Reading from memory?

In 'Beli, ([blm], Central Sudanic, Nilo-Saharan), the people virtually had to memorize any text before being able to read it with the correct tone and understanding. ‘Beli is a tone language where a change of pitch can mean a change in the meaning of a word.  In this language, if there is no information in the writing system about the tone, about 12% of words could be confused with another word. Since there was no indication of the tone in the writing system they were using, the potential for confusion was great. The language team realized there was a problem and worked together with consultants to find out how their language works and to move towards major changes in their orthography. The community then accepted 4 spelling rules that helped to clarify meaning distinguished by tone.  In a follow-up workshop, they successfully learned to use the rules, and have now begun publishing with the revised orthography.  Now they no longer have to memorize, and can read texts the first time they see them!

Back to Stories from the Field