Valentine’s Day multilingual anthology by Ankara Press: a real treat!

I generally don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day but an anthology released yesterday by Ankara Press gave me a reason to change my ways.

Being the literature fan that I am, I was overjoyed to hear of seven African writers putting together short stories about love on Valentine’s day. I already knew of Ankara Press for their daring romance collection, so this sounded very much within their scope but the supreme treat for me was that each story was translated into a langage other than English spoken by the author.

We thus end up with this collection, that can be downloaded for free here:

  • Fish – by Chuma Nwokolo, translated into Nigerian Pidgin English by Victor Ehikhamenor
  • Candy Girl – by Hawa Jande Golakai, translated into Kpelle by Yarkpai Keller
  • The Idea is to be sealed in – by Binyavanga Wainaina, translated into Kiswahili by Elieshi Lema
  • Woman in the orange dress – by Sarah Ladipo-Manyika, translated into Yoruba by Kola Tubosun
  • Cotyledons – by Toni Kan, translated into Igbo by Chikodili Emelumadu
  • Solitaire – by Edwige-Renée Dro, translated into French by the author herself
  • Painted love – by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, translated into Hausa by the author himself

I may have pored over Arábìnrin inú aṣọ ọlọ́sàn for longer than I care to say. As a learner of Yoruba, it was a fantastic opportunity for some self-study, since I could go back and forth between the English and the Yoruba texts. I must salute Kola Tubosun‘s effort here, for coming up with such beautifully worded sentences (with tonal marks, a rather rare occurrence):

Títí tí wọn fi jẹun tán, ó sá n rẹrìín, ó sì n f’ojú nlá rẹ tó dúdú mininjọ sọrọ, bíi pé inú rẹ n dùn fún nkan àsírí ìkọkọ kan tó lárinrin.

[Yes, I am totally smitten. Valentine’s day magic in action!]

Each story is available online in audio format as well. I highly recommend Edwige Renée-Dro’s French reading of Solitaire : her characters’voices just don’t sound the same in my head as they do when the dialogues are read out loud.

Out of the seven translations, I could only read Kiswahili, Yoruba and French but I hope many other readers will be able to appreciate the stories in Hausa, Igbo, Kpelle and Nigerian Pidgin translation.

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Yoruba keyboard layout for Mac

I wanted to share with you a keyboard layout I designed to type Yoruba on Mac computers. I tried to keep it as close as possible to the regular keyboard layout I use for English so as to avoid having to constantly switch keyboards – which I already do enough of between English and French…
Here is how it works:

  • All the keys remain the same as on the regular U.S. keyboard
  • To add a dot under e, s, and o:  ALT + letter (eg ALT + o to type ọ).
  • Capital s, e or o with dot: SHIFT + ALT + letter
  • High tone (mi): ALT + h
  • Low tone (do): ALT + l

Tone marks are inserted after the letter.

You can download the keyboard layout here. All you need to do is to drop it into Library > Keyboard Layouts and select it in your language & text preference window.

I used Ukelele which was developed by John Brownie (SIL). If you’re looking to create a keyboard layout, I definitely recommend this software. It’s easy to use and comes with a comprehensive user’s manual, not to mention the fantastic support provided by the users’ community. I was a bit sad not to have another upcoming keyboard layout project 😉

Let me know what you think! I hope you’ll have as much fun typing as I did designing this keyboard layout.

It’s also worth mentioning that Tom Gewecke made a combined layout that allows one to type both Yoruba and Hausa on the same keyboard. More on his blog!

Colloquial French in Africa: between popular appeal and literary exclusion

In Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, standard French is still used in school, in the media and in official contexts. But on the streets of Abidjan and Ouagadougou, other varieties of French have flourished. How much of an influence have these colloquial forms had on the arts?

Street signs at a crossroads in Abidjan - Photo by Flickr user abdallahh under CC-BY 2.0 license

Street signs at a crossroads in Abidjan – Photo by Flickr user abdallahh under CC-BY 2.0 license

Formerly the preserve of the lower classes and informal neighbourhoods, colloquial French (français populaire) has overstepped its old boundaries to penetrate the more educated classes who adopt it in certain communication situations. The language grew out of a multilingual urban environment at the crossroads between standard French introduced by the colonisers, especially through schooling, and national languages.

According to Amadou Bissiri, it is no longer a marginal phenomenon:

Regardless of the name used to designate it – whether pidgin, colloquial French of Abidjan (FPA in the French acronym), colloquial French of Ouagadougou (FPO), etc. – colloquial French, this hybrid language born of the encounter between European languages and African national languages, is no longer a language for the ‘non-educated’ or the social misfits. It is now a full-fledged language which carries a certain perspective of the world, that of a community which identifies with it and uses it to express its representations and its preoccupations; this language is the expression of a certain culture resulting from social and historical transformations, if not evolutions, specific to a given context.

