Unique Script From Liberian Language Revealed Information About The Emergence Of Written Language

The first page of Vai manuscript MS17817. (The British Library)
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The first page of Vai manuscript MS17817. (The British Library)

Highlights

  • The Vai script of Liberia was constructed from scratch in approximately 1834 by eight absolutely illiterate males who wrote in ink produced from crushed berries.
  • As far as known, writing was invented roughly 5,000 years ago in the Middle East and has been reinvented numerous times since then.

A rare script from a Liberian language has revealed fresh information on how written languages emerge. According to linguistic scientist Piers Kelly, presently at the University of New England in Australia stated that the Vai script of Liberia was constructed from scratch in approximately 1834 by eight absolutely illiterate males who wrote in ink produced from crushed berries.

They felt that it could tell them something essential about how writing evolves over short periods of time because of its isolation and the way it has continued to develop up until now. Researchers are still unsure how this primitive human technology evolved into the widespread requirement that it is today.

As far asknown, writing was invented roughly 5,000 years ago in the Middle East and has been reinvented numerous times since then. In locations like Nigeria and Senegal, new writing systems are currently being developed.Indeed the earliest writing systems, such as the Vai script, are assumed to have been created by tiny groups of people within a single generation. The team believes that as they progressed through generations, these processes became simpler.

However, Kelly said thatthere are many abstract letter shapes in early writing. Instead, we projected that signs would begin as somewhat complex and then become simpler when successive generations of writers and readers came along. Inspired by a dream, the eight Vai creators set out to construct symbols for each of their language's syllables. Physical items like a pregnant lady, water, and bullets, as well as more abstract traditional emblems, were represented by their selected symbols.

It was earlier taught formally by a literate teacher who passed on their knowledge of the script to an apprentice student which must have been difficult to remember with 200 unique letters. This method of teaching written language is still in use today, and it is even being utilized to deliver pandemic health messages. Kelly and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute used archives from multiple nations to examine the Vai people's 200-syllabic alphabet from 1834 onwards.

The Vai script did grow increasingly compacted over the first 171 years of its existence. The simplification took place over several generations of users, with the most complex symbols being simplified the most.

According to the research team, these alterations are far from random. Languages go through a natural selection process via memory and learning, in which the traits that are the most difficult to remember do not survive. Kelly and her team discovered that as the letters became less complex, they also became more uniform. This is despite the fact that the language was never used for mass production or bureaucratic purposes. These applications appeared to aid in the standardization of other languages. For example, Mesopotamia's writing standardization occurred concurrently with the introduction of state-wide systems.

Languages are likely to be simplified as a result of changes in tools, such as new writing utensils and the introduction of paper for use with computers. Whereas therapid emergence of this writing system is impressive, the researchers believe it occurred because its creators and users already knew what writing was capable of, having seen it used in other societies. This may have prompted the Vai to improve their system as rapidly as possible.

Furthermore, there is a trade-off between simplification and maintaining that each symbol is different, which could explain why some programs maintain their complexity. The researchers want to dig deeper into this and explore more information about it.

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