In 1989, two brothers in Guinea, aged 10 and 14, invented an alphabet from scratch for their native language. Pular (and Fulfulde) were spoken by millions of Fula people dispersed across Western Africa, but had no writing system of their own. Within a few years, the boys’ script spread like wildfire, as a culture embraced a new literacy. The alphabet is called ADLaM (or Adlam) after its first four letters and an acronym for a phrase meaning “the alphabet that protects a people from vanishing.”
As users of the Latin script, we seldom think of the origins of our writing system, let alone the process it underwent to become widely established. This is the process happening now — at an unprecedented pace — for Adlam. In this two-part talk, you’ll be introduced to Adlam by the inventors of the script, Abdoulaye and Ibrahima Barry. They’ll talk about the culture of the Fulani, how they use Adlam, and how they are embracing digital technologies to spread its use.
Then we’ll hear from the two American type designers who are developing the first multi-weight, multi-style typeface for Adlam. They’ll talk about the design challenges in bringing typographic diversity to a new writing system, and the twists and turns that come with working for an ever-changing landscape of African culture, the internet, and computing technology.
Abdoulaye Barry is from Guinea, West Africa, currently living in Portland, Oregon. He co-created the ADLaM alphabet for the Fulani and other African languages, alongside his brother. He holds a BS in Financial Management from the University of Conakry and MS in Financial Analysis from Portland State University. After 10 years in the private sector working in various accounting and finance positions, he currently works in the Finance Rates and Audit Division of the Public Utility Commission of Oregon. He is passionate about education and development issues in Guinea and how they relate to language. He is also doing research on the different Fulani dialects and has written or translated books on grammar, religion, short stories and current topics. He is a member of the Winden Jangen Organization for the promotion of ADLaM and also of the North American Fulani and Friends Association (NAFFA).
Ibrahima is from Guinea, West Africa, currently living in Portland, Oregon. He co-created the ADLam alphabet for the Fulani and other African languages, alongside his brother. He holds BS in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Portland State University and has worked as a teaching assistant for the University of Conakry and currently works for the United States Postal Service. He also works on the ADLaM alphabet, perfecting its style and design. He has written many books including a comprehensive grammar and orthography book for the Fulani language. This serves as a reference and a standard in unifying the different dialects of the Fulani language. He is also working on the first Fulani dictionary in the ADLaM alphabet. He is a member of the Winden Jangen Organization for the promotion of ADLaM and also of the North American Fulani and Friends Association (NAFFA).
Mark Jamra is a type designer and professor at Maine College of Art, who has designed and produced typefaces for over 30 years. He is the founder of TypeCulture, a digital type foundry and academic resource, and is a partner of JamraPatel, a studio focusing on type design for under-supported language communities. Mark has taught graphic design, lettering, typography and type design at colleges and workshops in the U.S. and Germany. His typefaces have received recognition from the TDC and the Association Typographique Internationale.
Neil Patel is a type designer and former semiconductor process engineer based in Portland, Maine. He is the founder of Tetradtype, an independent type foundry, and partner of JamraPatel, a studio focusing on multi-script type systems. Neil’s collaborative logotype designs with local studios has been featured in How Magazine and Comm Arts. He is also a self-taught app developer who creates applications for language communities in Africa.