How new orthography will simplify Kinyarwanda

There are new instructions on how to write Kinyarwanda and those who write the language have started to grapple with the changes.
A journalism student at University of Rwanda’s School of Arts and Social Sciences reads  Izuba, a Kinyarwanda newspaper. The method of representing the sounds of the local dialect by written or printed symbols have been revised. (Timothy Kisambira)
A journalism student at University of Rwanda’s School of Arts and Social Sciences reads Izuba, a Kinyarwanda newspaper. The method of representing the sounds of the local dialect by written or printed symbols have been revised. (Timothy Kisambira)

There are new instructions on how to write Kinyarwanda and those who write the language have started to grapple with the changes.

The method, otherwise known in grammatical speak as ‘orthography’, is a representation of the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols.

Against what most critics of the changes say, the executive secretary of Rwanda Academy of Languages and Culture, Dr James Vuningoma, has said Kinyarwanda users will soon get the hang of the new orthography and find it simple to write the language.

Dr Vuningoma said changes were made to make the writing closer to the way the language is spoken.

“Kinyarwanda (orthography) is now standardised. We are now moving from morphology to phonology,” he told The New Times yesterday.

Among the major modifications in the rules of the language is how to write complex consonants “(n)jy” and “(n)cy,” which are now written before the vowels “a”, “o” and “u” only.
The new instructions order to always write “(n)gi”, “(n)ge”, “(n)ki”, “(n)ke” before vowels “i” and “e”.

The above means that where we would write “njyewe”, which means I, will now be spelled “ngewe”.

Where we would write “umujyi” to mean town or city becomes “umugi” under the new regulations.

The changes have left some users of the replaced style of Kinyarwanda writing baffled.

“It is going to be very difficult to differentiate certain things. Umugi that normally means ‘lice’ is now going to mean ‘town or city,’” a local editor said as he grappled with the new changes.

Another local writer said the new changes seem to reflect what young speakers of Kinyarwanda tend to use in their current speech.

“The changes are in line with today’s spoken language of the youth. But for old users of the language it is as if they have taken us out of Rwanda,” said Pascal Bakomere, an editor with Izuba newspaper.

Dr Vuningoma agrees with Bakomere when it comes to making it easy for the youth and new Kinyarwanda speakers to write it.

“We adopted the changes to help both Rwandans and foreigners easily write the language,” he said.

The new instructions, which were gazetted this month, have replaced the old ones which had been enacted in 1985.

A transitional period of two years starting this month has been provided in order to get used to writing Kinyarwanda in accordance with the new instructions.

eugene.kwibuka@newtimes.co.rw

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