Monthly Archives: January 2012

Recent book on standardization of Gabonese languages

Ecriture et Standardisation des Langues Gabonaises, sous la direction de Jacques Hubert & Paul Achille Mavoungou (Stellenbosch: Sun Press, 2010). From back cover: “The language situation of Gabon is given fair treatment and specific issues of alphabet and writing, orthography and standardisation, phonology and graphic representation are discussed and resolved. Standardisation of orthography is also argued for as a way to facilitate the development of dictionaries and the sharing of research data and analyses within the Gabonese language clusters’ domain. Importantly, this work contributes to the debate on the state of African languages in general, and on Gabonese languages specifically that hitherto have had little fortune in being reduced to a written code. The need for research to empower Gabonese languages through their development is argued.” (Andy Chebanne, Centre for the Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS), Cape Town.) Contributions are all in French.

Categories: African Languages, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Ethiopic Manuscript Imaging Project

Steve Delamarter shares the experience of the EMIP project, where the cataloging is done by Prof. Getachew Haile of HMML in Collegeville, Minnesota:  “Catalogues and Digitization for Previously Uncatalogued Ethiopian Manuscripts in England and North America“, XVIth Annual Conference of Ethiopian Studies/፲፮ኛው የኢትዮጵያ ጥናት ዓለም አቀፍ ጉባኤ , Trondheim, 2009 (pp. 1305-1316).

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African Ethnonyms and Toponyms

An excellent annotated bibliography on the subject of ethnonyms and toponyms in Africa, by Dr. Atoma Batoma, from the Electronic Journal of Africana Bibliography, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal.

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Draft Romanization Table for Tamazight

To be reviewed at ALA Midwinter on Sunday:  Tamazight.  Your comments welcome!

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Map Challenge, no. 1

Courtesy of Dr. Baba Mamady Diané at Cairo University, a map of Guinea, in the N’ko script.
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Lernfreiheit und die Khoisan-Sprachen

In an earlier post, we’d had a look at some of the characters used for clicks in Khoesan languages:  to review, ǂ, ǃ, ǁ, ǀ, and ʘ.

Where do you find these on the keyboard?  We’ll get to that.  First, let’s take a look at why these characters exist, how they are used in print and digital materials, changes in print technology, and the state of bibliographic data that uses them.

A German colleague, Dr. Hartmut Bergenthum at the Frankfurt University Library, wrote responding to the last post I had on this, raising points about the current ‘state of the art’, but the story begins in Germany much earlier, when it was still Prussia, and there was an Egyptologist by the name of Karl Lepsius.

Lepsius had the idea, around 1855, that there would need to be a way to transcribe content in spoken languages into written form, and there would not always be a way to do this in an accurate and consistent way when limited strictly to the Latin alphabet.  Extensions to the alphabet were proposed for linguists and missionaries working in the field, and over time they changed a little, but it remained a fairly stable set as it evolved through successive standards, essentially into what is now the International Phonetic Alphabet, and extended Latin ranges of the Universal Character Set.  The characters included found their way into common, practical usage in print traditions.

There was a bit of interlude in print technology, with a shift toward mass production, in the postwar and late colonial period.  Although the orthographies remained fairly stable, the technology available to produce them had shifted, even as African countries were gaining their independence (but largely keeping mass print activity limited to official, that is, ‘colonial’ languages).  Typewriters and linotype machines were scarce on the continent, even moreso for the kind that would handle extended Latin, and literacy rates were low enough that there was no real push for implementing technological support for local languages as industrial standards.  In the 1960s and 1970s, much of the print material produced in African languages was typescript, often with handwritten modifications to produce extended characters.  In 1977, Lucia Rather at the Library of Congress wrote an article mentioning that after having broadened support for Asian languages, characters for African languages were among the next on the list to be slated for technical and policy support.

Back to Germany.  In 1979, an international standard was proposed with the assistance of the Deutsches Institut für Normung, ISO 6438, for the bibliographic information interchange of characters used in African languages.  If I’m following this correctly, it became a formally adopted ISO standard in 1983, was revised in 1996, and its characters were brought into Unicode between 1991 and 1998.

Back to Washington.  Library of Congress Rule Interpretation 1.0E, in the form that it took in the mid-1980s, attempted to cover the issue by providing a rule whereby approximate equivalent characters from the Latin alphabet would be input, each with a double underscore.  Although perhaps the only real solution available at the time, it is one that has been perpetuated by the much more recent Library of Congress Policy Statement 1.4.

