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Bamum script

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Subject: Plane (Unicode), Unicode character property, Bagam script, Script (Unicode), Cameroon
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Bamum script

A book in the 6th Bamum script, ca. 1910.
Languages Bamum
Time period
c. 1896, moribund c. 1931, revived c. 2007
Child systems
ISO 15924 Bamu, 435
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias

The Bamum scripts are an evolutionary series of six scripts created for the Bamum language by King Njoya of Cameroon at the turn of the 20th century. They are notable for evolving from a pictographic system to a partially alphabetic syllabic script in the space of 14 years, from 1896 to 1910. Bamum type was cast in 1918, but the script fell into disuse around 1931.


In its initial form, Bamum script was a crude pictographic mnemonic aid (proto-writing) including 500 to 600 glyphs. As Njoya revised the script, he introduced logograms (word symbols). The sixth version, completed by 1910, is a semi-syllabary with 80 glyphs. It is also called a-ka-u-ku after its first four glyphs.

The script was further refined in 1918, when Njoya had copper sorts cast for printing. The script fell into disuse with the exile of Njoya in 1931.

At present, Bamum script is not in any significant use. However, the Bamum Scripts and Archives Project is attempting to modernize and revive the script. The project is based in the old Bamum capital of Foumban.[1]

Bamum was added to the Unicode standard in 2009, with version 5.2. Historical Bamum characters were added to version 6.0 in 2010.


The Bamum syllabary, less diacritics, digraphs, and the nʒɛmli

The 80 glyphs of modern Bamum are not enough to represent all of the consonant-vowel syllables (C V syllables) of the language. This deficiency is made up for with a diacritic or by combining glyphs having CV1 and V2 values, for CV2. This makes the script alphabetic for syllables not directly covered by the syllabary. Adding the inherent vowel of the syllable voices a consonant: tu + u = /du/, fu + u = /vu/, ju + u = /ʒu/, ja + a = /ʒa/, ʃi + i = /ʒi/, puə + u = /bu/.

The two diacritics are a circumflex (ko'ndon) that may be added to any of the 80 glyphs, and a macron (tukwentis) that is restricted to a dozen. The circumflex generally has the effect of adding a glottal stop to the syllable, for instance is read /kaʔ/, though the vowel is shortened and any final consonant is dropped in the process, as in pûə /puʔ/ and kɛ̂t /kɛʔ/. Prenasalization is also lost: ɲʃâ /ʃaʔ/, ntê /teʔ/, ntûu /tuʔ/. Sometimes, however, the circumflex nasalizes the vowel: /nɛn/, /pin/, /rɛn/, jûʔ /jun/, mɔ̂ /mɔn/, ɲʒûə /jun/ (loss of NC as with glottal stop). Others are idiosyncratic: ɲʒə̂m /jəm/ (simple loss of NC), tə̂ /tɔʔ/ (vowel change), ɲî /ɲe/, riê /z/, /n/, ʃɯ̂x /jɯx/, nûə /ŋuə/, kɯ̂x /ɣɯ/, rə̂ /rɔ/, ŋkwə̂n /ŋuət/, fɔ̂m /mvɔp/, mbɛ̂n /pɛn/, /tɯ/, kpâ /ŋma/, /fy/, ɣɔ̂m /ŋɡɔm/.[2]

The macron is a 'killer stroke' that deletes the vowel from a syllable and so forms consonants and NC clusters (/nd, ŋɡ/) that can be used for syllable codas. Consonantal /n/ is used both as a coda and to prenasalize an initial consonant. The two irregularities with the macron are ɲʒūə, read as /j/, and ɔ̄, read as /ə/.

The script has distinctive punctuation, including a 'capitalization' mark (nʒɛmli), similar to an inverted question mark, for proper names, and a decimal system of ten digits; the old glyph for ten has been refashioned as a zero.


Bamum's 88 characters were added to the Unicode standard in October, 2009 with the release of version 5.2. The orthography has been changed to an ASCII approximation for character names in the charts: e for /ɛ/ (French è), ee for /e/ (French é), ae for /ə/ (French e), o for /ɔ/, eu for /ɯ/ (French eu), ue for /y/ (French u), and q for final glottal stop, /ʔ/ (French ’).

The Unicode block for Bamum is U+A6A0–U+A6FF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Historical stages of Bamum script were added to Unicode in October, 2010 with the release of version 6.0. These are encoded in the Bamum Supplement block as U+16800–U+16A3F. The various stages of script development are dubbed "Phase-A" to "Phase-E". The character names note the last phase in which they appear. For example, U+168EE bamum letter phase-c pin is attested through Phase C but not in Phase D.

Bamum Supplement[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1693x 椿
U+1697x 楿
U+169Bx 榿
U+169Fx 槿
1.^ As of Unicode version 7.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

External links

  • Bamum Scripts and Archives Project
  • Unicode standard description of Bamum (see p. 20)
  • Working document for encoding Old Bamum (2009)
  • Omniglot page (contradicts the Unicode sound assignments)


  1. ^ Unseth, Peter. 2011. Invention of Scripts in West Africa for Ethnic Revitalization. In The Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts, ed. by Joshua A. Fishman and Ofelia García, pp. 23-32. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Michael Everson and Charles Riley: "Preliminary proposal for encoding the Bamum script in the BMP of the UCS"
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