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The Vai Script

  • A. Klingenheben


About the middle of the last century, an English marine officer, F. E. Forbes, caused a sensation among his contemporaries by the report that he had discovered an indigenous script in use among the Vai people of West Africa. The question immediately arose how these natives, hitherto hardly known even by name to the civilized world, and pursuing an unobtrusive existence in the seclusion of the primeval forest far from the course of the world's traffic, came to possess a cultural treasure of so high a quality, one usually met with only among peoples of ancient and rich culture. Little wonder then, that in the years that followed, the solution of this problem occupied the attention of a number of European scholars.



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page 158 note 1 Forbes' discovery was published by Norris, E. under the title, Despatch communicating the discovery of a native written character at Bohmar, on the Western Coast of Africa, near Liberia, accompanied by a Vocabulary of the Vahie or Vei Language and Alphabet. London, 1849.

page 158 note 2 Op. cit., pp. 229 ff.

page 158 note 3 For my transcription of the sounds of Vai and their pronunciation cf. my paper Vai Texts’, Zeitschrift für Eingeborenensprachen, xvi. 1-2, 1926.

page 159 note 1 L'Anthropologie, x, pp. 129-51; and pp. 294-314; 1899.

page 159 note 2 ‘II est à noter en outre que Koelle n'a pas etudie le vaī sur place, et n'a composé ses ouvrages que d'après les documents rapportés par Forbes et quelques Vaï rencontrés à Freetown.’ Delafosse, op. cit., p. 297. The same error—it can only be so described, in view of Koelle's own testimony in his previously cited book—also occurs in Jensen's Geschichte der Schrift, Hanover, 1925, p. 86, fn. 2.

page 160 note 1 Delafosse represents this as only õ With other signs, too, the phonetic value indicated by Delafosse does not always coincide with the sound as really spoken.

page 160 note 2 Op. cit., p. 258.

page 160 note 3 Delafosse believes (op. cit., p. 297) that nothing more had been published on the Vai script since Koelle's Outlines of 1854.

page 160 note 4 Delafosse thinks that European manuscripts must also be regarded as sources of the Vai script, because, like Steinthal in the connexion referred to above, he traces European handwritten characters in many of the flourishes (‘des boucles, des bâtons et des crochets’) of the Vai script. Cf. op. cit., pp. 306 ff.

page 160 note 5 Delafosse, op. cit., pp. 306 ff.

page 161 note 1 Op. cit., p. 304.

page 161 note 2 Cf. Danzel, , Die Anfänge der Schrift, Leipzig, 1912, p. 206.

page 162 note 1 Op. cit., p. 306.

page 162 note 2 Op. cit., p. 234.

page 162 note 3 Illustrierte Geschichte der Schrift, Vienna, 1880.

page 162 note 4 ‘Zur Entstehung der Schrift’, in Zeitschrift für aegyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 49, Leipzig, 1911, pp. 114.

page 162 note 5 Op. cit., p. 202.

page 162 note 6 Journal of the African Society, x, 1911.

page 163 note 1 Cf. Danzel, op. cit., pp. 109 and 119.

page 164 note 1 A nasal consonant in Vai constitutes a separate syllable, unless it is the initial sound of one, or must be regarded as the first component of a nasal combination.

page 167 note 1 Four of the interpretations here recorded were offered by Massaquoi in his article in the Journal of the African Society, viz. those of mo, aḇ, ku, and ta.

The Vai Script

  • A. Klingenheben


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