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By Phil Bartle, PhD

9. Emphasise Languages and Alphabets Most Commonly Used:

In learning basic literacy itself, it should not matter what languages or alphabets you use in your literacy programme. No one is absolutely better than another. The choice should be based upon what is commonly understood and known in the community in general. Again, relevance and utility must be your criteria. You need to know about the community.

Sometimes there are more than one alphabet for the same language. Hindi and Urdu, for example, are essentially the same language, Hinduism influencing Hindi and Islam influencing Urdu. The Hindi alphabet is derived from Sanskrit through ancient Persian, while the Urdu alphabet (written from right to left) is a derivative of Arabic, but through Persian influences. (The language itself is a derivation of Persian). The modern Japanese alphabet (Japan has three alphabets, one of which is Chinese) is a matrix where each character is a combination of a consonant followed by a vowel. The same with the 240 characters of the Amharic language of Ethiopia. The distinction between consonant and vowel, of course, is a characteristic on European languages, mainly based upon the Roman alphabet.

It is OK to use several alphabets in your work, demonstrating how a single word can be written different ways when using each alphabet. The only requirement is that the alphabets you use be commonly understood throughout the community.

In much of Africa, only one alphabet is used, based upon European languages and often introduced by Christian missionaries. Just because you are using it does not mean you must be a strict demagogue, insisting on "correct" European spelling and grammar. Your guiding principles should be that what is learned by your participants should be practical, understood, and usable (not necessarily "correct").

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