Allyson Marrs
Apr 23, 2023

New Microsoft typeface aims to preserve a West African language

A newly digitized version of the Pulaar language alphabet is part of a larger cultural preservation and literacy project led by Microsoft, McCann NY and West African brothers Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry.

New Microsoft typeface aims to preserve a West African language

Much of the developed world communicates online. Yet some widely spoken languages have never been transcribed, let alone digitized. Without it, native languages face the risk of disappearing.

This is why, in a partnership with McCann NY and brothers Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry, Microsoft has added a West African language to its suite of products that for most of its history had no written alphabet. 

ADLaM Display is a digitized version of the Pulaar language alphabet, originally created by the Barry brothers in 1989 to preserve the Pulaar language of the Fulani people in West Africa. Though the language is spoken by more than 40 million people, it was never written and was at risk of disappearing until the brothers created letterforms based on the language’s sounds.

Named after an acronym pulled from the Pulaar phrase Alkule Dandayɗe Leñol Mulugol, which means “the alphabet that will prevent the culture, the people, from disappearing,” ADLaM Display is an evolution of the brothers’ original digitization effort, further enhanced by a group of expert typeface designers for use across text messages, emails and websites. 

The language preservation project began in 2018, when Microsoft first met the brothers at a Unicode conference. It’s since expanded to a larger literacy project between the Barrys and McCann for Guinean schools, and has become a resource for the Fulani people to conduct business and connect socially online.

In-classroom learning materials, a learn-to-write book and a children’s book were designed to teach the ADLaM alphabet and elements of the Fulani culture, which were also digitized for classroom computers. The first two ADLaM-focused schools will open in Guinea this year. 

“Working together with Microsoft, which is so focused on empowerment, and the Barry Brothers, who had the ingenuity and drive to create an alphabet from the ground up, we were to help connect a community, expand literacy and preserve a culture. ADLaM perfectly showcases how creativity, technology and the human spirit can come together to generate meaningful and enduring impact on people's lives,” Shayne Millington, McCann NY co-chief creative officer, told Campaign US. 

ADLaM Display is now available to download and will be deployed natively across the Microsoft 365 product suite, as well as on desktop and mobile platforms, this summer. It’s one of several language preservation projects that Microsoft has undertaken, which include expanding access to te reo Māori, Chakma, Querétaro Otomi and Yucatec Maya.

Campaign US

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