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This section is dedicated for Somalia's historic alphabet, Osmanya and its inventor Osman Yusuf Kenadid.
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Interview with Micheal Everson.
||Could you please briefly tell us about your areas of research
interest and expertise?
I am an expert in writing systems with a good deal of
training in linguistics. I have for the past decade or so put nearly all of my
energy into studying the writing systems of the world for the specific purpose
of encoding them in Unicode. I'm also a font designer.
||Could you please share with us what spurred your interest in the
Osmania script? And when?
I think it was in January 1998 that I first started
looking into it. It was a year later that the first Unicode proposal document
was written. What spurred my interest? Nothing in particular. It was one of
several simple alphabetic scripts that I looked into at the time. It wasn't
until a member of the Somali community made contact with me that I became more
interested and involved. To put it another way, I love writing systems of all
kinds, and was doing preliminary work on a number of them, Osmanya included.
||Are there groups or individuals who assisted you in your research
in the Osmania script, such as locating material, getting access to
public and private collections, and making contacts with people who are
authority on the Osmania script?
I am very grateful to Osman Abdihalim Osman Yusuf
Keenadiid and to his family for the support they gave this project. It is, as it
turns out, difficult to find accurate information on Osmanya. Many books about
writing systems repeat the same alphabet, showing the same untransliterated and
untranslated sample! Osman Abdihalim Osman sent me a photocopy of a book which
made the encoding of the script possible.
||Are there any tangible results from your considerable research in
the Osmania script? If so, how did you disseminate that information?
The first proposal to encode Osmanya can be found at http://www.dkuug.dk/JTC1/SC2/WG2/docs/n1948.pdf.
It was written in January 1999. Osman Abdihalim Osman found the paper on the web
and contacted me about it. Working together with him, I published the final
proposal, written in July 2001, which can be found at http://www.dkuug.dk/JTC1/SC2/WG2/docs/n2361r.pdf.
Both of these papers were submitted to ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 and to the Unicode
Technical Committee, the groups responsible for the Universal Character Set.
||How far along are you into your efforts to digitize the Osmania
script and when can we expect to have Osmania script fonts for
Osmanya has been accepted for encoding in Plane 1 of the
Unicode Standard, and is out for ballot in JTC1/SC2. That ballot will close in
November 2002, and the amendment will be published some time the following year.
I designed an Osmanya font very quickly to prepare the script proposal. That's
why the fonts in the proposal documents are -- in my own opinion -- very rough
and crude. Recently I began to "clean up" my fonts, to give to them
sharp and typographically professional shapes. I expect that some time next year
I will release them to the general public. I can say one thing -- if I were able
to get hold of an original printed source it would be easier to improve the
font, because an original document would be superior to the photocopy which I
have at present.
I am also interested in providing a method for keyboard input. I believe that a
QWERTY-based keylayout would be the most convenient input method, especially as
it would be easiest for Somalis to use since they are already used to the Latin
||What are the barriers or problem you have encountered in
conducting and, perhaps, expanding your research on the Osmania script?
As I said, it was difficult to find information about it.
There is surprisingly little on the internet about the script, considering that
Osmanya was in active use until at least 1972. I am surprised not to find it
used in more Somali websites, even just as decorative graphics, given its
cultural and historical importance. Perhaps there are political issues of which
I am unaware? I don't know how many books were printed with the script, or if
newspapers were. I have not seen them, in any case. I have put a PDF file of the
entire book http://www.evertype.com/standards/iso10646/pdf/afkeenna-iyo-fartiisa.pdf
Afkeenna iyo fartiisa on my website. This is a large file, about 7 MB. It
is the source book which we used to prepare the proposal.
||Somali, as you are aware of, is currently written in the Latin
alphabet. In your opinion, how difficult would it be to reintroduce the
Osmania script to the Somalis or in Somalia?
Certainly in this day and age, with the Latin orthography
in use for thirty years, it might be difficult to replace Latin with Osmanya.
But it is an important part of Somali culture, and I would hope that the script
would form a part of the school curriculum in Somalia. In Sweden and Norway, for
instance, children learn about the ancient Runic alphabet in school, and
certainly some of them learn it and write notes to one another in Runes for the
fun of it. Calendars, restaurant menus, T-shirts, and other kinds of
"public text" could make use of it in conjunction with the Latin
script. Other countries do similarly with their scripts. Why not Somalia?
||Given your considerable expertise in extinct scripts, how
would you characterize the foundations and the structure of the Osmania
Structurally, Osmanya is a simple left-to-right alphabet
with 22 consonants and 8 vowels. Three of those vowels are long vowels; the
consonants WAW and YA are used to represent the other two long vowels UU and II.
The Osmanya alphabet is very well suited to represent the sounds of the Somali
language, in just the same way as the new Latin orthography does. The
alphabetical order of Osmanya shows the influence of the Arabic script. The
shapes of its letters are simple, to recognize and easy to write. It is a
||What do you know about the creator of the Osmania script, Mr.
Osman Yusuf Kaynadid?
Not as much as I would like. In searches on the web, I
have found out that he was a very religious man. I was interested to learn that
the reason he kept his mouth covered was "to avoid sin". I think that
it would be a great thing if someone would write a biography of this important
||Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our
It has been an honour for me to work on the encoding of
the Osmanya script.
Contact: Michael Everson *** Evertype *** http://www.evertype.com