Why writing languages with strange characters?

When writing a language, we have to render the different sounds of it into characters, without imitating stupidly any other language orthography. That may help, of course, but that has to be done with logic and taking into account the specificities of the language involved. The (international) phonetic alphabet would be a bit heavy for use in a standard orthography, but French or English alphabets for instance, don't always fall short of bantu specificities. One has then to resort to a set of characters that may disturb a non-linguist. The aim of this page is to convince, with examples in Lingala (which is far from being to most complex case), those who are still reluctant to use special characters for their language. Two aspects will be tackled: vowel aperture and tones.

Vowel aperture, roughly speaking, refers to the degree of openness of articulation; In our case, we find two kinds of "o" and two of "e". If we transcribe them the same way, we produce a confusion that never happens orally.

elenge  eleŋge  stove sp.bantu voice (stove, young)
 elɛŋgɛ  young person 

Prosodic features are things like the accent or tones, and because of the semantic values they bear, we should include them in writing. Compare:

 mbata   mbatá  slapbantu voice (slap, sheep)
 mbáta  sheep 


 mbala   mbala  timebantu voice (time, yam)
 mbálá  yam 

In context, the need for distinction is even strengthened:

 mbala moko   mbala mɔ́kɔ́  oncebantu voice (one time, one yam)
 mbálá mɔ́kɔ́  one yam 

If we have simultaneously phonetic and prosodic differences, the confusion brought by an "insipid" orthography is still more obvious:

 moto   moto  person bantu voice (person, fire)
 mɔ́tɔ  fire 

The language also makes use of tones to differentiate tenses in conjugation.

 kokoma   kokoma  write bantu voice (write, become)
 kokóma  become 


 nakokoma   nakokoma  I'll write bantu voice (I'll write, I'll become, I'm writing, I'm becoming)
 nakokóma  I'll become 
 năkokoma  I'm writing 
 năkokóma  I'm becoming 

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Jacky Maniacky    ||   www.bantu-languages.com/en/characspe.html