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Ngäbe language: two writing systems instead of one

Ariel Cajar Aparicio, Fri, 2016-03-11 18:22
ISO 639-3: 

Greetings, I have noted that various online sources state that Ngäbere solely uses Latin script as its writing system. However, Latin script is actually one of the two scrpts used by the Ngäbe people. The second one —which is not widely known— is called Sistema de Lecto y Escritura Ngäbe [sic], which means "Ngäbe Literacy System" (I will refer to it as "NLS" for short from here on). The NLS writing system is apparently not of ancient origin, though, but seems to be related to the Mama Tada Faith. Mama Tada is more accurately described as a cultural revolution than just a mere religion: it opposed both the non-indigenous ("Latino") Panamanian culture and the earlier Ngäbe culture. The "New Order" of 1962, in which Prophet Besigo had "a series of visions", is considered year one for many Ngäbe men and women, both in a cultural and a more literal sense (September 22 is observed as the Ngäbe New Year and years are counted from 1962 on). The Mama Tada and its New Order got rid of old Ngäbe customs like 'balsería' and brought new ones aswell —the NLS was one of said new things. Thus, the NLS is said to be "divinely-inspired" by Mama Tada practitioners and supporters; however, some possible influence from the Latin script may exist, although unconfirmed (I have personally noted how some letters seem to be altered and "rotated" versions of Latin characters, but it'd be better if a professional linguist studied it). The NLS is an "optimized" alphabet for Ngäbe language, lacking graphemes to represent sounds like /p/ or /ks/ which don't exist in Ngäbere, but instead having dedicated letters for phonemes like /ŋ/, which is represented by a digraph (ng) in the Latin script Ngäbere. The phonemes represented by vowels with diacritics in the Latin script Ngäbere are also represented by individual characters in NLS script Ngäbere, too. As a scarcely-known script for a non-standarized language, it must be also noted that no NLS script character exists in Unicode. However, there seems to exist some kind of font to write with NLS characters in digital media (see: The text in question also showcases the use of individual characters to represent Latin script Ngäbere's A, Ä, N and Ng, respectively. I hope this information to be useful for the Ethnologue community and for everybody who consults this page. -Ariel Cajar Language hobbyist

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