How did the writing evolve? Rare Liberian script created by 8 illiterate men gives answers


Researchers studied a rare African writing system called Vai Syllabary. Since the beginning of the 19th century, the system, designed for the Vai language, has fascinated foreigners.

The Vai script from Liberia

In a statement released by the Max Planck Institute, Dr Piers, the lead author of the study, who is now at the University of New England, Australia, said the Vai script from Liberia was created from zero around 1834 by eight completely illiterate. men who wrote in ink of crushed berries.

The script has always been taught informally from a literate teacher to a single apprentice, according to Vai Bai teacher Leesor Sherman, the statement said.

The Vai script is still popular, so much so that it is used to communicate health messages in the event of a pandemic.

Kelly said the researchers believed the script might tell them something important about how the writing evolved over short periods of time, due to its isolation and how it continued to develop. until our days.

He said that it is famous that letters evolve from images to abstract signs. However, there are several forms of abstract letters in early scriptures.

Instead, the researchers predicted that the signs would start out as relatively complex, and then get simpler across new generations of writers and readers, according to Kelly.

Manuscripts in the Vai language from archives in Liberia, the United States and Europe were studied.

The researchers analyzed the year-to-year changes in the 200 syllabic letters of handwriting and traced the entire history of handwriting development from 1834, according to the study.

How Vai Script’s syllabic letters became visually simpler

The authors found that letters really got visually simpler year after year, applying computer tools to measure visual complexity.

Kelly said the original inventors took inspiration from dreams to design individual signs for each syllable in their language.

One sign represents a pregnant woman, another is a chained slave and others are taken from traditional emblems, he said.

Kelly explained that the signs became simpler, more systematic, and more similar to each other when applied to writing spoken syllables and taught to new people.

Older writing systems on much longer timescales also exhibit such simplification patterns, according to the study.

Kelly explained that visual complexity is useful when creating a new writing system. Indeed, visual complexity generates more clues and greater contrasts between signs, which helps illiterate learners.

The complexity fades away as it later gets in the way of effective reading and reproduction, Kelly said.

Illiterate inventors from other parts of West Africa performed reverse writing for languages ​​spoken in Mali and Cameroon, according to the study.

Meanwhile, new writing systems are still being invented in Nigeria and Senegal.


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