Guide to Ateso Language

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The Atɛsɔ Language Orthography was created way back in the 1960s and was reviewed years later. However, the language continued to develop. In this course of development there were differences identified between the spoken language and the written language. These differences were mainly dialectal, ranging from tone to lexis to grammar. As a result, the Ɨtɛsɔ began to tag one another according to their areas of origin. This raised the need to harmonise the spoken and the written Atɛsɔ. It is upon this background that this guide gives rules on how to read and write Atɛsɔ and also describes the key features/symbols of the revised orthography.

This revised orthography is based on modern sociolinguistic principles for developing orthographies. The three issues of ACCEPTABILITY, PEDAGOGY, and LINGUISTICS are addressed in order to standardise and harmonise the Atɛsɔ language use. All contrastive sounds of the Atɛsɔ language have been studied. Consequently, the light vowels have been discovered and represented. These include ɛ, ɨ, ɔ, and ʉ. Tones have also been represented in certain verbs to distinguish past and present tenses. These representations will help the writers and the readers minimise guessing the tone and therefore the meaning of the written word.

There is need for continuous practice and testing of the new items in the orthography to see how best it can work. This is part of the ACCEPTABILITY issue of an orthography. There is also need for AWARENESS raising through concerted efforts in training on the writing system.

The new orthography has been designed according to how Atɛsɔ is used as opposed to English and Bantu languages. Atɛsɔ is highly tonal in natureǃ It is hoped that, once the orthography rules and symbols have been learned, it will be much easier to read without guessing the meaning of the text; even the writing will be standardised, consistent, and easier to understand.

It is a great pleasure to echo that Atɛsɔ is already being taught in primary schools, secondary schools, and universities. It is being examined at ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level by Uganda National Examinations Board with effect from 2013. This booklet is therefore a useful reference guide for our language teaching in many educational institutions, for translators, and any person who wishes to learn the Atɛsɔ language or to author materials in Atɛsɔ.

We thank all the people of Tɛsɔ, especially members of the Atɛsɔ Local Language Board (ALLB) and members of the Atɛsɔ Writers Panel (AWP) who have tirelessly worked to revise and develop this orthography and produce this document. Special thanks go to RTI (Research Triangle International), NCDC (National Curriculum Development Center), and MoES (Ministry of Education and Sports) for the timely technical and financial support provided, without which this document would not have been produced.

Emurya kolyai, Atɛsɔ kopoloeteǃ

Simon Peter Ongodia

Chairperson, Atɛsɔ Local Language Board


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