Lexical and grammatical creativity

Colloquial French is characterized by its lexical creativity, borrowing from African languages where French fails to account for local realities but also appropriating French words to give them an African colour.

In Usages du français en Afrique noire :  l’exemple du Burkina Faso, Gisèle Prignitz introduces us to features of Burkinabe colloquial French or what she calls ‘burkinabisms’ :

(reprendre) la craie [lit. (to pick up) the chalk], synecdoche meaning “to return to the teaching profession”. Part of a series; tenir la craie [to hold the chalk], laisser la craie [to leave the chalk]. See crève-la-craie

(…)

dawa, borrowed from the mooré word for “man”, term that has become eponymous with immigrants coming to Abidjan from High Volta.

Grammatically, colloquial French systematically omits articles and has a simplified conjugation system.

A language struggling to make it into literature

Studies show that in Côte d’Ivoire, colloquial French enjoys widespread popular support. It is seen as a communication tool to iron out social boundaries and facilitate understanding between speakers of different languages. Conversely, Gisèle Prignitz notes the rather negative perception among Burkinabes who refer to colloquial French as ‘beaten up French’.

Though present in music (in zouglou songs for example) as well as newspaper columns such as Soliloque de Nobila Cabaret  and Moi Goama, this vibrant language hasn’t been embraced quite as much by novelists. This is mainly due to a lack of recognition of colloquial French amongst literary circles – including critics in France – and the strong attachment to standard French as a language of wider communication.

One famous exception is of course Amadou Kourouma with ‘Allah is not obliged’. Through the narrator, Brahima, speaks a voice whose racy texture convincingly portrays the experiences of the child soldier. This literary device transforms a text that could otherwise have been a gruesome and inexpressive account of life as a child soldier into a living, humane tale.

Colloquial French, by its composite nature, allows for a more flexible turn of phrase and brings along an openness to creative word use. Like Amadou Bissiri, I see it as a beautiful, fertile space where stories can blossom. For those who love words, there is always room for more variety!


Photo credit: Attribution abdallahh

Excerpts translated by Marie-Laure Le Guen.

Note: All the sources cited are – understandably – in French. I apologise in advance to all the readers who are not proficient in this language. I made a conscious decision to write this post in English and translate relevant excerpts so as to make the information accessible to a greater number of people, especially non-French speakers.

Tuesday update #3: ‘Oral literature in Africa’ available for free download

Ruth Finnegan, anthropologist and emeritus professor of sociology at England’s Open University, agreed to digitalise her seminal book ‘Oral Literature in Africa’ under a CC-BY license. This allows students of African studies, academics and interested readers, to download the e-book for free, thus broadening access to this remarkable piece of scholarship.

Oral Literature in Africa

First published in 1970, ‘Oral Literature in Africa’ had since gone out of print and was only available at some selected libraries. Even when ordering a physical copy was still an option, the price was so prohibitive that Ruth Finnegan’s book hardly made it into the hands of scholars on the African continent.

Crowdfunding campaign

Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign led by the start-up unglue.it, the book was not only saved from oblivion but propelled to near universal accessibility. It is now downloadable for free in mobi, epub and pdf format, thus enabling anyone with an Internet connexion to enjoy its content.

Under the CC-BY Creative Commons license, Finnegan’s work can be shared, reproduced, translated, quoted – the only condition being to give the author due attribution. She is convinced that this choice is completely in line with her mission as an academic…of the modern age:

Yet it seems to me that open access represents the future for academic publication. It is a form of free knowledge-dissemination, using the new opportunities afforded by the web, and is very much in keeping with the open and democratising spirit of The Open University.

And the e-book version is not without its perks – besides being free and accessible to all online. This new edition of ‘Oral Literature in Africa’, which is also the first title of the World Oral Literature Series, has been livened up by a new introduction as well as extra media, including photographs and original recordings collected in Sierra Leone in the 1960s. These precious appendices could not have been part of the book in 1970 due to obvious technical limitations at the time, and had thus far remained unpublished.

An ode to literary creativity

In ‘Oral Literature in Africa’, Ruth Finnegan explores themes common to anthropology, linguistics and sociology, debunking commonly held conceptions of the time and reestablishing the relevance of studying the oral arts of Africa with as much rigour as any other form of artistic expression. The author certainly was and remains committed to doing so.

Even though it is not per se part of the central argument, literary creation is placed against the particular linguistic background of Africa. In the introductory section of the book, Finnegan outlines the range of literary devices afforded by African languages, taking the Bantu group as an example.

For anyone who has ever juggled with multiple noun classes and verbal derivatives, it is illuminating to see these language parts coming together to aid literary creation. We enter a world where personification is only a prefix away, where verb gymnastics transform the mood of a scene, and where a whole story hides in a name.

