The Nyakyusa Blog

This blog aims to be a forum for exchanging information related to work and research on the Nyakyusa language as well as topics on Nyakyusa culture.

Nyakyusa Spelling

Spelling conventionsPosted by Knut Felberg Monday, February 12 2007 21:43

The spelling of a "more or less unwritten" language may open up for a number of interesting challenges. Nyakyusa has but a few, however they should be resolved in a proper way and future printed materials in Nyakyusa should as far as possible follow whatever can be agreed upon as a standard.

One main problem with languages being put into written form by untrained people is that many of them seem to believe that every language should be spelled like English. The scary part is that even the newest bible translation (into Konde) follows this 26 letter system. Luckily, some of the people dealing with Nyakyusa around 1900, had more of a linguistic common sense.

As can be seen explained in the Nyakyusa dictionary, Nyakyusa has 30 phonemes, 7 of which are long vowels (written double).

Issue #1 Vowels

Having 7 vowels already creates a problem from the English or Swahili list of letters. Early writers added the two symbols i-underdot (unicode ị) and u-underdot (unicode &#7909) for the two additional symbols necessary.

In 1996 when the Nyakyusa dictionary was sent to the printer, we were in PC-neanderthal times and so the letters i-accent-aigü (í) and u-accent-aigü (ú) were chosen. This was to be honest more from a keyboard practicality point of view anno 1996 than anything else. From an English/Swahili perspective it may not be a bad choice, but from a general Bantu perspective where these symbols frequently symbolize tonal distinction they may not be so smart. Nyakyusa not having tones, this is of course not of local relevance.

Whichever way one looks at it, the important thing is to distinguish the two extra vowel sounds in writing.

Issue #2 the letters NG' NG and ND

Again following convention, the letter NG' (representing the final consonant sound in the English word "sing") to be distinguished from the letter combination NG (representing the consonant cluster sound in the English word "finger") is a spelling convention from Swahili.

The letter D does not really exist, exept after N, which possibly indicates a voiced T rather than a D. The pronunciation however, is clear.

Issue #3 the -NYA- and -NÍA- combinations

Does anyone have a better solution?

  • Comments(5)

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Posted by Peter Mwangalawa Saturday, August 23 2008 13:24

I found this blog by chance, it seems I am one year late. Can the owners please reactivate.

Posted by Mwangobole Phillip Thursday, July 19 2007 19:27

Are there any Nyakyusa language academics. I think they could help.

Posted by Phillip Mwangobole Thursday, May 24 2007 21:19

Is this forun still active

Posted by Don Osborn Monday, April 09 2007 19:19

Quick comments:

#1 This situation sounds a bit like what has happened for some Nigerian languages. Lack of fonts with "subdot" characters (also used for a number of languages mainly in the south of the country) led people to use whatever was available in the ANSI / ISO-8859-1 based fonts. Now with Unicode more dominant, one can come "full circle" but it is confusing. Not sure what to suggest, but see #2 below re harmonization with other uses (point number 3).

#2 Three factors seem to stand out: 1) consistency in representation; 2) recognizable by users; and 3) harmonized with uses in other languages to the extent possible (i.e., ng' , as in Swahili rather than ŋ ["eng" - Unicode dec 331], which is more commonly used in West Africa).

#3 Not enough information to comment. If it is the palatal n (ny in English, ñ in Spanish) then nya perhaps. Nia sometimes is read as "knee-ah" in English. Not sure how nía would be read.

Posted by ZHAO MWANGESILE Wednesday, March 14 2007 10:50

we will share this next time