The Fula language (Fula: Fulfulde, Pulaar, or Pular) is written primarily in the Latin script, but in some areas is still written in an older Arabic script called the Ajami script or with its own script called Adlam.
The Latin script was introduced to Fula-speaking regions of West and Central Africa by Europeans during, and in some cases immediately before, invasion. Various people — missionaries, colonial administrators, and scholarly researchers — devised various ways of writing . One issue similar to other efforts by Europeans to use their alphabet and home orthographic conventions was how to write African languages with unfamiliar sounds. In the case of Fula, these included how to represent sounds such as the implosive b and d, the ejective y, the velar n (the latter being present in European languages, but never in initial position), prenasalised consonants, and long vowels, all of which can change meaning.
Major influences on the current forms used for writing Fula were decisions made by colonial administrators in Northern Nigeria and the Africa Alphabet. Post independence African governments decided to retain the Latin alphabet as the basis for transcribing their languages. Various writers in Fula, such as Amadou Hampate Ba and Alfa Ibrahim Sow, wrote and published in this script.
Major UNESCO-sponsored conferences on harmonising Latin-based African language orthographies in Bamako in 1966 and Niamey in 1978 confirmed standards for writing Fula. Nevertheless, orthographies for the language and its variants are determined at the country level. So while Fula writing uses basically the same character sets and rules across the region, there are some minor variations.
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Some general rules:
- Long vowels are doubled
- Two different vowels are never used together
- To accentuate a consonant, double the consonant (or write ⟨'⟩ before the consonant; e.g., "temmeere" = "te'meere".)
Alphabets by country
Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania
- a, aa, b, mb, ɓ, c, d, nd, ɗ, e, ee, f, g, ng, h, i, ii, j, nj, k, l, m, n, ŋ, ñ, o, oo, p, r, s, t, u, uu, w, x, y, ƴ
Prior to adoption of this system in 1989, the Guinean languages alphabet was used. This was based on the simple Latin alphabet with digraphs for the sounds particular to Pular, and is still used by some Pular speakers (in part because it can be typed using commercial keyboards). The character equivalents include: bh = ɓ ; dh = ɗ ; q = ɠ ; ny = ɲ (the French digraph gn is also used); nh = ŋ ; yh = ƴ. The old system also included: ty = c ; dy = j.
Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia
Mali, Burkina Faso
- a, aa, b, mb, ɓ, c, d, nd, ɗ, e, ee, f, g, ng, h, i, ii, j, nj, k, l, m, n, ŋ, ɲ, o, oo, p, r, s, t, u, uu, w, x, y, ƴ
Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic
- a, aa, b, mb, ɓ, c, d, nd, ɗ, e, ee, f, g, ng, h, i, ii, j, nj, k, l, m, n, ŋ, ny, o, oo, p, r, s, t, u, uu, w, x, y, ƴ
- a, aa, b, mb, ɓ, c, d, nd, ɗ, e, ee, f, g, ng, h, i, ii, j, nj, k, l, m, n, ny, o, oo, p, r, s, t, u, uu, w, x, y, ['y]
Arabic (Ajami) alphabet
The Arabic script was introduced into the West African Sahel with Islam several centuries before European colonization. As was the case with other languages such as Hausa, Muslim Fulas who went through Koranic education adapted the script to writing their language. This practice, while never formally standardized, followed some patterns of customary use in various regions. These usages differ on some details, mainly on how to represent certain consonants and vowels not present in the Arabic language.
During the late 1980s an alphabetic script was devised by the teenaged brothers Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry, in order to represent the Fulani language. After several years of development it started to be widely adopted among Fulani communities, and is currently taught in Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia and other nearby countries. The name adlam is an acronym derived from the first four letters of the alphabet (A, D, L, M), standing for Alkule Dandayɗe Leñol Mulugol ("the alphabet that protects the peoples from vanishing"). There are Android apps to send SMS in adlam and to learn the alphabet. On computers running Microsoft Windows, the adlam script is natively supported as part of the upcoming feature update of Windows 10 version 1903 (codenamed 19H1) build 18252.
The extended Latin characters used in the Latin transcription of Fula were incorporated since an early version of the Unicode Standard. At least some of the extended Arabic characters used in Ajami are also in the Unicode standard. The Adlam alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in June 2016 with the release of version 9.0.
- Dalby, Andrew (1998). Dictionary of Languages. Columbia University Press.
- Everson, Michael (2014-10-28). "N4628R: Revised proposal for encoding the Adlam script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-06-22.
- The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing, Kaveh Waddell, Nov 16, 2016, The Atlantic
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