But the scope for creative expression does not end there. One of the most striking features of Bantu languages is their generous use of ideophones in story-telling. Ideophones are words – most often interjections – whose sound brings to life an idea. Used to add texture and intensity to the tale, they can portray sounds but also, more surprinsingly, the rhythm of an action, colour, smell, character etc.

Here are my favourite examples of ideophones from the Shona language, as presented p. 66-67:

k’we—sound of striking a match.

nyiri nyiri nyiri nyiri—flickering of light on a cinema screen.

go, go, go, ngondo ngondo ngondo, pxaka pxaka pxaka pxaka pxaka—the chopping down of a tree, its fall, and the splintering of the branches. (Fortune, 1962)

…and some Zulu ideophones:

khwi—turning around suddenly.

dwi—dawning, coming consciousness, returning sobriety, easing of pain, relief.

ntrr—birds flying high with upward sweep; aeroplane or missile flying.

bekebe—flickering faintly and disappearing.

khwibishi—sudden recoil, forceful springing back.

fafalazi—doing a thing, carelessly or superficially.

ya—perfection, completion            (Fivaz 1963)

The poetic potential of Bantu languages is exposed with such delicate eloquence that the thought kept me awake at night, murmuring bits of poems I had memorised from the book.

Beyond orality

Forty years after the book that essentially pioneered the field of ethnography of language, Ruth Finnegan published ‘The oral and beyond: doing things with words in Africa’. She looks back at almost half a century of research on orality, reviewing the intellectual debates taking place since the 1960s and opening up new perspectives for the study of orality, notably by questioning the long-held perception of Africa as the ‘oral continent’.


If you want to help unglue more books, have a look at the active campaigns and consider supporting the digitalization of a book under Creative Commons.

Photo credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Raymond Yee

Tuesday update #2: isiZulu newspaper Isolezwe, a South African success story

Launched in 2002 in its paper edition and in 2004 online, Isolezwe is a leading South African daily newspaper in isiZulu. The site is targeting both isiZulu speakers in search of news in their language (potentially over 11 million people) and learners of the language seeking reading material.

Known for using a more popular form of isiZulu than its competitor Ilanga, Isolezwe is meant to appeal to the Zulu speakers of today who live in an increasingly urbanised, modern environment. Here is former editor Thulani Mbatha’s take on his readership:

Our readers have always known they were Zulu, we’ve just managed to cater for the modernising Zulu. Someone who may go back home to the rural areas to slaughter a cow to the amadlozi [ancestors], but is as equally comfortable taking his family out for dinner and a movie in a shopping mall.

The isiZulu newspaper is a publishing phenomenon in South Africa, registering no less than 112 648 single-copy sales in the second quarter of 2012 and showing very promising growth. Isolezwe’s success is attributed to its tabloid format distilling a heady mix of entertainment, local football, but also issues related to religious belief, feel-good success stories and … very little politics!

The clout of the newspaper is such that stories penned by Isolezwe music chronicler Charles Khuzwayo are said to have contributed to the reconciliation of two maskandi artists who were embroiled in a conflict. In October this year, Khuzwayo won the Best Journalist award in the print category at the South African Traditional Music Awards (SATMAs).

All this augurs well for the development and the spread of isiZulu which is the mother tongue of 22.7 % of the South African population according to the 2011 census (pdf). But what of the other eight official indigenous languages of South Africa? The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) offers news and various programs in all official languages, with radio stations being the most dynamic in promoting even minority, non official languages.

However, English dominates almost all spheres of communication, despite being spoken natively by only 8 % of South Africans. According to The Economist:

Not only is [English] the medium of business, finance, science and the internet, but also of government, education, broadcasting, the press, advertising, street signs, consumer products and the music industry. For such things Afrikaans is also occasionally used, especially in the Western Cape province, but almost never an African tongue. The country’s Zulu-speaking president, Jacob Zuma, makes all his speeches in English. Parliamentary debates are in English. Even the instructions on bottles of prescription drugs come only in English or Afrikaans.

In a South Africa witnessing the decline of its African languages, Isolezwe’s popularity is a sign that there is still a strong potential for isiZulu media.

***

We conclude this second Tuesday update in music, with late maskandi artist Bhekumuzi Luthuli :


More on South Africa’s languages on BBC Radio 4: Our language in your hands with anthropologist and linguist Dr Mark Turin

So long a letter

Hello dear readers,

I have been away from this blog for over two months, caught up as I was in a whirlwind of traveling and figuring out my plans for 2013. Now I feel ready for an overhaul of Maneno Matamu! Read on for miscellaneous news and updates…

New publishing schedule

Here is the publishing schedule I intend to test in the weeks to come:

  • On Tuesdays, I will report on arts and media in African indigenous languages. This could involve a song, a blog, a book translation, a newspaper article, etc.
  • On Saturdays, we’ll introduce the theme of the week, which will be focused on a region or a particular language.
  • There will also be the occasional announcement or reblog of interesting content found elsewhere on the web.

