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The Afaka script (afaka sikifi) is a syllabary of 56 letters devised in 1910 for the Ndyuka language, an English-based creole of Surinammarker. The script is named after its inventor, Afáka Atumisi. It continues to be used to write Ndyuka in the 21st century, but the literacy rate in that language for all scripts is under 10%.

Afaka is the only script in use that was designed specifically for a creole or for a form of English. It is not supported by Unicode.


The syllabary as recorded by Gonggrijp in 1968.
All letters may include a final nasal (a for an, ba for ban, etc.), and the rows for b, d, dy, g may also stand for mb, nd, ndy, ng.
The y row is placed between g and k because it was originally transcribed with Dutch j.
The dot inside the loop of nya may be an error due to confusion with similarly shaped be.
Afaka is a rather defective script. Tone is phonemic but not written. Final consonants (the nasal [n]) are not written, but long vowels are, by adding a vowel letter. Prenasalized stops and voiced stops are written with the same letters, and syllables with the vowels [u] and [o] are seldom distinguished: The syllables [o]/[u], [po]/[pu], and [to]/[tu] have separate letters, but syllables starting with the consonants [b, d, dy, f, g, l, m, n, s, y] do not. Thus the Afaka rendition of Ndyuka could also be read as Dyoka. In four cases syllables with [e] and [i] are not distinguished (after the consonants [l, m, s, w]); a single letter is used for both [ba] and [pa], and another for both [u] and [ku]. Several consonants have only one glyph assigned to them. These are [ty], which only has a glyph for [tya]; [kw] (also [kp]), which only has [kwa ~ kpa]; [ny], which only has [nya] (though older records report that letter pulled double duty for [nyu]); and [dy], which only has [dyu/dyo]. There are no glyphs assigned specifically to the consonant [gw] ~ [gb]. The result of these conflations is that the only syllables for which there is no ambiguity (except for tone) are those beginning with the consonant [t].

There is a single punctuation mark, the pipe (|), which corresponds to a comma and period. Afaka used spaces between words, but not all writers continued to do so.


The origins of many of the letters are obscure, though several appear to be acrophonic rebuses, with many of these being symbols from Africa. Examples of rebuses include a curl with a dot in it representing a baby in the belly (in Ndyuka, a abi beli, lit. "she has belly", means "she's pregnant"), and which stands for [be]; two hands outstretched to give stand for [gi]; symbols for come (Ndyuka kom) and go to represent [ko] and [go]; two linked circles for we stands for [wi], while [yu] is an inversion of [mi], corresponding to the pronouns you and me; letters like Roman numerals two and four are [tu] and [fo]. [ka] and [pi] are said to represent feces (Ndyuka kaka) and urine (pisi). A "+" sign stands for [ne], from the word name, derived from the practice of signing one's name with an X. The odd conflation of [u] and [ku] is due to the letter being a pairs of hook, which is uku in Ndyuka. The only letters which appear to correspond to the Latin alphabet are the vowels a, o, and maybe e, though o is justified as the shape of the mouth when pronouncing it.

Variants and syllabic order

Texts in Afaka's own hand show significant variation in the letters. A good number are rotated a quarter turn, and sometimes inverted as well; these arebe, di, dyo, fi, ga, ge, ye, ni, nya, pu, se, so, te, tu,while lo, ba/pa, wa may be in mirror image and sa, to may be simply inverted.Others have curved vs angular variants: do, fa, ge, go, ko, kwa. In yet others, the variants appear to reflect differences in stroke order.

The traditional mnemonic order (alphabetic order) may partially reflect the origins of some of the signs. For example, tu and fo (two, four), yu and mi (you, me), ko and go (come, go) are placed near each other. Other syllables are placed near each other to spell out words (futu "foot", odi "hello", ati "heart"), or even phrases: a moke un taki "it gives us speech", masa gado te baka ben ye "Lord God, that the white man heard".

Sample text

This is apparently the first letter written by Afaka. It was copied into the Patili Molosi Buku c. 1917.
ke mi gadu | mi masa | mi bigi na ini a ulotu |

fu a papila di yu be gi afaka | ma mi de

aga siki fu dede | fa mi sa du | oli ulotu | mi go

na pamalibo na lati ati oso | tu bolo | di mi ná abi

moni | de yaki mi | de taki mi mu oloko moni fosi |

mi sa go na ati osu | da na dati mi e begi | masa

gadu fu a sa gi mi ana | fu mi deesi | a

siki fu mi | ma mi sa taki abena | a sa kon tyali

patili go na ndyuka | eke fa patili taki a bun

gi wi | ma mi de aga pe na mi ede | ala

mi noso poli na ini ye | da mi ná abi

losutu ye |



  • Dubelaar, Cornelis & André Pakosie, Het Afakaschrift van de Tapanahoni rivier in Suriname. Utrecht 1999. ISBN 90-5538-032-6.
  • Gonggryp, J. W. 1960. The Evolution of a Djuka-Script in Surinam. Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 40:63-72.
  • Huttar, George. 1987. The Afaka script: an indigenous creole syllabary. In The Thirteenth LACUS Forum, pp. 167-177.
  • Huttar, George. 1992. Afaka and his creole syllabary: the social context of a writing system. Language in Context: essays for Robert E. Longacre, ed. by Shin Ja Hwang and William Merrifield, pp. 593-604. Dallas: SIL and University of Texas at Arlington.

External links

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