Knut J. Olawsky, Application for an orthographical survey of Dagbani. Unpublished ms. Düsseldorf, 1995.
Introduction: Some remarks about Dagbani and its orthography
- Dagbani with its 500.000 speakers is probably the widest-spread language in Northern
Ghana, as it is understood by people of many other tribes.
- The estimated number of non-literates is ca. 98 %.
- Although the orthographic standards were once fixed by the 'Dagbani New Testament
Revision Committee', there is still a lack of standardization. Recent texts in Dagbani deviate
in many aspects from these standards.
- The problem is that these deviations are not consistent throughout the publishing world. As
different authors develop new reading materials, they use different kind of writings. So the
number of different writings increases with every new publication.
- Orthographic standards are not even consistent within publications by one and the same
author, since the writing rules are not fixed and writers can not be sure about how to write
- Literacy learners and teachers have difficulties to understand the reasons for the way their
language Dagbani is written. How they learn to write seems to depend from the individual
attitude of each learner's teacher.
- The number of potential learners in the future among Dagbani speakers is very high.
- This makes it reasonable to discuss the problems created by different opinions about
orthographic standards of Dagbani. More confusion in the future can be avoided if a solution
- Some of the institutions which are involved in literacy work or which have other reasons to
publish reading material in Dagbani are: Dagbani Literacy Project (GILLBT) (various
publications), Ghana Education Service (NFED) (journal 'Timpana', literacy primers), School
for Life (literacy primers), University of Ghana (Legon)/Language Centre (Dagbani
dictionary) and some others.
It is necessary to list the aspects of Dagbani orthography which appear to be problematic with respect to their way of writing. The following is a detailed list of examples for the various phenomena, for which the orthographic standards of the different authors seem to deviate.
Generally, their are two basic ways of how to write a language:
1. To write it exactly the way it is pronounced, which is called 'phonetic solution' below.
The advantages of this solution are: The learner can easily transfer his language to writing. The way of spelling should be predictable.
The disadvantages are: Every learner may have his own ideolect; the structure of the language is not represented by the writing; The problem of how to separate lexical units is not resolved by phonetic writing. At least one sound of Dagbani is not represented in the alphabet.
2. Morphological/phonological writing: This means, the spelling is based on the structure of the language. For example, allophones of a certain phoneme should be represented by one letter only.
Advantages: The learner has to acquire some knowledge about the grammar of his language.
Disadvantages: On the surface, it is not always transparent why a word is written in a certain way. The given alphabet of Dagbani includes some letters which are not necessary for the structural representation of the language. On the other hand, the alphabet does not include all phonemes of Dagbani.
- Since the number of letters which are used for Dagbani orthography is already fixed, a 'perfect' solution is not possible. Therefore a mixture of phonetic and phonological solutions was used so far and will probably be the futural standard as well. The question in each case is, which one is the more reasonable solution for the spelling of a specific phenomenon. This means, that not only a certain word mentioned as an example shall be written in a fixed way, but all the words which are concerned by this phenomenon. Exceptions from this rule have to be listed separately. It is important to keep the number of exceptions as low as possible; the reasons for creating an exceptions should be clear and regard the learnability.
- Bawa, Abu-Bakari: Aspects of Dagbani Orthography - A pedagogical approach. Unpublished
dissertation. Cape Coast, 1981.
- Dagbani New Testament Revision Committee: Rules which the DNTRC has found useful.
Tamale, undated ms.
- Olawsky, Knut J.: An introduction to Dagbani phonology. Arbeiten des SFB 282, No. 76.
HHU Düsseldorf, 1996.