L’Académie française honore Tierno Monenembo

Palais de l'Académie française, 23, quai de Conti. Paris.
Palais de l’Académie française, 23, quai de Conti. Paris.

Félicitations à Tierno Monenembo, qui coiffe le Palmarès de l’Académie française pour l’An 2017. Les Immortels (surnom des membres de l’Académie) lui ont, en effet, décerné le Grand Prix de la Francophonie.

Dans plusieurs de ses romans (Peuls, Le roi de Kahel, etc.) Monenembo s’amuse à décocher des flèches aux Sérères, cousins à plaisanterie des Fulbe. Datant du 20e siècle, le plus célèbre des Sérère est, sans conteste, Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001), poète, président de la république du Sénégal et membre de l’Académie française (1983-2001). C’est le premier et le seul Africain à siéger dans l’auguste institution. De sa demeure finale, Senghor doit approuver et sourire à l’honneur rendu à Monenembo.

S’il n’avait pas été inscrit à l’école coloniale française, Tierno Monenembo aurait vraisemblablement évolué pour devenir un grand-maître Nyamakala. Ma suggestion, ici, n’est pas banale, triviale ou vulgaire. Au contraire, elle traite Tierno comme un auteur potentiel du Pular,  au même titre que les artistes de la langue, notamment Hamidou Moƴƴere Balde, Geeto Diallo, etc. En d’autres termes, Monenembo aurait suivi un parcours différent, mais il aurait exploité le même précieux don et il aurait rempli une toute aussi brillante carrière littéraire orale.

Tierno S. Bah

L’annonce publiée aujourd’hui désigne 63 distinctions. Le Grand Prix du Roman sera, comme de coutume, décerné à l’automne.

Séance publique de l'Académie française
Séance publique de l’Académie française

Palmarès 2017

Grands Prix

  • Grand Prix de la Francophonie
    M. Tierno Monénembo (Guinée)
  • Grande Médaille de la Francophonie
    M. François Boustani (Liban)
  • Grand Prix de Littérature
    M. Charles Juliet, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre
  • Grand Prix de Littérature Henri Gal
    Prix de l’Institut de France
    M. Benoît Duteurtre, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre
  • Prix Jacques de Fouchier
    M. Dominique Cordellier, pour Le Peintre disgracié
  • Prix de l’Académie Française Maurice Genevoix
    M. Nicolas Mariot, pour Histoire d’un sacrifice. Robert, Alice et la guerre
  • Grand Prix Hervé Deluen
    M. Daniel Maximin
  • Grand Prix de Poésie
    M. Anthony Phelps, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre poétique
  • Grand Prix de Philosophie
    M. Christian Jambet, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre
  • Grand Prix Moron
    M. Luc-Alain Giraldeau, Dans l’œil du pigeon. Évolution, hérédité et culture
  • Grand Prix Gobert
    M. Jean-Pierre Rioux, pour Ils m’ont appris l’histoire de France et l’ensemble de son œuvre
  • Prix de la Biographie (Littérature)
    M. Marc Hersant, pour Saint-Simon
  • Prix de la Biographie (Histoire)
    M. Bernard de Montferrand, pour Vergennes. La gloire de Louis XVI
  • Prix de la Critique
    M. Jean-Yves Pouilloux, pour L’Art et la Formule
  • Prix de l’Essai
    M. Jacques Henric, pour Boxe
  • Prix de la Nouvelle
    Mme Claire Veillères, pour Une poule rousse et autres nouvelles
  • Prix d’Académie
    • Dom Jean-Éric Stroobant de Saint-Éloy, o.s.b., pour son édition et sa traduction de l’ensemble des commentaires de saint Thomas d’Aquin aux épîtres de Saint Paul aux communautés
    • M. François Chapon, à l’occasion de la parution d’Empreintes sur un buvard. Pages de journal (1953-1989)
    • M. Dominique Noguez, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre
  • Prix du Cardinal Grente
    R.P. Jean-Robert Armogathe, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre
  • Prix du Théâtre
    M. Philippe Caubère, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre dramatique
  • Prix du Jeune Théâtre Béatrix Dussane-André Roussin
    M. Christophe Pellet, pour Aphrodisia et l’ensemble de son œuvre
  • Prix du Cinéma René Clair
    M. Stéphane Brizé, pour l’ensemble de son œuvre cinématographique
  • Grande Médaille de la Chanson Française
    M. Gérard Manset, pour l’ensemble de ses chansons
  • Prix du Rayonnement de la Langue et de la Littérature Françaises
    • Mme Bérénice ANGREMY, attachée culturelle chargée du secteur artistique à l’Institut français de Chine
    • M. Yannis Kiourtsakis, romancier et essayiste Grec
    • M. Piotr Tcherkassov, professeur et historien Russe, spécialiste des relations diplomatiques entre la France et la Russie du XVIIIe au XXe siècle
    • M. Edmund White, romancier et critique américain

