Mende notebooks of Bokari Kanneh, ca. 1950

Some notebooks have recently been transferred, within Yale, from the Art Gallery to the special collections of Sterling Memorial Library’s Manuscripts and Archives.  A snippet of the kind of content contained in the notebooks can be found here.  These were donated by Dr. Konrad Tuchscherer of St. John’s University.

In principle, the text should be fairly straightforward to transcribe, following the Unicode code chart here for the Kikakui script of the Mende language.  But there is enough variance between the manuscript and the encoding that it will take some extra efforts to ensure that an accurate transcription can be made.  Please leave a comment if you have any competence in Mende or familiarity with the Kikakui script; I’d love to hear from you!

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A Vai manuscript from 1913

In 2005, Dr. Mohamed B. Nyei and Dr. John Singler brought to my attention a manuscript of 180 pages that had been borrowed in Liberia from the family of its author, Boima Kiakpomgbo. With Mohamed’s permission, I digitized the manuscript that year using a large-format scanner. Since last year, Tombekai Sherman has been working to transcribe and translate the manuscript. I am posting here files from the work in progress, as Mohamed prepares to return to Liberia later this year.


MSVai1913_1_1 MSVai1913_1_2 MSVai1913_1_3 MSVai1913_1_4

MSVai1913_1_5 MSVai1913_1_6 MSVai1913_1_7 MSVai1913_1_8

MSVai1913_2_1 MSVai1913_2_2 MSVai1913_2_3 MSVai1913_2_4


MSVai1913_3_1 MSVai1913_3_2 MSVai1913_3_3

MSVai1913_4_1 MSVai1913_4_2

MSVai1913_5_1 MSVai1913_5_2

MSVai1913_6_1 MSVai1913_6_2 MSVai1913_6_3 MSVai1913_6_4

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The Mandombe script

Another script that merits further review is the Mandombe script developed by David Wabeladio Payi, a Congolese follower of Simon Kimbangu.  Here is a link to the most recent proposal for its inclusion into Unicode.  There are at least twenty or so books and one map that have been produced so far using the script, which is technically a little more complex than most in the way its characters combine.  All the characters are geometric compositions of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.  It has a distinctive look, with fourteen combining diacritics and four acute accents that do not combine.

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Some favorites

Here’s a sample of a few of the more memorable records I’ve had the pleasure of cataloging.  Hope you’ll find them intriguing and maybe worth checking out:

Dictionnaire de poche : Français-Tamazight : Tamazight-Français.

Manuel de conjugaison de l’amazighe = Adlis n usfti n tmaziɣt.

Pátris Lúmunba kótíi fɔ́lɔfɔlɔ̀ fàa ɲá dɔ́sarì.

Winden jangen e hāla Pular : deftere tāli e tindi Pular.

Meqoqo ea phirimana.

Articles : publiés dans le bulletin de l’IFAN, Institut fondamental d’Afrique noire, 1962-1977.

YaBihon ʼālam.

YaRāsśélās masfena ʼItyoṗyā tārik.

Livre d’initiation au Garay.

Update #1 (4/14/16):  The first two records both use Tifinagh script, which at first wasn’t displaying natively in the Chrome browser; an extension was needed for Tifinagh display support.  Now that appears to be rectified; the Tifinagh script should be displaying well across most of the common browsers:  Chrome, Explorer and Firefox.  I haven’t tried viewing it on Safari yet though.

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The Bété alphabet of Frédéric Bruly Bouabré

One of the more interesting artists who I’ve had the pleasure to meet is Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, also known as Cheick Nadro.  He passed away in 2014 at the age of 89; his son Olivier called me with the sad news in January of that year.  I was fortunate to have met with him in 2009 with the assistance of Francis Tagro Gnoleba and Tombekai Sherman at Bouabré’s house in Yopougon.  A small sample of the iconic pictographic alphabet that he was inspired to invent can be found here.  A more extensive review of the entirety of his work can be found in this four-volume text, published in 2013.  The Yale copy is non-circulating, but scans of chapters may be requested.  Other libraries that hold this work in the U.S. include Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern University.  The text includes an extensive bibliography.

Update #1 (4/12/16):  I believe the text linked to below has not been published anywhere; it is apparently a continuation from three cahiers written about by Théodore Monod and Denis Escudier.  If I am mistaken and it has already been published, please contact me to let me know and I will comply with a request to take it down.  I just talked with Olivier Bouabré, who asked me to send him a link, and I believe this is what he is looking for.


