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Inventing the Adlam Script / Designing Type for a Society in Flux

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San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium

100 Larkin Street

San Francisco, CA 94102

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In 1990, two brothers, aged 10 and 14, invented an alphabet for their native language. Pular was spoken by millions of Fula people dispersed across Western Africa, but had no writing system of its own. Within a few years, the boys’ script spread like wildfire, as a culture embraced a new literacy. The alphabet is called ADLaM (or Adlam) after its first four letters and an acronym for a phrase meaning “the alphabet that protects a people from vanishing.

As users of the Latin script, we seldom think of the origins of our writing system, let alone the process it underwent to become widely established. This is the process happening now for Adlam, an African script invented in the 1980s for the Pular language. In this two-part talk, you’ll be introduced to Adlam by the inventors of the script and learn about how they came to create the first writing system for their people, the Fulani of West Africa. They’ll talk about the culture of the Fulani, how they use Adlam, and how they are embracing digital technologies to spread its use.

Then we’ll hear from the two American type designers who are developing the first multi-weight, multi-style typeface for Adlam. They’ll talk about the design challenges in bringing typographic diversity to a new writing system, and the twists and turns that come with working for an ever-changing landscape of African culture, the internet, and computing technology.

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San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium

100 Larkin Street

San Francisco, CA 94102

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