Shwa for Yoruba

Yoruba is a Niger-Congo language with about 20 million speakers. In Nigeria and Togo, it's currently written in a Roman alphabet with one digraph, Gb, and one diacritic, a small vertical line underneath e̩ o̩ s̩ to indicate an open vowel or a postalveolar sibilant. In Benin, there is a standard national alphabet which writes these three sounds as ɛ ɔ sh. Two of the remaining letters have unusual pronunciations: p represents kp (and is so spelled in Benin), and j represents a palatal plosive like Hungarian ty. In addition, the acute accent ´, grave accent `, macron ¯ (optionally), circumflex ^ and caron ˇ are used to indicate tone.

The Shwa script has the missing letters. Here are the vowels:

i u
e o
e̩ (ɛ) o̩ (ɔ)

There are nasal versions of four of the vowels:

in un
en on

When a vowel is reduplicated, the second can be written with the Long mark. A long vowel within a word usually indicates that a consonant has been elided.

When a word ends in a vowel and the next word begins with one, the two vowels are often assimilated, or one may be elided. Shwa writes the resulting form, but retains the space to show the old word boundary.


p (kp) t k
b gb d j g
f s s̩ (sh) h
m l n ng
w r y

The chart above shows an n that doesn't exist in Yoruba : that's how Shwa writes l before a nasal consonant (and that's how it's pronounced).

There is also a syllabic nasal which assimilates to a following consonant. In Shwa, it's written with a Nasal suffix being used as a vowel, preceded by the appropriate nasal consonant: m before b f m, n before t d s n l r j sh y, and ng before everything else, including vowels and a pause.


Yoruba is written in Syllabary gait, and marks tone using accents:


Now that you know the letters, why not try to read some Yoruba written in Shwa?

O dájú dánu, o ò mo̩ e̩sán me̩sàn-án

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