Bamum syllabary (draft)

Updated 20 September, 2021

This page gathers basic information about the syllabic Bamum script and its use for the Bamun language. It aims (generally) to provide an introduction to the orthography and typographic features, and (specifically) to advise how to write Bamun using Unicode. This page restricts itself to discussion of the modern syllabary, and does not cover earlier pictograms and logograms.

Phonetic transcriptions on this page should be treated as an approximate guide, only. Many are more phonemic than phonetic, and there may be variations depending on the source of the transcription.

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Other script summaries.

Sample (Bamoun)

Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details.
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ꛦ-ꚳꛊꚤ ꚳꚣꚧ꛱ꛦꚧ꛱ ꚳ꛰ꚴꚢ ꛲ꛗ ꛧ-ꚳꛊꚤ ꛄꚧ꛱ ꚳ꛰ꛤ꛰ ꚩꚤ ꛲ꛗ ꛨ-ꛅꚧ꛱ ꛣꚠ ꚳꛊꚤꚳ ꛎꛦ ꛛꚧ꛱ ꛲ꛗ ꛩ-꛲ꚣꛤ ꛅꚧ꛱ ꛇꛛꚧ꛱ ꛤ꛰ ꛨ ꚣꛤ ꛛꚧ꛱ ꛦ꛰ꚳ꛰ ꛪ-ꛕꚠꛤ ꛅꚧ ꛈ ꛅꚧ꛱ ꛖ ꚳ꛰ꛤ꛰ ꛲ꚱꛅ꛱

Usage & history

The Bamum script was used for administrative and educational purposes and documentation until the 1930s, when the script's inventor, King Nyoja, was exiled by the French and German colonial powers. The libraries and the printing press were destroyed, many of the books in the Bamum script were also destroyed, and the teaching of the script in schools was banned.

After Cameroon became independent in 1960, Seidou Njimoluh the son and heir of the script's inventor, King Nyoja, collected the Bamum manuscripts and other materials that survived and put them in his father's museum.o

Today the Bamum Scripts and Archives Project is trying to revive the Bamum script by teaching it to young people. o

ꚠ ꚡ ꚢ ꚣ a-ka-u-ku (A name for the script, using its first 4 letters.)

The Bamum script was invented by King Ibrahim Njoya (r. 1895 – 1931). It was originally a collection of around 500 logographs, adapted over 5 major revisions, and sometimes written vertically, top to bottom. No significant works are thought to have survived from this period, and we do not examine these characters here. Their use appears to have been restricted to only a few members of the palace.ws

A final overhaul of the script in 1910 reduced the characters to the syllabic set described here. The koqndon and tukwentis diacritics were introduced at that time to extend the repertoire.

Sources Scriptsource, Omniglot, and Wikipedia.

Basic features

The Bamum script is a syllabary. Letters typically represent a combination of consonants and vowels. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Bamum orthography.

Bamum text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Words are separated by spaces.

Bamum has 80 syllabic characters. The number of syllables can be taken to 160 by the use of a circumflex-like combining mark that modifies the sound.

Another combining mark kills the vowel sound, to provide 12 syllable-final consonant sounds.

The spoken language is tonal, but tones are not written, although some syllables may be dedicated to a particular tone.

Bamum has its own set of punctuation marks.

Ten of the syllables are also used to represent numbers.