Prix de Fondations
Prix de Poésie

  • Prix Théophile Gautier
    M. Hervé Piekarski, pour L’État d’enfance II
  • Prix Heredia
    Mme Flora Aurima-Devatine, pour Au vent de la piroguière. Tifaifai
  • Prix François Coppée
    M. Max Ahlau, pour Si loin qu’on aille
  • Prix Paul Verlaine
    M. Xavier Houssin, pour L’Herbier des rayons
  • Prix Henri Mondor
    M. Dominique Delpirou, pour La Mort de Mallarmé. Échos français et étrangers
  • Prix Maïse Ploquin-Caunan
    M. Emmanuel Echivard, pour La Trace d’une visite

Prix de Littérature et de Philosophie

  • Prix Montyon
    M. Denis Lacorne, pour Les Frontières de la tolérance
  • Prix La Bruyère
    M. Pierre Vesperini, pour Droiture et mélancolie. Sur les écrits de Marc Aurèle
  • Prix Jules Janin
    Mme Claire de Oliveira, pour sa traduction de La Montagne magique de Thomas Mann
  • Prix Émile Faguet
    MM. Pierre Masson et Jean-Pierre Prévost, pour André Gide — Oscar Wilde. Deux immoralistes à la Belle Époque
  • Prix Louis Barthou
    M. François Cérésa, pour Poupe
  • Prix Anna de Noailles
    Mme Nathacha Appanah, pour Tropique de la violence
  • Prix François Mauriac
    M. Jean-François Roseau, pour La Chute d’Icare
  • Prix Georges Dumézil
    M. Louis-Jean Calvet, pour La Méditerranée. Mer de nos langues
  • Prix Roland de Jouvenel
    M. Stéphane Lambert, pour Avant Godot
  • Prix Biguet
    M. Michel Corbin, pour La Doctrine augustinienne de la Trinité
  • Prix Pierre Benoit
    M. Stéphane Maltère, pour La Grande Guerre de Pierre Benoit
  • Prix Jacques Lacroix
    M. Christian Laborde, pour La Cause des vaches

Prix d’Histoire

  • Prix Guizot
    M. Pierre-François Souyri, pour Moderne sans être occidental. Aux origines du Japon d’aujourd’hui
    M. Dominique Julia, pour Le Voyage aux saints. Les pèlerinages dans l’Occident moderne (XVe-XVIIIe siècle)
  • Prix Thiers
    M. Patrick Barbier, pour Voyage dans la Rome baroque. Le Vatican, les princes et les fêtes musicales
  • Prix Eugène Colas
    Mme Fanny Cosandey, pour Le Rang. Préséances et hiérarchies dans la France d’Ancien Régime
    M. Dominique Kalifa, pour La Véritable Histoire de la « Belle Époque »
  • Prix Eugène Carrière
    M. Michel Hochmann, pour Colorito. La technique des peintres vénitiens à la Renaissance
  • Prix du Maréchal Foch
    M. Gérard Chaliand, pour Pourquoi perd-on la guerre ? Un nouvel art occidental
  • Prix Louis Castex
    • MM. Stéphane Demilly et Sylvain Champonnois, pour Henry Potez. Une aventure industrielle
    • Mme Nastassja Martin, pour Les Âmes sauvages. Face à l’Occident, la résistance d’un peuple d’Alaska
  • Prix Monseigneur Marcel
    • M. Florent Libral, pour Le Soleil caché. Rhétorique sacrée et optique au XVIIe siècle en France
    • Mme Édith Garnier, pour Guillaume du Bellay. L’ange gardien de François Ier
  • Prix Diane Potier-Boès
    M. Michel Kaplan, pour Pourquoi Byzance ? Un empire de onze siècles
  • Prix François Millepierres
    Mme Marie-Françoise Baslez, pour Les Premiers Bâtisseurs de l’Église. Correspondances épiscopales (IIe-IIIe siècles)
  • Prix Augustin Thierry
    Mme Juliette Sibon, pour Chasser les juifs pour régner. Les expulsions par les rois de France au Moyen Âge

