Just published

Insights from the new scripts of West Africa: new publication

I have a chapter ‘The Invention, Transmission and Evolution of Writing: Insights from the New Scripts of West Africa’ in the recently released volume Paths into script formation in the ancient Mediterranean, edited by Silvia Ferrara and Miguel Valério.

Most other chapters cover scripts and graphic codes of the ancient Agean, Iberia, Anatolia and Egypt. But the final section, titled Patterns and Diversity: A World of Possibilities, has a paper by Gordon Whittaker on Aztec Hieroglyphics and one by me on emergent West African scripts.

What does West Africa have to do with Mesoamerica or the ancient Mediterranean, I hear you gasp in utter astonishment? Quite simply, these are all environments where a great deal of writerly invention has happened, with isolated scripts developing along their own peculiar trajectories.

My chapter is about the rapid development of new indigenous scripts that began in Liberia in the 1830s and is still unfolding throughout West Africa today. I managed to identify 27 (!) distinct West African scripts in the literature, and for the more recent cases I was even able to contact inventors directly. Only three of them were created entirely from scratch by non-literates but these deserve special attention because of their power to illustrate the processes by which writing systems are created and transmitted, and how they evolve over time.

 A pre-print is here. Enjoy!


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