 

 

Character index

Letters

Show

Basic syllables

ꚡ␣ꚣ␣ꚥ␣ꚦ␣ꚨ␣ꚪ␣ꚫ␣ꚬ␣ꚭ␣ꚮ␣ꚯ␣ꚰ␣ꚱ␣ꚲ␣ꚳ␣ꚴ␣ꚵ␣ꚶ␣ꚷ␣ꚸ␣ꚹ␣ꚺ␣ꚻ␣ꚼ␣ꚽ␣ꚾ␣ꚿ␣ꛀ␣ꛁ␣ꛂ␣ꛃ␣ꛄ␣ꛅ␣ꛆ␣ꛇ␣ꛈ␣ꛉ␣ꛊ␣ꛋ␣ꛌ␣ꛍ␣ꛎ␣ꛏ␣ꛐ␣ꛑ␣ꛒ␣ꛓ␣ꛔ␣ꛕ␣ꛖ␣ꛗ␣ꛘ␣ꛙ␣ꛚ␣ꛛ␣ꛜ␣ꛝ␣ꛞ␣ꛟ␣ꛠ␣ꛡ␣ꛢ␣ꛣ␣ꛤ␣ꛥ

See also index_numbers.

Vowels

ꚩ␣ꚢ␣ꚤ␣ꚧ␣ꚠ

Combining marks

Show
꛰␣꛱

Numbers

Show
ꛦ␣ꛧ␣ꛨ␣ꛩ␣ꛪ␣ꛫ␣ꛬ␣ꛭ␣ꛮ␣ꛯ

These characters have the Unicode general category of number, but also serve as ordinary syllables.

Punctuation

Show
꛲␣꛳␣꛴␣꛵␣꛶␣꛷
Character lists show:

Phonology

These are sounds of the Bamun language.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i y y ɨ ɨ ɯ ɯ u e o ə ə ɛ ɔ a

Open syllables have vowels of normal length, but vowels followed by a glottal stop are half-long /ˑ/.

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
alveolar
palatal velar labialized velar labio-velar glottal
stop p b
ᵐp ᵐb
t d
ⁿt ⁿd
      k ɡ
ᵑk ᵑɡ
ɡʷ
ᵑkʷ ᵑɡʷ
k͡p g͡b
ᵑ͡ᵐk͡p ᵑ͡ᵐg͡b
ʔ
fricative f v
ᵐf ᵐv
  s z
ⁿs ⁿz
ʃ ʒ
ᶮʃ ᶮʒ
  x ɣ      
nasal m   n   ɲ ŋ ŋʷ ŋ͡m
approximant w   l   j      
trill/flap     r    

Some transcriptions include an x to indicate a slight voiceless velar fricative (according to Ward) that occasionally follows ɯ and other close vowels. It has been omitted here.r

Structure

Most Bamum words are syllables of the form CV(C).d,584

The closing consonant of a syllable can only be one of p t m n ŋ.d,584

Syllables

Observation: It was difficult to find information about the Bamum syllabary, and the phonetic values of the symbols had to be interpreted from different transcriptions, which occasionally appeared to be inconsistent. The lists below use Wikipedia as the basis for the plain syllables and those with diacritics. There appear to be some anomalies in the Wikipedia data and an attempt was made to address those. The information about digraphs comes from Omniglot. The following should be considered a best estimate of the correspondences between letters and sounds, given the information available.

Bamum syllables

Vowels

ꚩ␣ꚩ꛰␣ꛉ꛰␣ꚢ␣ꚤ␣ꚤ꛰␣ꚧ꛱␣ꚧ␣ꚧ꛰␣ꚠ␣ꚠ꛰

Stops

ꛝ␣ꛝ꛰␣ꛈ␣ꛈ꛰␣ꛅ␣ꛅ꛰␣ꛗ꛰␣ꛗ␣ꛊ␣ꛊ꛰␣ꛠ꛰␣ꛅꚧ␣ꚫ␣ꚫ꛰
ꛗꚢ␣ꛠ␣ꛗꚧ␣ꛧ␣ꛧ꛰
ꛤ␣ꛤ꛰␣ꛫꚧ꛰␣ꛫ꛰␣ꛫ␣ꚦ␣ꛇ꛰␣ꛇ␣ꛪ␣ꛪ꛰␣ꛨ␣ꛨ꛰␣ꚦꚧ␣ꚦ꛰␣ꚰ␣ꚰ꛰␣ꛤ꛱
ꚱꚩ␣ꚱꚤ␣ꚱꚧ␣ꛫꚢ␣ꚱ␣ꚱ꛰␣ꚱ꛱
ꛥ␣ꛥ꛰␣ꛄ␣ꚣ␣ꚣ꛰␣ꚻ꛰␣ꚺ␣ꚺ꛰␣ꛟꚧ␣ꛒ␣ꛒ꛰␣ꚻ␣ꛓ␣ꛟ␣ꛟ꛰␣ꚡ␣ꚡ꛰␣ꛩ␣ꛟ꛱
ꛔꚤ␣ꛔꚧ␣ꛯ꛰␣ꛔ␣ꛔ꛰␣ꛔ꛱