Prix de Soutien à la Création Littéraire

  • Prix Henri de Régnier
    M. Serge Airoldi, après Rose Hanoï
  • Prix Amic
    Mme Isabelle Spaak, après Une allure folle
  • Prix Mottart
    M. François Garde, après L’Effroi.

 

 

In Memoriam Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1924)

Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1964)
Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1964)

L’article intitulé “Le bâton et le caïman, ou Fily Dabo Sissoko et la France” est extrait d’Etudes africaines : offertes à Henri Brunschwig (Paris : Editions de l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences sociales, 1982). Le document est désormais  accessibles sur webAfriqa, de même que “Les armées peul de l’Adamawa au 19e siècle”, dont l’auteur est l’historien Thierno Mouctar Bah, et que j’introduis séparément.

Henri Brunschwig (1904-1989)
Henri Brunschwig (1904-1989)

Remarquable ouvrage, Etudes africaines : offertes à Henri Brunschwig est le fruit d’une préparation experte par des spécialistes de grande renommée : Jan Vansina, C. H. Perrot, R. Austen, Yves Person, et al.

Biographie de Fily Dabo Sissoko

Sous la plume de P. Brasseur l’article sur la carrière enseignante et politique de Fily Dabo Sissoko (1900-1964) est fouillé et riche. Fily fut l’un des premiers instituteurs d’école  dans l’Empire Colonial de la Troisième République (1870-1940).
Sous le régime du Front Populaire (1936-1938), il fut nommé chef de canton de cercle. A l’avènement de la Quatrième République (1946-1958), il inaugura — avec Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Lamine Guèye, Yacine Diallo, Léopold Sédar Senghor, etc. — l’ère de la politique partisane en Afrique Occidentale Française.

Dans Le congrès de Bamako, ou la naissance du RDA Pierre Kipré fait un compte-rendu partisan et  subjectif sur Fily. Il passe notamment sous silence la fin tragique et ignominieuse de cette grande figure sous la dictature de Modibo Keita, président de la République du Mali (ex-Soudan français).

La contribution de Paul Brasseur fourmille de détails sur le parcours de combattant de Fily Dabo Sissoko. Ce faisant, elle contre-balance le  jugement coloré et l’opinion réductrice de Pierre Kipré.

On est reconnaissant à l’aréopage d’intellectuels européens qui ont redigé et édité ce livre. D’une pierre, ils font plusieurs coups. Au prime abord leur travail  honore Henri Brunschwig, historien lucide de l’Afrique coloniale et post-coloniale. En même temps l’ouvrage dégage la personnalité et restitue partiellement l’action, l’oeuvre et la mémoire de Fily Dabo Sissoko.

Bibliographie de Brunschwig sur l’Afrique :

  • La Colonisation française, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1949.
  • Histoire de la colonisation, Paris, SDMOM, 1953.
  • L’Expansion allemande outre-mer du xve siècle à nos jours, Paris, 1957.
  • Mythes et réalités de l’impérialisme colonial français, 1871-1914, Paris, Armand Colin, 1960.
  • L’avènement de l’Afrique noire, Paris, Armand Colin, 1963.
  • Brazza explorateur. L’Ogooué 1875-1879, Paris, Mouton, 1966.
  • Le Partage de l’Afrique noire, Paris, Flammarion, “Questions d’histoire”, 1971.
  • Ed. : Brazza explorateur. Les traités Makoko, 1880-1882, Paris, Mouton, 1972.
  • Noirs et Blancs dans l’Afrique noire française, Paris, Flammarion, 1983.
  • L’Afrique noire au temps de l’impérialisme français, Paris, Denoël, 1988.

