|2009 to present|
The Luo alphabet provides the need to write Luo Languages in a unique way. The total number of letters in the Luo alphabet is 33 representing different phonemes. The features that are described below are the obvious ones but a linguist can come up with others after proper study.
Every letter is a representation of a vowel or consonant just like Greek or Latin. Every letter represents a phoneme(sound) found in Luo. In Latin, some phonemes are created by combining two or more letters e.g. mb, ng, sh, but these are kept separate in Luo writing. The following table shows the full list of characters.
The sounds below are borrowed by Luo speakers due to modern influence:
Writing systems may be block or cursive. Block means that the letters or symbols are written individually and no stroke joins them together. For example, Latin and Greek are traditionally block style but cursive forms exist and are widely used. Computers represent Latin as block. Cursive means that the letters are joined-up or running. The most common cursive script is Arabic because of how the sounds join each other. Arabic must not be confused with Luo. Here below is a phrase written to show the cursive nature:
The writing above says Yuak ogwal ok mon dhok modho in Luo. Translated as "The croak of a frog doesn't prevent cattle from watering"
Left to right writing direction
All over the world, people write in staight lines except if it is for artistic reasons or if the surface itself is not straight. The only difference is direction of writing. Vertical systems are written from top to bottom. These include far eastern languages such as Chinese and Japanese. In modern days these languages have adopted horizontal writing in their books. Horizontal systems are written either from right to left such as Arabic and Hebrew or from left to right such as Thai in Thailand or Cyrillic in Russia. Luo is also written from left to right.
Traditionally numerals have not been the strength of writing systems. It meant that numbers were ignored or selected letters were used to represent numbers. The Luo system has its own symbols for numbers. These numbers range from zero to nine for mathematical use but large number representations are also available for colloquial use. The table below shows these numerals compared to Roman numerals and Arabic(western) numerals.
In this alphabet, there are five vowels represented by the same stroke. The difference is in the diacritic added to the vowel stroke. These diacritics do not show vowel stress, tone or length as can be in other languages or writing systems. Luo is a tonal language i.e. the same written word said in a different tone can mean a different thing. These tones vary within vowels but are never written thereby making it important to get the right context of the word. The table below shows the vowels, notice the different diacritics applied on the same stroke.
Punctuation and Symbology
Different systems have traditionally used different punctuation marks. Some did not even have any punctuation at all. In the Luo system commas, full-stops, slash, colon, semi-colon, question marks, brackets, hyphens, etc. are borrowed from the Latin system and are used in the same way. Mathematical or scientific symbols are also borrowed from the Latin system in the western world. These symbols include $, %, @, &, +, =, etc.
The need to write Luo in a different script other than the Latin script has always been there since the introduction of the English alphabet by colonialists. However, there has not been a good reason why none was developed earlier. Other African writing systems have been developed before and some are still in use today. Work on the Luo alphabet started in 2009 by Kefa Ombewa. At the same time Paul Sidandi started his work on Luo numerals independently. The two gentlemen met on Twitter in 2013 and decided to combine the alphabet and the numerals to be a single project and the font produced was named KefaSidandi font. Digitization of the work started with a lot of challenges. Initially only a bitmap-font was available. Thereafter in order to produce the true-type font internet usage, Will Were joined to produce the font glyphs. The work was completed on June 12, 2012 when the first true-type font was produced. This led to the ability to embed the script on the Luo Alphabet website and made the font downloadable for other interested users. The Luo alphabet first came into the limelight in Kenya when Kefa Ombewa conducted an interview with Kenya Television Network (KTN) in 2014.