New Writing Systems: Amma & Adlam


FontLab’s Thomas Phinney shows Amma and Adlam, two scripts recently constructed for for real-world languages—newborn Amma of Sri Lanka, just invented two years ago, and West Africa’s Adlam at 26, seemingly on the verge of becoming mainstream.

Sri Lanka was riven by civil war for over 25 years, ending in 2009 with the defeat of the rebel Tamil Tigers by Sinhalese-majority government forces. Against this backdrop, Pathum Egodawatta recently unveiled Amma—an entirely new writing system, which ambitiously attempts to be midway between the Sinhala and Tamil writing systems—mutually intelligible to the readers from these two formerly-feuding families, while not being the same as either.

While Amma is only two years old, another new writing system, Adlam, has been around for 26 years, and continues to gradually gain traction, despite initial government opposition. Adlam (technically ADLaM or Alkule Dandaydhe Leñol am Mulugol—“the alphabet which protects my people from vanishing”) is intended as a better written representation of the language(s) variously known as Fulfulde, Fulani, Fula, or Pulaar, and spoken across western/central Africa by some 40 million people, about 1/3 of whom are nomadic, and most of whom are illiterate. Adlam was invented in 1989 by two brothers, Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry, in Guinea, and is in the process of being added to Unicode.

This talk is also the basis for an article coming in the September/October issue of Communication Arts.