Tierno S. Bah

In Memoriam D. W. Arnott (1915-2004)

D.W. Arnott. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula
D.W. Arnott. The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula

This article creates the webAfriqa homage and tribute to the memory of Professor David W. Arnott (1915-2004), foremost linguist, researcher, teacher and publisher on Pular/Fulfulde, the language of the Fulbe/Halpular of West and Central Africa. It is reproduces the obituary written in 2004 par Philip J. Jaggar. David Arnott belonged in the category of colonial administrators who managed to balance their official duties with in-depth social and cultural investigation of the societies their countries ruled. I publish quite a log of them throughout the webAfriqa Portal: Vieillard, Dieterlen, Delafosse, Person, Francis-Lacroix, Germain, etc.
The plan is to contributed to disseminate as much as possible the intellectual legacy of Arnott’s. Therefore, the links below are just part of the initial batch :

Tierno S. Bah


D. W. Arnott was a distinguished scholar and teacher of West African languages, principally Fulani (also known as Fula, Fulfulde and Pulaar) and Tiv, David Whitehorn Arnott, Africanist: born London 23 June 1915; Lecturer, then Reader, Africa Department, School of Oriental and African Studies 1951-66, Professor of West African Languages 1966-77 (Emeritus); married 1942 Kathleen Coulson (two daughters); died Bedale, North Yorkshire 10 March 2004.

He was one of the last members of a generation of internationally renowned British Africanists/linguists whose early and formative experience of Africa, with its immense and complex variety of peoples and languages, derived from the late colonial era.

Born in London in 1915, the elder son of a Scottish father, Robert, and mother, Nora, David Whitehorn Arnott was educated at Sheringham House School and St Paul’s School in London, before going on to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and won a “half-blue” for water polo. He received his PhD from London University in 1961, writing his dissertation on “The Tense System in Gombe Fula”.

Following graduation in 1939 Arnott joined the Colonial Administrative Service as a district officer in northern Nigeria, where he was posted to Bauchi, Benue and Zaria Provinces, often touring rural areas on a horse or by push bike. His (classical) language background helped him to learn some of the major languages in the area — Fulani, Tiv, and Hausa — and the first two in particular were to become his languages of published scientific investigation.

It was on board ship in a wartime convoy to Cape Town that Arnott met his wife-to-be, Kathleen Coulson, who was at the time a Methodist missionary in Ibadan, Nigeria. They married in Ibadan in 1942, and Kathleen became his constant companion on most of his subsequent postings in Benue and Zaria provinces, together with their two small daughters, Margaret and Rosemary.

From 1951 to 1977, David Arnott was a member of the Africa Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), London University, as Lecturer, then Reader, and was appointed Professor of West African Languages in 1966. He spent 1955-56 on research leave in West Africa, conducting a detailed linguistic survey of the many diverse dialects of Fulani, travelling from Nigeria across the southern Saharan edges of Niger, Dahomey (now Benin), Upper Volta, French Sudan (Burkina Faso and Mali), and eventually to Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea. Many of his research notes from this period are deposited in the Soas library (along with other notes, documents and teaching materials relating mainly to Tiv and Hausa poetry and songs).

He was Visiting Professor at University College, Ibadan (1961) and the University of California, Los Angeles (1963), and attended various African language and Unesco congresses in Africa, Europe, and the United States. Between 1970 and 1972 he made a number of visits to Kano, Nigeria, to teach at Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University, Kano), where he also supervised (as Acting Director) the setting up of the Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages, and I remember a mutual colleague once expressing genuine astonishment that “David never seemed to have made any real enemies”. This was a measure of his integrity, patience and even-handed professionalism, and the high regard in which he was held.

