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Any use of the symbols created in this project should first be checked through contact with this email: odensibiri@gmail.com.

10 May 2011

Akagu - The hand of the Leopard | Milestone 2

As you may have noticed from the cheesy pictures that were posted showing a translation of famous products of Nigeria and famous products in Nigeria into a 'funny' nsibidi-looking script, I have created the mora (or syllabary) derived from nsibidi which. This is a suggested new script for the Igbo language, and if adjustments are made it could also be suitable for other cross river languages like Ibibio, although a new mora would probably be more suitable.

The name I chose for the script is 'akagu', it has a very simple meaning and if you read Igbo (in the horrible, evil, terrible, Latin script of course) you would know that this means 'Leopards hand'. The name was coined as a homage to the leopard societies that developed and maybe even invented nsibidi, so it's supposed to be be understood as 'the hand of the leopard', 'the writing of the leopard', or even 'the writing from the leopard people'.

The grapheme's or 'letters' aren't just direct copies of the current Igbo-Latin alphabet (Önwu), new phonemes (fancy talk for sounds) have also been added, including one that could be represented in Latin by an X! More on that later.

First, let's see what the characters look like and what their Latin equivalents are, and then we will look at how we got these characters.

You may have noticed that letter C has been knocked out. Who ever uses c in Igbo except for 'chi'? Why was left put in? The other characters are acceptably explained with the Latin script except the XI, this is typically found in the dialects around Umuahia and some other parts of the Igbo speaking area of Nigeria. An example for 'Xi' is found in the word for 'zi' (show) in a particular type of Igbo (such as Ohühü) the sond is also found in 'ezì' (pig), the sound is comparable to French 'je' but more specifically 'ji'.

Nwa, nwe, et is a commonly repeating phoneme so it has been made into characters. Ch you may remember is from the made up character for the concept of chi, this chi is differentiated because the chi is not in their 'house' (the box that surrounds it). When spelling 'chi', the 'i' in akagu is not needed as 'ch' is 'chi'. The Hā, hē, et is typically found in Abia state and in the Ika speaking region of Delta state. The hnwā, hnwē, et is typically found in Ngwa. The ñ is found in the 'ñu' ('drink').

The tones explain themselves, the high and low tone come before and after the vowels or the 'n' or 'm' respectively, the symbols for 'ạ' and 'ȧ' are representations of the nasal tones and the 'ä' is the mid nasal tone, e.g in hä (them).

There are two types of the script which can be compared to capitals and lower case. The first kind is the 'normal' script (top) and it is this that is used for formal writing and for a computer unicode (typing). The second is 'Akagụ ȯsȯ' ('Fast akagu') is the less formal way of writing, maybe in a situation like at school or a letter to a friend. The main akagu is also used to write foreign words and the quick hand is used to write Igbo, which is similar to Japanese kana.

Complex characters and vowels

One of the biggest differences to the Latin script is the creation of complex characters using vowels on consonants. To make a long explanation....not long, in Igbo we know that some vowels are dropped when a sentence is made with a word ending in a vowel and a next character starting with a vowel (I can't be bothered to do fancy words), a sentence like 'Ọ gà na írú' ('progression'), has become a word in Igbo but the current writing system is so inconsistent, and the lack of management for Igbo is so little that it can be written anyhow, anyway, short story, short story. Another way of writing it would be 'Ọganíru', notice how the a from 'na' has been dropped? In akagu the 'a' is written in the quick hand form and then placed at the top right of the consonant before it, the superior vowel (in this case 'i') is written normally and the spaces are removed from the two words. Why do this? Sometimes when Igbo words are joined together in Latin, the original meaning is hard to decipher especially when most people who write Igbo leave accents off certain words, e.g n'ime is 'na ime' (inside) and could be read also as 'na ímé' ('to do...'). In akagu the vowel that would have been left out is added to a consonant almost as an accent, more appropriately a complex character that's similar to a ligature. This preserves the whole original word from the complex character to the beginning of the word, and also signals to the reader to add an extra stretch or to add that little sound that indicates a vowel skipped. The only way I can explain is in an English name like Michael, you almost say My-kel, but you say My-kol because of that 'a', well depending on you English accent, but you should have a rough understanding of what I mean.

In the picture below, the vowels that makes up the complex characters are circled in red. Try and see if you can read it, it may seem a bit awkward at first, but what doesn't?!

I understand that the writing system will have to be explained orally for better understanding.


This post is long enough so this is the origins of the script condensed:
The characters were taken from original nsibidi characters and then simplified by writing the nsibidi characters over and over again in a style that mimicks shorthand or everyday use.

The characters produced from this shorthand use is then assigned to a phoneme (sound) that is similar to the first used in the nsibidi it was derived from, e.g the 's' phoneme was from 'osisi' ('tree or wood', the 'o' phoneme was from 'ogbakọ' (meeting), et.

The quick hand nsibidi were the first created. They didn't look formal or nsibidi-like enough so some were simplified further and they were all given bars at their ends, similar to many nsibidi characters.

And that was it.

Below is a comparison of the akagu script to the nsibidi characters they were derived from. Some of the nsibidi characters were forged (or merged) here on this blog, some of them were simplified, some are completely original, some are not nsibidi characters but motifs.

This is Akagu, a proposed Igbo script. As you may have seen, akagu can be put into different weights, sizes, cases and more. It is dynamic and also unique. One of the disadvantages it has to Latin is that it cannot be recognised as easily as Latin in the lowest text size possible, apart from that I'll let the readers (and the people who may be manipulating it one day) decide. There are probably many errors and this post is very long, so I'll end it here. More updates will be coming for nsibidi and akagu later, in the meantime your feedback would be appreciated.


  1. I have to say, I am impressed. Mainly because of that tidbit you mentioned about my people, Ngwa (haha), but also because of everything else. I'd imagine that all this isn't just you, right? You must be coordinating with others.

  2. No, it's just a personal project. It's just at an informal stage right now, and I intend to do primary research before making any steps to putting it fully out there. I made it public here so some Igbo speakers can give their input, of course I also know other Igbo speakers personally.

  3. I've noticed that a lot of tones from my language are absent and some like 'hnw' aren't applicable in my language. Anyway I just started to wonder whether some unique syllabary characters are usefull since they just seem to add more complexity and they can't account for all tones producible. Wouldn't it be better to borrow from syllabary scripts and limit the characters for tones to 20-30? New sounds could be created by merging characters already present and this would limit complexity thus improving literacy numbers for most.

    Do you guys think the characters should be limited to 500 of the most commonly used (read it from wiki)? This is to just improve literacy since it isn't used nationally and also if its more difficult few will be able to learn as we don't have the benefits of being a nationally standardized script like with Chinese.

    1. I didn't see this comment. I ended up cutting out the syllabary for an alphabet with a few syllabic elements. Also, the nsibiri script is secondary to akagu meaning the nsibiri are there for indeterminable homonyms which tonal languages are full of.