Fricatives

ꛮ꛰␣ꛘ␣ꛘ꛰␣ꛋ␣ꛋ꛰␣ꛘꚧ␣ꛙ␣ꛭ␣ꛭ꛰␣ꛘ꛱
ꛮꚩ␣ꛮ␣ꛘꚢ␣ꛮꚤ␣ꛙ꛰
ꚷ␣ꚷ꛰␣ꚷꚧ꛰␣ꚹ꛰␣ꚹ␣ꚴ꛰␣ꚴ␣ꚷꚤ␣ꛬ␣ꛬ꛰␣ꚷ꛱
ꚭ꛰
ꚶ꛰␣ꚶ␣ꚶꛉ꛰␣ꚸ␣ꛖ␣ꛖ꛰␣ꛀ␣ꛀ꛰␣ꛃ꛰␣ꛃ␣ꚶ꛱␣ꛖ꛱
ꚶꚩ␣ꚾ␣ꛆ␣ꚲ␣ꚿꚢ␣ꛃꚠ
ꛄ꛰␣ꛯ

Nasals

ꛎ␣ꛎ꛰␣ꚵ␣ꚵ꛰␣ꚯ꛰␣ꚯ␣ꛢ␣ꛢ꛰␣ꛦ␣ꛦ꛰␣ꛣ␣ꛣ꛰␣ꛩ꛰␣ꚳ␣ꛦ꛱
ꛏ␣ꚽ␣ꚽ꛰␣ꚼ␣ꛏ꛰␣ꛛ꛰␣ꛛ␣ꚳ꛰␣ꛛ꛱
ꚨ␣ꚨ꛰
ꚼ꛰␣ꛓ꛰␣ꛕ␣ꛕ꛰

Liquids

ꛉ␣ꚢ꛰␣ꛚ␣ꛚ꛰
ꚬ␣ꚬ꛰␣ꚭ␣ꛑꚧ꛰␣ꛐ꛰␣ꛐ␣ꛌ␣ꛌ꛰␣ꚥ␣ꛑ␣ꚥ꛰␣ꛡ␣ꛡ꛰␣ꛑ꛰␣ꛑꚠ
ꛜ␣ꛜ꛰␣ꛍ␣ꛍ꛰␣ꚮ꛰␣ꚮ␣ꛞ␣ꛞ꛰␣ꚪ␣ꚪ꛰␣ꛜ꛱
ꚸ꛰␣ꛁ␣ꛁ꛰␣ꚾ꛰␣ꚲ꛰␣ꚿ␣ꚿ꛰␣ꛂ␣ꛂ꛰␣ꚾ꛱

Extending the repertoire

The 80 syllabic symbols of the Bamum syllabary are not sufficient to cover all the sounds of the Bamun language. To extend the repertoire, 3 approaches are used.

  1. Add the diacritic   [U+A6F0 BAMUM COMBINING MARK KOQNDON].
  2. Add the diacritic   [U+A6F1 BAMUM COMBINING MARK TUKWENTIS].
  3. Combine syllable symbols to create new sounds.