Arnott established his international reputation with his research on Fula(ni), a widely used language of the massive Niger-Congo family which is spoken (as a first language) by an estimated eight million people scattered throughout much of West and Central Africa, from Mauritania and Senegal to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad (as well as the Sudan), many of them nomadic cattle herders.

Between 1956 and 1998 he produced almost 30 (mainly linguistic) publications on Fulani and in 1970 published his magnum opus, The Nominal and Verbal Systems of Fula (an expansion of his PhD dissertation), supplementing earlier works by his predecessors, the leading British and German scholars F.W. Taylor and August Klingenheben. In this major study of the Gombe (north-east Nigeria) dialect, he described, in clear and succinct terms, the complex system of 20 or more so-called “noun classes” (a classificatory system widespread throughout the Niger-Congo family which marks singular/plural pairs, often distinguishing humans, animals, plants, mass nouns and liquids). The book also advanced our understanding of the (verbal) tense- aspect and conjugational system of Fulani. His published research encompassed, too, Fulani literature and music.

In addition to Fulani, Arnott also worked on Tiv, another Niger-Congo language mainly spoken in east/central Nigeria, and from the late 1950s onwards he wrote more than 10 articles, including several innovative treatments of Tiv tone and verbal conjugations, in addition to a paper comparing the noun-class systems of Fulani and Tiv (“Some Reflections on the Content of Individual Classes in Fula and Tiv”, La Classification Nominale dans les Langues Négro-Africaines, 1967). Some of his carefully transcribed Tiv data and insightful analyses were subsequently used by theoretical linguists following the generative (“autosegmental”) approach to sound systems. (His colleague at Soas the renowned Africanist R.C. Abraham had already published grammars and a dictionary of Tiv in the 1930s and 1940s.)

In addition to Fulani and Tiv, Arnott taught undergraduate Hausa-language classes at Soas for many years, together with F.W. (“Freddie”) Parsons, the pre-eminent Hausa scholar of his era, and Jack Carnochan and Courtenay Gidley. He also pioneered the academic study of Hausa poetry at Soas, publishing several articles on the subject, and encouraged the establishment of an academic pathway in African oral literature.

The early 1960s were a time when the available language-teaching materials were relatively sparse (we had basically to make do with cyclostyled handouts), but he overcame these resource problems by organising class lessons with great care and attention, displaying a welcome ability to synthesise and explain language facts and patterns in a simple and coherent manner. He supervised a number of PhD dissertations on West African languages (and literature), including the first linguistic study of the Hausa language written by a native Hausa speaker, M.K.M. Galadanci (1969). He was genuinely liked and admired by his students.

David Arnott was a quiet man of deep faith who was devoted to his family. Following his retirement he and Kathleen moved to Moffat in Dumfriesshire (his father had been born in the county). In 1992 they moved again, to Bedale in North Yorkshire (where he joined the local church and golf club), in order to be nearer to their two daughters, and grandchildren.

Philip J. Jaggar
The Independent

Fulani Proverbial Lore and Word-Play

D. W. Arnott first published this paper in 1957 under the title “Proverbial Lore and Word-Play of the Fulani” (Africa. Volume 27, Issue 4, October 1957, pp. 379-396). I have shortened it a bit for web search engines.
Only the summaries are posted here, pending publication of the full text of the document.
See also: In Memoriam  Professor D. W. Arnott (1915-2004)
Tierno S. Bah

Abstract

The wit and wisdom of the Fulani, as of other African peoples, are expressed most characteristically in their proverbs and riddles. Their proverbs are amply illustrated by the collections of H. Gaden and C. E. J. Whitting, and a selection of riddles appeared in a recent article in Africa by M. Dupire and the Marquis de Tressan. But there are other types of oral literature—both light and serious—which various writers have mentioned, without quoting examples. So Mlle Dupire refers to formes litteraires alambiquées and ritournelles des enfants Bororo, and G. Pfeffer, in his article on ‘Prose and Poetry of the Fulbe,’ speaks of jokes and tongue-twisters. The aim of this article is to present some examples of these types of proverbial lore and word-play—epigrams, tongue-twisters, and chain-rhymes—which were recorded, along with many more riddles and proverbs, in the course of linguistic research during a recent tour of the Fula-speaking areas of West Africa, and to consider their relation to proverbs and riddles. These types of oral literature are of course by no means peculiar to the Fulani, and a number of the examples here quoted may well have parallels in other languages of West Africa or farther afield. But an examination of such pieces in one language may perhaps contribute something to the general study of this kind of lore.