What would you like to read on Maneno Matamu? I’m open to your suggestions in the comments section below or on Twitter.

Blogging, one year on

Birthday Cake

1 year anniversary ! Photo by Flickr user dixieroadrash

At Uhuru Park last year, I met a young academic who made my heart swell with pride. He told me his girlfriend had used the series on colours published here to prepare for an art class she was teaching in Kibera. I cannot say how much this simple ‘real life’ comment touched me.

I’ve let the anniversary date pass and it’s been over a year since I started Maneno Matamu. At the time, I mostly relied on my own enthusiasm for African languages and a fiery disposition for all forms of art. I really didn’t know what to expect: I just needed to share some things I felt deeply about. It would also avoid my recurrent trapping of friends in long-winded conversations on African languages, I reasoned.

Over time, a bit like travelling, this blog has brought me closer to people I would never otherwise have had a chance to interact with. They are people who write, translate, research, learn, and share a common passion for language, a special kind of delight found in the company of words.

I want to extend a warm thank you to all the readers, contributors and commentators who, over the past year, have made Maneno Matamu a place worth visiting. You have enriched my life in many meaningful ways and I hope I can return even a fraction of the favour to others.

See you all tomorrow for the Tuesday column 🙂

The Kancil.

Where Africa meets Asia: the Sidi communities

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to attend a themed week on Sidi culture hosted by Alliance Française de Nairobi. From Monday to Wednesday, documentary films followed by discussions gradually introduced the audience to the history and lifestyle of this Afro-Asian community, from religious rites around the Bava Gor shrine to a dwindling poetic tradition. The week’s events culminated with a concert of traditional Sidi Goma music performed by a group from Gujarat, marking the official opening of the Samosa festival.

Here is a video of a string instrument called ‘malunga’ which is thought to have originated in East Africa:

Sidis (sometimes referred to as Habshis) are a community spread across several Indian states and beyond, whose ancestors came to South Asia from Africa as traders, soldiers and servants to the royal courts as early as the 13th century. Some trace their origins to Zanzibar and have retained a few words of Swahili used in ritual chants, although they now speak the local Indian languages natively.

Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya from University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth studies has carried out extensive studies about the music of the Afro-Asian communities in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. She first became interested in a Sri Lankan community  of African descent in Sirambiyadiya, on the northwestern coast of the island:

Indo-Portuguese is a language which should have died out with the end of Portuguese rule in 1658.  Yet here in this small African community it still survives albeit spoken largely by the elderly.  How had it survived among people with African ancestry?  And what were the mechanisms which ensured that survival?

In Pakistan (Karachi and Sindh) the Shidees sing lava which encompasses Swahili words.  In the nearby Maldives, Baburu lava rings out  the music introduced by African slaves.   The rhythm-driven music of the Roman Catholic Afro-Sri Lankan community in Sirambiyadiya and their Indo-Portuguese songs, called Manhas, reverberate in my mind.  Language change is inevitable but music is more resistant and the lyrics are preserving the vestiges of an endangered language.

In her paper African Migrants as cultural brokers in South Asia, Dr. Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya notes that the Chaush living in Hyderabad sing in a Bantu language called Shambaa during religious ceremonies and at the beginning of healing rituals, even though they do not understand the words.

According to Pr. Abdulaziz Lodhi, the fact that the communities were rather scattered across the land and had Islam as an integrating factor contributed to Africans  quickly becoming indianised and in particular losing much of their linguistic baggage.

This said, he uncovered some linguistic evidence of the survival of some Swahili lexical items :

Recent fieldwork among the Sidis in Ratanpur and Bhavnagar in Gujarat during January 2007 has yielded only about a dozen Bantu/Swahili single word items and about a dozen phrases and a couple of complete Swahili-sounding sentences, e.g. ‘Ee manamuki, wapi koenda?’ (You young woman, where are you going?). In modern Swahili it would be ‘Wee mwanamke, unakwenda wapi?’ A couple of sentences were of mixed Bantu-Gujarati construction, e.g. ‘Kulya karwa jae!’ (Let us go to eat! Bantu ‘kulya’ = to eat, eating; Gujarati ‘karwa jae’ = let us go to do). One lexical item, ‘injoro’ (curry, gravy) used in Ratanpur, is not derived from any Bantu language but rather from the Ethiopian usage ‘injira’ (or Somali ‘anjera’).

Pr. Lodhi has recently published his findings … which I shall summarise for you once I get myself a copy of the booklet !

KÍTHOMO KÍA MÚMÍÍRÚ: A Meru Poem via Story Zetu

A post about Meru traditional education, by Victor Brian

KÍTHOMO KÍA MÚMÍÍRÚ: A Meru Poem.