Back to Germany.  This is where Dr. Bergenthum notes the cataloging rule in place there:

“Nichtlateinische Schriftzeichen, die in Sprachen vorkommen, die lateinische Schrift verwenden, werden nach Möglichkeit vorlagegemäß wiedergegeben. Andernfalls werden sie gemäß der für sie in § 803,5 festgelegten Ordnung umgeschrieben.”

Extended Latin characters for Khoesan clicks would all be rendered as ‘zz’.

Now to Dublin (Ohio), where the palatal click (ǂ) has been enshrined into the Connexion client as a field delimiter, precluding its use at least until a future upgrade, from the exchange of bibliographic information, be it in print or electronic format.  (Wouldn’t the double dagger () be an acceptable substitute, one may ask? No, and even if it were, it faces the same difficulty by virtue of being the character used as the field delimiter in the Voyager cataloging client software.)

The upshot from all of this is that, if you are a researcher, the title of the book you are looking for may be found if you just remember that if you haven’t found it entered as, for example:

“|Xoa nǃanga o nǁoaqǃ’ae ga”

it may have been entered as:

IXoa n!anga o nIIoaq!’ae ga


zzXoa nzzanga o Nzzoaqzz’ae ga“.

At least, until such time that library systems vendors and cataloging policy are able to catch up.

To 1855.

Oh, the input method?  You can find one here.

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The year ahead

Jan. 6:  ALA Poster session proposals due.

Jan. 14:  Deadline for proposals for Africa Section of IFLA conference in Helsinki.

Jan. 15: Deadline for paper proposals for an AEGIS-sponsored thematic conference on African literature in Mainz.

Jan. 15: Deadline for poster proposals for an ASIS-sponsored information architecture summit in New Orleans.

Jan. 20-24: ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas.

Jan. 30: Africa Gathering in Kampala.

Feb. 6-9: Code4Lib 2012 in Seattle.

Feb. 8-9:  IFLA Africa Section Midterm Meeting/School Libraries seminar in Bulawayo.

Feb. 14-19: 8th Festival du Niger in Ségou.

Feb. 17: Deadline for 2013 Jay Jordan IFLA/OCLC Fellowship.

Feb. 18-19: North American Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics in New Brunswick.

Feb. 27: Deadline for proposals for AFLaT (Africa Language and Technology) workshop in Istanbul.

Mar. 15-17: 43rd Annual Conference on African Linguistics in New Orleans.

Mar. 19-23: IDLELO Fifth Annual Conference on Free and Open Source Software and the Digital Commons in Abuja.

Mar. 29-31: 44th Annual Liberian Studies Association conference in Ithaca.

Mar. 30-31: 20th Annual Graduate Student Conference in African Studies in Boston (Deadline for proposals has been extended until Feb. 17).

Apr. 11-15: African Literature Association conference in Dallas.

Apr. 12-14: IFLA Presidential Programme on Indigenous Knowledges in Vancouver.

Apr. 19-21: ALC Spring meeting in Madison.

Apr. 26-29: African Language Teachers Association conference in Madison.


May 11-Jun. 10: Biennale de l’Art Africain Contemporain in Dakar.

May 23-25: Seventh eLearning Africa Conference in Cotonou.

Jun. 4-8: XXth Standing Conference of the Eastern, Central and Southern Africa Library and Information Associations, Information for Sustainable Development in a Digital Environment, in Nairobi.

Jun. 6-8: 50th anniversary of the Center for African Studies in Edinburgh.

Jun. 18-29: CoLang Field Linguistics Workshops in Lawrence.

Jun. 21-26: American Library Association conference in Anaheim.

Jun. 25-26:  SCOLMA 50th Anniversary Conference 2012 in Oxford.

Jun. 25-27: “The Idea of Writing” Workshop in Paris.

Jul. 2-6: Forum mondial de la langue française in Quebec.

Jul. 2-27: CoLang Practicum in Lawrence.

Aug. 20-24: 7th World Congress of African Linguistics in Buea.

Sep. 19-23: 2nd National Joint Conference for Librarians of Color in Kansas City.

Oct. 29-Nov.2: 18th International Conference on Ethiopian Studies in Dire Dawa.

Nov. 29-Dec. 1: African Studies Association conference in Philadelphia.

Feb. 23-Mar. 2, 2013: FESPACO in Ouagadougou.

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