Résumé
Proverbes et devinettes peules

Bien que les proverbes et les devinettes soient l’expression la plus caractéristique de l’esprit et de la sagesse des Peuls, il existe d’autres types de littérature orale—des épigrammes, des phrases difficiles à prononcer et des rimes enchaînées — qui partagent certaines particularités avec eux.
Les devinettes ne sont pas basées sur un jeu de mots, comme la plupart des devinettes anglaises, mais sur un jeu d’idées ou d’images (généralement visuelles, mais quelquefois auditives, ou une combinaison des deux), la comparaison de deux phénomènes qui se ressemblent par leur situation, leur caractère ou leur comportement. Quelquefois la devinette est posée en termes généraux et celui qui veut la résoudre doit trouver la particularité appropriée; mais ordinairement une particularité est donnée et celui qui cherche à résoudre la devinette doit choisir correctement ses traits saillants et trouver un autre objet ayant les mêmes traits.

De même, certains proverbes énoncent un principe général, mais la grande majorité, tout en donnant un exemple d’un principe général, sont exprimés en termes d’une situation particulière. Leur application à d’autres situations entraîne un procès de comparaison analogue à celui associé avec l’invention et la solution de devinettes.

Les épigrammes, comme les proverbes, sont des considérations aphoristiques sur la vie, mais elles sont plus longues et plus compliquées. Elles consistent en un rapprochement de plusieurs phénomènes ayant des caractéristiques générales en commun qui sont habituellement disposés par trois ou par groupes de trois ; les caractéristiques générales peuvent être décrites ou rester implicites, tandis qu’un troisième type classe plusieurs objets apparentés en catégories nettes.

Ces épigrammes ont une structure formelle typique et diverses autres particularités qui les distinguent du langage ordinaire, et qu’ils partagent dans une mesure plus ou moins grande avec les proverbes et les devinettes — une légère anomalie grammaticale, une régularité cadencée et certains procédés stylistiques, tels que la répétition des phrases parallèles et l’assonance basée sur l’utilisation de suffixes identiques.

La structure de la langue peule se prête à de telles assonances et également à la ‘ jonglerie ’ verbale de phrases difficiles à prononcer, tandis que la subtilité de celles-ci égale l’ingénuosité des rimes enchaînées. Ces dernières consistent en un enchaînement d’idées où le dernier mot de chaque ligne évoque le thème de la ligne suivante. Elles montrent également quelques unes des particularités stylistiques et autres, déjà constatées dans les épigrammes, les proverbes et les devinettes. Ainsi, les divers types de littérature orale peule, dont certains sont frivoles et d’autres sont sérieux, sont rapprochés par ces caractéristiques communes comme des éléments intimement liés d’une seule tradition littéraire.

D.W. Arnott

Are Fulɓe Disappearing? And Is Adlam Their Savior?

The answer to the questions in this blog’s title is flatly and emphatically No! First, Fulɓe are not about to disappear, because they are one Africa’s most distributed and populous nations. Second and consequently, the “new” Adlam alphabet cannot be their rescuer. Yet, entitled “The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing,” a paper published in The Atlantic Magazine presents Adlam as the would-be-savior of the Fulbe/Halpular Civilization. I could not disagree more and object stronger.

Kaveh Waddell, The Atlantic Magazine
Kaveh Waddell, The Atlantic Magazine

But I congratulate the Barry brothers for getting a write-up on Adlam in The Atlantic, a major US publication. Unfortunately, the author of the article, Kaveh Waddell, focuses on the digital technology aspects of Adlam (Unicode, Social media, computers, operating systems, mobile devices, etc.) And he does so at the expense of the history and culture of the Fulɓe (See also Fulɓe and Africa). Such a glaring omission defeats the very —and curious—idea of Adlam coming to save Fulɓe/Halpular populations from disappearing!

