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Swahili Documents from Congo (19th Century): Variation in Orthography

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Chapter Summary

This chapter focuses on the orthography - or rather, the orthographies - of the Swahili documents. The main Swahili documents originating from eastern Congo, called here group A, are a dozen letters, written between 1884 and 1893, kept today in the Royal Museum of Central Africa (MRAC), the Army Museum (MRA), and the Library of the University of Liège (ULg). If we look at the various Swahili documents written in Arabic script coming from all over East Africa, we note that the orthography was not standardized, each clerk following his own rules, some of them using the standard Arabic script, others trying to include additional symbols. Although the Swahili documents which reached our times are quite limited in quantity, one notes a high degree of variation in their orthography: some clerks use the canonical Arabic alphabet, others introduce additional letters.

Keywords: Arabic script; Army Museum (MRA); canonical Arabic alphabet; eastern Congo; orthography; Royal Museum of Central Africa (MRAC); Swahili documents; University of Liège (ULg)



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