Microsoft continues its efforts in the realm of cultural preservation with an initiative, in partnership with McCann New York, that involves digitizing the alphabet of a West African language that for most of its long history was only an oral language, not a written one.
The story began decades ago when two brothers, Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry, set out to create a written version of Pulaar, the language of the Fulani people. In 1989, they created an early, handwritten version of an alphabet, which they called “ADLaM.” As language and culture are so intertwined, they saw it as a preservation project. Indeed, ADLaM was an acronym using the alphabet’s first four letters—Alkule Dandayɗe Leñol Mulugol, which means “the alphabet that protects the people from vanishing.”
In more recent years, there has been a pressing need to digitize ADLaM for the modern age of computers. This is where Microsoft stepped in, offering its support to bring AdLam into digital platforms—via a new font called ADLaM Display.
The value of the project creation extends well beyond online communication. The typeface is being used by local businesses on things like packaged goods, and literacy is a primary goal of the project as well. Guinean schools are opening with AdLam as the primary language, and McCann and the brothers created educational materials for them.
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“By the end of the century, 90 percent of the world’s languages could be extinct,” said Shayne Millington, co-chief creative officer, McCann NY. “In a world where one language is lost every three months, the ADLaM project embodies the importance of preserving and securing the future of the world’s multitude of cultures and languages, and as a result, the precious memories, myths, rituals, and deep knowledge that has been passed down over centuries.”