Duck Duck Book


49 – afrikan alphabets
09.17.2007, 12:03 am
Filed under: language

Afrikan alphabets : the story of writing in Afrika / Saki Mafundikwa.
West New York, N.J. : Mark Batty , 2007.
[MCL call number: 411 M187a 2007; two copies, no holds]

People in the West do not think of Africans, particularly those whose cultures are rooted south of the Sahara Desert, as people who have much history of written expression.  Surely if and when African people write they use the languages, or at least the writing systems, of Europe?  Um, not always.  And if you don’t believe me or you’re just interested to see the proof, Saki Mafundikwa’s Afrikan Alphabets should open your eyes. 

Mafundikwa begins with a congenial introduction in which he relates his experience with African writing systems and their use (he is a respected graphic designer and typographer).  Next are four chapters devoted to different alphabetic topics: non-alphabetical information storage systems — pictographs, mnemonic devices, symbolic art objects, symbol writing — are examined in their role as roots of African writing systems, and then historic alphabets, alphabets of the Diaspora, and contemporary African alphabets are illustrated and described. 

Throughout the book alphabets, symbols, characters, and letters are shown in use in literature, on signs, on handcrafted objects, and in artwork as well as in chart form.  The book is highly visual in character and even if you’re not ready to read through the text, there is lots to learn from the illustrations.  The body of the text is followed by an annotated bibliography, a glossary of linguistic and typographical terms, and a basic index.

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