Writing Bantu languages

Alphabetisation of the national languages in Angola

Originally missionaries, and subsequently linguists, have tried to organise the grammar and morphology of local languages. Giving them a writing system meant they could, in the beginning, receive the word of God, and then write, read and preserve these languages.

Writing Bantu languages

During colonial rule, use of native languages in Angola was only related to spreading the Catholic word. In order to improve their children’s lives, people often neglected their mother tongues and spoke only Portuguese. However, given the fact that in rural areas people did not speak Portuguese, it did not really spread throughout the country and local languages stayed quite the same.

The missionaries, in charge of the alphabetization in rural areas, translated the Bible to some of the local languages and tried to create an orthographic system to write them. Also, some missionaries did try to note the grammar, morphology and vocabulary of the language.

Since Angola gained independence in 1975, many of these languages have been promoted by the Institute for National Languages of Angola (Instituto de Línguas Naçionais de Angola) so that they are used in daily life. The Institute has fixed some spelling norms for official languages and studied all the phonetic, syntactic, lexical or semantic aspects of the different languages. This way, these standardised Bantu languages will be taught in schools along with Portuguese and English.

The system used for writing is partly based on an orthographic standard created by the Movimiento Popular de Libertaçâo de Angola (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) that modified the original system. It omits the consonant “r” since there is no r in some of the languages, there are 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), although u is a semi-vowel and diphthongs are not allowed so vowels should be changed into w o y. Some sounds are represented by two letters, such as mb or nj.

For Kikongo, there is another possible alphabet, not as widely used. This system, Mandombe script , was created in 1978 by Wabeladio Payi to write the four national Congolese languages, one of them, happens to be Kikongo as well. It is syllabic, based on the form of number 5 and it is taught only in Kimbanguist church schools in the two Congos.

During colonial rule, use of native languages in Angola was only related to spreading the Catholic word. In order to improve their children’s lives, people often neglected their mother tongues and spoke only Portuguese. However, given the fact that in rural areas people did not speak Portuguese, it did not really spread throughout the country and local languages stayed quite the same.

The missionaries, in charge of the alphabetization in rural areas, translated the Bible to some of the local languages and tried to create an orthographic system to write them. Also, some missionaries did try to note the grammar, morphology and vocabulary of the language.

Since Angola gained independence in 1975, many of these languages have been promoted by the Institute for National Languages of Angola (Instituto de Línguas Naçionais de Angola) so that they are used in daily life. The Institute has fixed some spelling norms for official languages and studied all the phonetic, syntactic, lexical or semantic aspects of the different languages. This way, these standardised Bantu languages will be taught in schools along with Portuguese and English.

The system used for writing is partly based on an orthographic standard created by the Movimiento Popular de Libertaçâo de Angola (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) that modified the original system. It omits the consonant “r” since there is no r in some of the languages, there are 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), although u is a semi-vowel and diphthongs are not allowed so vowels should be changed into w o y. Some sounds are represented by two letters, such as mb or nj.

For Kikongo, there is another possible alphabet, not as widely used. This system, Mandombe script , was created in 1978 by Wabeladio Payi to write the four national Congolese languages, one of them, happens to be Kikongo as well. It is syllabic, based on the form of number 5 and it is taught only in Kimbanguist church schools in the two Congos.

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