Use of kɔʔⁿdɔn

  [U+A6F0 BAMUM COMBINING MARK KOQNDON] changes the sound of a syllable. This most commonly involves shortening the vowel and adding a final glottal stop while removing any existing syllable-final consonants, eg. compare kɛt ꚻ꛰ kɛʔ

Sometimes prenasalisation is also removed,ws,266 eg. compare ⁿte ꛇ꛰ teʔ

In other cases, the sound change involves syllable-final nasalisation rather than a glottal stop, eg. compare pi ꛝ꛰

In a number of other cases, the change is much more idiosyncratic, eg. compare fɔm ꛙ꛰ ᵐvɔp

Use of tukwentis

  [U+A6F1 BAMUM COMBINING MARK TUKWENTIS] generally, kills the vowel to produce a symbol that can be used for a syllable coda, eg. compare ti ꛤ꛱ t

Two exceptions are ⁿʒuə ꚾ꛱ jand ɔ ꚧ꛱ ɔ͓ ə

Letter combinations

Additional sounds can be created by combining syllable glyphs.

For example, ꛘꚢ [U+A6D8 BAMUM LETTER FU + U+A6A2 BAMUM LETTER U] doubles the vowel of fu to produce the voiced syllable vu.wl

Other examples don't appear to follow a specific rule. For example, ꛔꚤ [U+A6D4 BAMUM LETTER NGGA + U+A6A4 BAMUM LETTER EE] combines symbols for ᵑga and e to make the sound gi.

Tones

Bamum has 5 tones: à low, á high, ā mid, ǎ rising, â falling.wl,#Tones

Observation: Evidence needed as to whether or not they are indicated in the orthography.

Numbers

Bamum uses 10 ordinary syllables to also represent numeric digits.

ꛦ␣ꛧ␣ꛨ␣ꛩ␣ꛪ␣ꛫ␣ꛬ␣ꛭ␣ꛮ␣ꛯ

[U+A6EF BAMUM LETTER KOGHOM] originally  had the value 10, or multiples of 10, but was changed to a decimal zero when the syllabary was produced.r,4

Text direction

Bamum text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Bamun orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.

You can experiment with examples using the Bamum character app.

Apart from the placement of the two diacritics above characters, there is no interaction between the glyphs of the Bamum syllable set.

Bamum has no special requirements for baseline alignment between mixed scripts or in general.

The orthography has no case distinction.

Font styles

tbd

Punctuation & inline features

Grapheme boundaries

Unicode grapheme clusters can be applied to Bamum without problems. There are no special issues related to operations that use grapheme clusters as their basic unit of text.

Word boundaries

tbd

Spaces are used to separate words in Bamum.

Bamum uses hyphens inside words, eg. these 2 words are from the sample above ꛧ-ꚳꛊꚤ mᵇᵃᵃ-mpᵉe mbaa-mpee ꛨ-ꛅꚧ꛱ tᵋᵗ-pᵚˣɔ͓ tɛt-pɯʔ

Phrase & section boundaries

phrase

[U+A6F5 BAMUM COMMA]

[U+A6F6 BAMUM SEMICOLON]

[U+A6F4 BAMUM COLON]

sentence

[U+A6F3 BAMUM FULL STOP]

[U+A6F7 BAMUM QUESTION MARK]

The punctuation marks correspond closely to western equivalents, probably because the western punctuation was the inspiration.

Parentheses & brackets

tbd

Quotations

tbd

Emphasis

tbd

Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition

tbd

Inline notes & annotations

tbd

Other inline ranges

tbd

Other punctuation

tbd

[U+A6F2 BAMUM NJAEMLI] introduces proper-nouns, or can be used to disambiguate homographs.

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

By default, lines are broken at inter-word spaces. As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Bamun orthography.

Text alignment & justification

tbd

Letter spacing

tbd

Counters, lists, etc.

tbd

Styling initials

tbd

Page & book layout

This section is for any features that are specific to Bamum and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.

Languages using the Bamum script

According to ScriptSource, the Bamum script is used only for the following language:

References