing system exists already. Such systems facilitate the production of materials for revitalization of the languages. Lately however questions have been raised as to whether the time and money expended in such endeavors are worth it. Two main reasons are that the orthographies are not often used anyway and, where they are successful, since they are often standard orthographies, they destroy variation in languages. In this paper, I argue that standardization goes with literacy development, and is desirable in situations where it is clear that such languages would be used in school situations. However, most languages of endangered communities do not have any prospect of being used in school. Because of this rather than focus on the development of a standard orthography system, documenters should rather develop systems that enable communities to write in the vernacular. Such systems use “orthographic transcription” which minimally ensures the association of sounds with letters. Beyond that, speakers are allowed to write as they speak. This means that colloquial expressions and dialectal differences would be incorporated into the system of writing. The advantage of this system is that adults particularly do not have to spend a long time learning to represent their languages in ways that may not necessarily be the same as the way they speak. I discuss the experience I had with Nyagbo where my development of a vernacular writing system proved more successful with the community than an attempt to develop a standard orthography.
Published online: 22 October 2015
Cited by 2 other publications
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