Before outlining some of the many points of contention, and for the sake of clarity, I should sum up my experience, which spans +40 years of teaching, research, and publishing on the Fulɓe and their  language. I majored in linguistics and African languages, and graduated from the Polytechnic Institute G. A. Nasser of Conakry, Social Sciences Department, Class of 1972 (Kwame Nkrumah). I then taught linguistics and Pular there for 10 years (1972-1982). And I concurrently chaired (from 1973 to 1978) the Pular Commission at Guinea’s Académie des Langues nationales. With my deputy —and esteemed elder—, the late Elhadj Mamadou Gangue, I did field research in the Fuuta-Jalon, inventorying dialects, meeting literati and artists, collecting data.… In 1978, President Sékou Touré sent an original visitor, Adam Bâ, to the Academy. A Pullo from Benin, Mr. Bâ wanted to offer his new Pular alphabet. In addition to the letters, he also had invented a new vocabulary for greetings, leave-takings, titles, ranking, trade, etc. In a nutshell, he was—seriously—asking us to learn a new version of our mother tongue! After listening to his pitch and debating the worthiness of his proposal, we filed back an inadmissibility (fin de non-recevoir) report to the authority.
In 1982 I won a competitive Fulbright-Hayes fellowship and came to the University of Texas at Austin as a Visiting Scholar. My selection rested mainly on my sociolinguistics essay in which I laid out a blueprint for the study of esthetic discourse and verbal art performance in Fuuta-Jalon. I focused on three communities of speech-makers: the Nyamakala (popular troubadours), the caste of Awluɓe (or griots, i.e. court historians and royal counselors) and the Cernooɓe (Muslim scholars, masters of the ajami literature).

That said, here are some of my disagreements and objections from the article.

Students learn to read and write Adlam in a classroom in Sierra Leone (Courtesy of Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry)
Students learn to read and write Adlam in a classroom in Sierra Leone (Courtesy of Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry)
  1. The title of the paper vastly misrepresents the situation of the Fulbe/Halpular peoples. Indeed, those populations —who number in tens of millions— are in no danger of vanishing at all. Therefore, there is no ground for the journalist to claim that Adlam alphabet will rescue the Fulɓe from a hypothetical oblivion. After all, they are one of Africa’s most ancient and dynamic people. Again, to the best of my knowledge the Fulɓe/Halpular do not face an existential threat or the probability of extinction!
  2. The article refers to the Arabic alphabet 11 times. But it doesn’t say anything about the Pular/Fulfulde Ajamiyya traditional alphabet. Yet, the founders of that writing system achieved significant successes in spreading literacy and educating the faithful, from Mauritania and Fuuta-Tooro, on the Atlantic Coast, to Cameroon, in Central Africa, with Fuuta-Bundu, Fuuta-Jalon, Maasina, Sokoto, etc. in between. They developed an important literary corpus and left an impressive intellectual legacy. Some of the brilliant ajamiyya authors include Tierno Muhammadu Samba Mombeya (Fuuta-Jalon), Usmaan ɓii Fooduye (aka Uthman dan Fodio) founder of the Sokoto Empire, Sheyku Ahmadu Bari, founder of the Diina of Maasina, Amadou Hampâté Bâ, etc.

For a partial anthology see  La Femme. La Vache. La Foi. Ecrivains et Poètes du Fuuta-Jalon

3. Ajamyiyya had the backing of the ruling aristocracy in theocentric Fuuta-Jalon (1725-1897). Moreover, it conveys the dogmas, teachings and writings of Classical Arabic in a deeply religious society. That’s why individuals were motivated to write in their language. They acknowledged what Tierno Samba Mombeya famously summarized in the Hunorde (Introduction) of his landmark poem “Oogirde Malal” (circa 1785):

Sabu neddo ko haala mu'un newotoo Nde o fahminiree ko wi'aa to yial.

