Orthography and Identity in Cameroon

Bird, Steven (2001) Orthography and Identity in Cameroon. [Journal (Paginated)] (In Press)

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The tone languages of sub-Saharan Africa raise challenging questions for the design of new writing systems. Marking too much or too little tone can have grave consequences for the usability of an orthography. Orthography development, past and present, rests on a raft of sociolinguistic issues having little to do with the technical phonological concerns that usually preoccupy orthographers. Some of these issues are familiar from the spelling reforms which have taken place in European languages. However, many of the issues faced in sub-Saharan Africa are different, being concerned with the creation of new writing systems in a multi-ethnic context: residual colonial influences, the construction of new nation-states, detribalization versus culture preservation and language reclamation, and so on. Language development projects which crucially rely on creating or revising orthographies may founder if they do not attend to the various layers of identity that are indexed by orthography: whether colonial, national, ethnic, local or individual identity. In this study, I review the history and politics of orthography in Cameroon, with a focus on tone marking. The paper concludes by calling present-day orthographers to a deeper and broader understanding of orthographic issues.

Item Type:Journal (Paginated)
Keywords:indigenous languages; African languages; orthography; tone-marking; language planning
Subjects:Linguistics > Phonology
ID Code:1446
Deposited By:Bird, Steven
Deposited On:14 Apr 2001
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:54

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