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Afrikan Alphabets: The Story of Writing in Afrika [Paperback]

Saki Mafundikwa


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Book Description

Oct. 1 2006
Sets the record straight about how colonial powers suppressed the rich histories of these alphabets.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Mark Batty Publisher (Oct. 1 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0977282767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977282760
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 17.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,374,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating linguistic history Sept. 18 2004
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Afrikan Alphabets: The Story Of Writing In Afrika is the impressive result of author Saki Mafundikwa's 20-year effort to collect information on writing systems throughout Africa. Pictographs, mnemonic devices, syllabaries and alphabets are all graphically presented with pronounciation guides, and color photographs of people, art and documents, and brief essays concering the histories of various writing scripts. A superb reference guide and a fascinating linguistic history.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of the history of indigenous African scripts, but incomplete. July 9 2006
By The Sesh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is fantastic in covering the history of indigenous African scripts, a subject many are unaware of. However, the author should have begun by discussing the beginning of African writing which took place in Ancient Kemet (Egypt). He did not discuss it at all. Perhaps one could claim that it is because the script is no longer in use, but then why did the author discuss some contemporary scripts that are not in use? The only other reason I could think of is because Egypt is already so well known and he wanted to focus on the Sub-Saharan groups that are more disregarded. Fair enough, but then the author should have discussed the Meroitic script of the ancient Nubians of Kush and noted the lack of global interest in deciphering this ancient alphabet.

Otherwise, the book is fantastic and the Zimbabwean author a blessing to the global community of people of African descent. His understanding of the unity of our people is unsurpassed and refreshing in light of the separatism we are taught to practice among ourselves.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars light on ancient thought Aug. 3 2013
By T S - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
cool. good quality, good info. extensive stuff on the symbolic level. I liked that. The encoding of meaning in shapes, and the manifestations of meaning in sound. yum stuff.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good and timely survey vitiated by errors and slanted approach Jan. 31 2012
By Mark Newbrook - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book provides a very interesting survey of an area often neglected in discussions of writing systems; indeed, as the author and the preface-writer Tadadjeu indicate, it is often assumed (though not by linguists) that African languages were seldom written before the introduction of alphabets (mainly by European colonisers) in modern times. The material covers the origins and characteristics of a wide range of scripts used to write various African languages.

The main problem with the book involves a considerable element of `Afrocentrism': the recent tendency (especially in the USA and elsewhere in the African diaspora) to exaggerate the role of Africa in world culture, by way of reaction to the previous, often racist down-playing of Africa's contributions to history and intellectual life (and to institutions such as slavery). Examples are the ready acceptance of Bekerie's extreme and often dubious claims about the Ethiopic `abugida' (intermediate between an alphabet and a syllabary), and the seriously exaggerated claims made for the Cameroonian Shu-Mom system (made especially strongly in the preface). Afrocentric pseudo-historical works are cited without any acknowledgment of their highly marginal status. Quasi-mystical notions involving `harmony' and spirituality are foregrounded in places.

There are also some oddities, commencing with the decision to spell the words Africa and African with K rather than C, on the ground that K is the letter normally used for the sound in question in Africa itself. The C-K contrast arises only in the context of the modern use of the roman alphabet, where either letter would serve. The Romans used the form with C because this was how they transliterated all Greek loans which had kappa (K) in the original. Furthermore, and more seriously, the scripts covered include various non-alphabetic systems (syllabaries, the Ethiopic abugida, etc); the title is thus misleading (possibly because alphabet is much the best known of these terms among non-linguists). In addition, some of the systems discussed are not true scripts but are instead semiotic systems not representing specific languages or their words, or even simply art or at best matters of graphic design. This may involve the desire to suggest that pre-modern African societies were more literate than was in fact the case (another manifestation of Afrocentrism). And in more general terms the level of linguistic expertise leaves something to be desired. For instance, the notions of ideograph and logograph are confused, and the comments about the ultimate origins of writing are rather naive and inaccurate.

In sum: while the book is informative on a little-known topic, it must be read with various caveats in mind.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars indispensável. May 16 2007
By cesar landucci neto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
esqueçamos um pouco essa cultura eurocentrada. olhemos além.

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