How Do You Create an Alphabet?

It’s more than just picking out letters.

The Swo community in Cameroon is located not too far away from Yaoundé, about 3-4 hours east of the capital where we are based. Half of the trip is on the national highway, and then the rest of the journey is on poor roads, which are sometimes not passable in the rainy season.

Shannon first started working with this language community back in 2018 on her first field visit. Since then, she visited four of the approximately thirty villages where this language is primarily spoken. She assisted in leading workshops aimed at helping the community understand the sounds and structures of their language and how those are different from French (or other languages). She used the information from the workshops and from meetings with community members in Yaoundé to analyze the sounds and recently presented an orthography guide to the language community with recommendations for an alphabet and rules for writing words and sentences in Swo. While there is still much work to be done, getting to this point is the culmination of a lot of work over many years and a significant milestone in the language development journey of the Swo community.

While Shannon was in Yaoundé in January, she was able to meet with several members of the community to discuss this proposed alphabet. They are still working through understanding some of the recommendations and making sure that the everyone is able to read and write consistently. There will be lots of testing still to come in each of the villages and with different sectors of society.

For now, there are a few community members working with literacy specialists to make a transitional workbook for those who can already read and write in French. The next steps for this year include testing, training teachers, creating lots of reading materials (including a writer’s workshop), and then a first textbook (primer) for teaching reading and writing in Swo, which will, of course, be followed up with more testing. Shannon’s main work with this community is completed, and the literacy specialists will be the primary support for the next year or two.

Last week, Swo elites as well as various members of the Swo community worked together to understand the needs and options related to preserving and developing their language and culture. One of the main questions was if they would like to move forward with an oral or a written New Testament or both. Some Swo speakers recently learned a few Bible stories and have been sharing them at local gatherings. This is an exciting time in the Swo community! Please pray for wisdom and unity among the leaders and for all the Swo people to know and worship God.

The black dot represents the Swo community.