Update #2 (5/12/16):  Audio recitation of the invented pictographic alphabet by Bouabré in his own voice, part 1:

and part 2:

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Links to texts drafted by El Hadj Assane Faye using the Garay script for the Wolof language


These texts by Assane Faye were digitized by me (Charles Riley) in Dakar in 2009 at Faye’s house.  They are all in Wolof, on a variety of subjects, from mathematics to social morals to animal tales.  I think number four is on political philosophy.  They merit further study and more attention than what I can give them at the moment.

FayeMS1 FayeMS2 FayeMS3 FayeMS4 FayeMS5

Update #1 (5/12/16):  Audio recitation of the sounds of the invented alphabet by Faye, in his own voice:

And some links to audio of comments made at a press conference given by Faye in 2009:

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From the Africana SACO Funnel coordinator–

As of July 10, 2015 the Africana Subject Authority Funnel Project has a description which links from the Library of Congress SACO Funnel Projects page.  The funnel provides a mechanism for proposing Africa-related subject headings and changes to existing headings.  The goal of the funnel is to improve access to Africana resources (including works on languages, ethnic groups, history and politics) by promoting and facilitating the creation (and revision) of relevant subject headings.  For more information, please visit:“–Margaret Hughes, a metadata librarian at Stanford, Co-chair of the Africana Librarians Council Cataloging Committee and head of the Africana SACO Funnel.

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Unicode script proposals up for active review: Loma, Garay, Adlam

Recently drafted script proposals for the Unicode Technical Committee and IS0 10646 standard have been posted and are ready for review.  These are for the Loma script of Liberia and Guinea, the Garay script invented by El Hadj Assane Faye, primarily intended for the Wolof language, and the Adlam script of Guinea and Nigeria, invented by Abdoulaye and Ibrahima Barry, primarily intended for the Fula language.  Enjoy!

Update #1 (4/6/16):  Here is a two-page sample of the Loma script as it exists in modern usage:  loma2 loma3

Update #2 (4/10/16):  More documentation of Loma usage:

Monod (1943)

Joffre (1945)

Lelong (1946)

Leopold (1986)

LomaBalla (2009)

LomaJustin (ca. 2009)

LomaToupouEtAl (2009)

Some audio interview material from the field:


And a link to some books in ADLaM:

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WHO FAQs on Ebola in N’ko and Vai; CDC radio spots in other languages

The ongoing outbreak of Ebola does not seem to be letting up anytime soon.  For those who are affected in the region, effective public communication about resources and preparedness appears to be one of the major challenges.  Although communicating a message can only go so far, there are efforts being made to serve populations that don’t readily understand English or French.  Examples of those can be found here:

Update (10/25/15):  Here is a copy of a more extensive article about Ebola, translated from Wikipedia material into Vai:

Ebola Article in Vai

As yet, there are not enough editors for a fully-fledged Vai Wikipedia to materialize (five are needed), but things are getting closer on that front.

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Introduction to Inputting Amharic

For those of you who missed the Spring Africana Librarians Council (ALC) meeting, or are curious about how to input Ethiopic script into MARC library records, this may help serve as an overview.  It would work best for a user who has had some preliminary exposure to Amharic, or for someone working alongside a native speaker.  Ethiopic (or Ge’ez) script is also used for the Tigre and Tigrinya languages, among others.

Amharic Lesson

Update #1 (4/12/16):  Some of the more difficult distinctions to make visually are between, for example, syllables like ሳ (sā) and ላ (lā); ሰ (sa), ስ (se) and ለ (la); or ጻ (ṣi) and ጾ (ṣo).  It is also important to keep in mind the distinction between transliterated glottal vowels like ʼa (አ) and pharyngeal ones like ʻa (ዐ).  Glottals are romanized using the alif, while pharyngeals are romanized using the ayn character.  It is also worth noting here that the Ethiopic calendar has thirteen months (one is very short), and is offset from the Gregorian calendar by seven to eight years.

Update #2 (5/25/16):  There is some movement in the direction of developing OCR (optical character recognition) for Amharic and Tigrinya, using the open source OCR engine Tesseract.  Look for the language packs listed here.

Euan Cochrane helped me find a free front-end product that works with Tesseract; I will be looking to pull the pieces together over the next couple of weeks to do some testing.

Update #3 (5/26/16):  Preliminary testing of Tesseract in Amharic is moving ahead.  I started by giving it what should have been an easy test, a Wikipedia page on South Africa.  A sample line or two is as follows:

Input:  በደቡብ አፍሪቃ ሕገ መንግሥት መሠረት 11 ልሳናት በእኩልነት ይፋዊ ኹኔታ አላቸው።

Output: በየበበ አፍረፆሐገመገማሥን መሠረን ገገ ልስናን በአከልነን ርፋዊ ጤል አሳኘውዞ

The accuracy rate is running at about 42% so far.  More work is needed.


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