Back in the 1980’s, as the story goes, two Fulani brothers growing up in Guinea took it upon themselves to invent a script that they called “ADLaM”: “Alkule Dandayɗe Leñol Mulugol”, or “The Alphabet that protects the peoples from vanishing”.1 I had the opportunity to meet Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry in 2014 when they visited New York, and heard about the work that had been done up to that point by Michael Everson and Randall Hasson toward bringing the script into the Unicode Standard. It had been brought to my attention the previous year by Deborah Anderson at the Script Encoding Initiative at UC-Berkeley. Adlam came to wider public attention in 2016 with the publication of an article in The Atlantic.
As with many scripts, it has gone through phases of development, such that the style of the glyphs has varied, in some cases quite substantially, from its original handwritten design, to the way it was printed in early publications, to a calligraphic style which became the standard for use in code charts, to a detailed reworking of some of the glyphs post-standardization by the font design house Jamra Patel. In digital humanities work, it may not be necessary to track all of these changes, but it would be important to be aware of them in case they come up in, for example, a project addressing Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
Adlam is not the only script that has been used for the Fulani language; it has earned its place alongside ‘Ajami (modified Arabic script), extended Latin, and two short-lived alphabets known as ‘Dita’ and ‘Ba’.2
The utility of Adlam has been expressed through a wide range of resources, covering newspapers, lesson books, translation of a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) file from the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, and production of a translation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). I helped coordinate the translation of the FAQ on Ebola in August of 2014 during the West Africa outbreak.
Figure 1. Excerpt from the WHO AFRO FAQ on Ebola, translated into Fulani using the Adlam script in 2014 by Ibrahima Barry.
Figure 2. Excerpt from the UDHR in Fulani using Adlam, provided by Boubacar Diallo.
Bringing it into the Unicode Standard has allowed it to be supported on newer versions of Android, with some apps like a calculator (kiimirgal) that use it, and on more recent builds of Windows 10 (18252, 18329, and 18346) as part of a system font. It stands to become more prevalent in bibliographic metadata as system support improves and a romanization table is developed. You may find catalog records that follow a preliminary romanization table at this link.
Everson, Michael. Revised proposal for encoding the Adlam script in the SMP of the UCS. ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 N4628R. https://unicode.org/L2/L2014/14219r-n4628-adlam.pdf Accessed 17 May, 2019.
Mafundikwa, Saki. Afrikan alphabets: the story of writing in Afrika. New Jersey: Mark Batty, 2004.
Waddell, Kaveh. “The alphabet that will save a people from disappearing”. The Atlantic, 16 November 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/11/the-alphabet-that-will-save-a-people-from-disappearing/506987/ Accessed 17 May, 2019.
Winden-Jangen. www.windenjangen.org/ Accessed 17 May, 2019.
Unicode code chart: Adlam. www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1E900.pdf Accessed 17 May, 2019.