Jun 15, 2007


Written by Judy B.

Imagine picking up a booklet that contains vital information on the prevention of deadly diseases prevalent in your homeland and having no idea what it is telling you to do to protect yourself. Imagine seeing a jumble of symbols that make absolutely no sense to you, but for privileged others they hold the very words of God. Now, imagine that for the very first time, you hold in your hands an alphabet chart in your very own language. Can you imagine what exciting and enormous potential it holds?

In Musoma, Tanzania, events are taking place to make the dream of a written language, a reality for the speakers of eight Bantu languages - approximately 750,000 people! A series of workshops are underway to develop the orthographies (writing systems) for these languages. These workshops are being held in Musoma, the Regional capital located on the shores of Lake Victoria.

mara.lake_vic_shorelineThe shores of Lake Victoria (Musoma, Tanzania)

Already, roughly 7,000 words have been collected and alphabet charts with experimental orthographies have been created in four of the languages. At the most recent workshop, participants were asked to write up a traditional folk story from their language using the newly agreed upon trial orthographies and spelling rules. After careful crafting of their stories, a representative from each language team was selected to read the story aloud. This was the first time that anything had been written in these four languages, and the enormity of the moment had a particularly dramatic effect on the reader from the Simbiti language group. In a culture where men are rarely seen to cry in public, Julius, tears welling in his eyes, struggled to compose himself as he prepared to read. The idea that his language could be written had simply overwhelmed him.  

mara.juliusJulius as he prepares to read his Simbiti language
for the first time (Musoma, Tanzania)

During the next year, work in the other four languages of the cluster will begin, thousands more words will be collected, and alphabet charts and other materials will have been produced. The goal is to have adequate orthographies for all eight languages by late 2008, which will clear the way for translation to begin. Now imagine that! 

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