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From the 19 century, West African writers, linguists and translators made use of the printing press and the roman script brought by Europeans to translate the Bible and to call for political change.For more on these developments, see the Spirit and Speaking Out articles. This was partly a quest to express their own languages fully.
These letters were made from materials such as cowrie-shells and seeds and their meaning was deduced from factors such as the position of each item in a message string, or even, as Karin Barber writes, puns in the Yoruba language.The Afroasiatic family encompasses languages of the Berber group, spoken by desert communities, including the Tamasheq people, around the Sahara.Its Chadic branch includes Hausa, also a major language of Nigeria.Africa is generally recognised to have four main language families.Each of these has a common origin in the deep past.The Nilo-Saharan language family which includes the Songay dialect cluster in areas including northern Mali, with perhaps more than three million speakers. French, English and Portuguese were all introduced by European colonising powers and are widely used today, and a variety of Pidgin and Creole languages also flourish.
Nigerian Pidgin was the language the Nigerian Afrobeat star Fela Kuti used in his songs, in order to communicate with ordinary people.
Large collections of rock inscriptions in this script survive in countries including Niger, Mali, Algeria, Morocco and Libya.
A modern version of this writing system is still widely in use today.
Communicating through script and symbol The importance and antiquity of writing in Africa is not well known.
As one scholar puts it, ‘Africa’s contribution to the art and science of writing has gone largely unrecognised in the annals of history.’ century CE, and in Sudan the Meroïtic script was created about 180 BCE.
In many places in West Africa, people have invented patterns and symbols as a means of visual communication.