Miɗo jantora himmude haala pular I compose in the Pular language
Ka no newnane fahmu nanir jaɓugol. To let you understand and accept the Truth.
Sabu neɗɗo ko haala mu’un newotoo Because  the mother tongue helps one best
Nde o fahminiree ko wi’aa to ƴial. As they try to understand what is said in the Essence.

How has History rewarded Tierno Samba and the pantheon of ajamiyya scholars? Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow has best captured their invaluable contribution. He wrote:

« If, one hundred-fifty years following its composition, the Lode of Eternal Bliss (Oogirde Malal) continues to move readers of our country, it’s chiefly because of the literacy vocation it bestows on Pular-Fulfulde, because of its balanced, sure and elegant versification, its healthy, erudite and subtle language, and the national will of cultural assertion that it embodies as well as the desire for linguistic autonomy and dignity that it expresses. »

4. “Why do Fulani people not have their own writing system?” M. Barry wondered. Actually, they do have it with Ajamiyya. By applying their curiosity and creativity they first reverse-engineered the Arabic alphabet by filling the gaps found the original Arabic graphic system. Then they took care of giving the letters descriptive and easy-to-remember Pular names. That didactic and mnemonic strategy facilitated the schooling of children.

5. Again, it is amazing that age 14 and 10 respectively, in 1990, Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry began to devise an alphabet. But it was a bit late for many reasons. I’ll mention only two:
Primo. Back in 1966  UNESCO organized a conference of Experts (linguists, teachers, researchers) for Africa’s major languages in Bamako (Mali). Pular/Fulfulde ranks in the top ten group of African idioms. The proceedings from the deliberations yielded, among similar results for other languages, the Standard Alphabet of Pular/Fulfulde. Ever since, that system has gained currency and is used the world around. It covers all aspects of the language’s phonology, including the following consonants, —which are typical and frequent, but not exclusive to Pular/Fulfulde:

  • ɓ,  example ɓiɓɓe (children), ɓiɗɗo (child)
  • ɗ, example ɗiɗo (two, for people), ɗiɗi (two for animals or objects)
  • ƴ, example ƴiiƴan (blood)
  • ŋ, example ŋeeŋeeru (violin)

The respective decimal Unicode equivalents for the above letters are:

  • ɓ
  • ɗ
  • ƴ
  • ŋ

All modern text editors and browsers are programmed to automatically convert those four codes into the aforementioned Pular/Fulfulde letters.

As a Drupal site builder and content architect, it happened that I filed last night an issue ticket on the Platform’s main website. In it I requested  that —just like in Drupal v. 7— Fulah (Pular/Fulfulde) be reinstated among the  options on the Language Regionalization menu. So far the latest version of Drupal (v. 8) does not include it.

Secundo. Launched as an experiment in 1969, the Internet was 21 years old when Adlam got started in 1990. Ever since, the Digital Revolution has moved to integrate Unicode, which today provides covers all the world’s languages.

6. In 1977, as linguistics faculty at the Social sciences department of the Polytechnic Institute of Conakry, I attended the event. The speaker was none but the late Souleymane Kanté, the inventor of N’Ko. But today —forty-years later— and despite all efforts, the Nko  is still struggling. It is far from delivering its initial promises of  renaissance of the Mande culture area.
President Alpha Condé’s electoral campaign promises to support the N’Ko have been apparently forgotten. And President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali doesn’t seem to even pay attention to the N’Ko. Is it because he prides himself of being a French literature expert?

Conclusion?

No! There is no end to any debate on language, literature, culture. An alphabet is not a gauge of cultural and linguistic development. Let’s not forget that both literacy (letters) and numeracy (numbers) are required for scientific research, administration, shopping, etc. Consequently,  the emphasis on creating new alphabets is, in my view, outmoded. It is sometimes more economical to just borrow from either near or far. Western Europe did just that with the Arabic numbering system. And in this 21st century, Unicode meets all —or most— written communication needs. Luckily, Pular/Fulfulde has been endowed with a Standard Alphabet since 1966. Let’s use it and let’s not try to reinvent the wheel.

Tierno S. Bah