Saturday, March 10, 2012

Amateur Linguist Teaches Elvish to Ethiopian Tribe

OK, yeah, not really...
But you just know that would be the headline somewhere if the mainstream press decided to cover this.

The story starts with Paul Bennet planning to go to Ethiopia; specifically, to a region where the native language is Hamer. Hamer, it turns out, has no writing system.
Being an amateur linguist, Paul decided to do what any of us would do in the same situation: design an orthography for them! Hey, if it worked for St. Cyril....

The neighboring and related language Ge'ez does have a writing system, so the initial plan was to borrow it, with the idea that it would do double-duty in helping Hamer speakers record their own language and give them a leg up on literacy anywhere else in Ethiopia. The work in progress can be seen here.

In discussion on the CONLANG mailing list, however, someone just had to notice that the phoneme inventory of Hamer just happens to fit very neatly in the Tengwar grid. There are existing Tengwar modes for writing English and Latin in the Elvish characters, so why the heck not?

The probability of an Ethiopian tribe actually adopting Tolkein's Elvish characters as the basis of their writing system is rather small, especially since the Ge'ez characters are already officially included in Unicode while Tengwar just have a proposal with codepoints subject to change.
But it would be pretty awesome, wouldn't it?