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We need alphabets that represents African languages wholly

By Kareithi Njenga | July 17th 2021

The current Gikuyu alphabet was intended to represent Gikuyu linguistic morphology. When white missionaries arrived in Kenya, they had to translate the Bible into local languages.

It wasn’t an easy task. Firstly, they did not know the languages, how to speak or write in them. Secondly, the Agikuyu did not have a form of writing represented by letters as the English did. This made it difficult for both parties to arrive at a substantial conclusion.

Efforts were made and they gave birth to the alphabet we have today. However, the alphabet has to be looked back into so that we can have an alphabet that is more Gikuyu than English.

The alphabet that was made included the following letters: A B C D E G H I J K M N O R T U W Y; also, there were two additional letters ? and ?. The Gikuyu language was represented with two additional vowels rather than the five vowels in English. Therefore, the following vowels represented sounds in the Gikuyu language: a e i ? o u ?. They represented the following sounds, a as in a-nt, e as in e-lephant, i as in i-nk, ? as in a-ge, o as in o-val, u as in s-oup, ? as in l-oan.

Since English speaking people could not pronounce the Gikuyu language properly, the following common mistakes were made.

First, Gikuyu words are vowel-consonant-vowel in their formation. That is, there is no Gikuyu word that ends with a consonant or has two consonants preceding each other. For example, in Nilotic languages words can end with a consonant e.g in the Luo language, there are words like “matek”, “jaduong” and so on, and in the kiswahili language there are words like, “mbona”, “njanga” and so on. The Gikuyu language does not pronounce two consonants without a vowel between them. The following words are represented here as they are written according to the alphabet formed by missionaries and how they are pronounced by Gikuyu speakers: nduma pronounced as duma, Njeri pronounced as jeri, mbutu pronounced as butu, Baba pronounced as fafa, ngar? pronounced as gar?.

Therefore, this leads us to the need of incorporating more letters and changing the rules for writing the Gikuyu language to have an alphabet that represents the Gikuyu language wholly.


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