My coverage of disappearing languages in New York City made it all the way to Hadjer Hadid — which is, incidentally, my favorite place in Chad, hands down. It seems that currently there is a project on the ground to develop a written form of Massalit in Roman script. Eunice Kua of SIL International is working on the Massalit Language Development Project in the refugee camps of Bredjing and Treguine (Bredjing is the largest Darfur refugee camp, with approximately 30,000 residents, Treguine with about a half to two-thirds that). She reports:
You may be interested to know that there is a written form for Massalit, though the orthography is still a work-in-progress (and will probably be for the next few years, as people sort out how they want to spell things, etc! We’re working on a dictionary, but it takes time).
I am working in mother tongue literacy project with refugees in Bredjing and Treguine in eastern Chad – in fact, I should right now be preparing for this afternoon’s session of a refresher teacher training course for teaching the Massalit primer rather than writing emails.
I don’t think that we would have been able to help you much in terms of the survey, as Massalit right now is written in Roman script (when the written form was being developed years ago, the Massalit people consulted chose Roman over Arabic script, and recently when the literacy project was getting started, those who were consulted then reaffirmed this decision and continue to reaffirm it, tho’ we have expressed doubts from time to time). Your interviewers probably read Arabic script fluently but would have trouble reading Roman script… your friend’s solution is probably the way to go for now…
In response to my query about the languages of the other major ethnic groups from Darfur, Fur and Zaghawa, she writes:
There is indeed written Fur, but Zaghawa is ‘very much at the beginning stages’, also in Roman script, from what I understand.
Her comment on the preference of a Roman script is notable because many Massalit do study Arabic in Koranic schools. I have also heard that there are some written versions using Arabic script developed in Darfur, but these have not been codified.
Eunice also sent little language lesson. Here’s “Good morning” in Massalit:
Afo de kurnaŋa (the ŋ represents the sound of the ’ng’ in singer)