This month I’ve been back in Musoma, doing some research to help me complete my Masters dissertation. (The research is also really helpful for developing the writing system of Simbiti, so it’s great to have this chance to dig into some things in more detail.)
I’ve been having a lot of conversations with Simbiti speakers, recording many hundreds of words and phrases, and then listening carefully to them afterwards.
When I listen to the words later, I write them down, paying careful attention to the length of vowels and tone patterns.
However, some of the letters and symbols I need to type are not on an normal English keyboard. I use the IPA – International Phonetic Alphabet (not India Pale Ale!). And I have some settings on my computer that enable me to switch keyboards, and use various key shortcuts to type the different symbols.
The Simbiti have 7 vowels: i, e, a, o, u … but also ɛ and ɔ. The shortcuts for these are just <e and <o.
They also have a β sound, which is sort of between an English ‘b’ and a ‘w’ (a voiced bilabial fricative if you care to know!), and this is typed with =b.
I try to write high tone where I hear it, which I do with @3 … giving á.
However, sometimes I forget to switch keyboards before I start typing, or the keyboard gets switched back when I change programme or sleep my computer.
This means that I end up typing long strings of nonsense!
I meant to type:
βɑɾɑɣɑ́mbɑ íʃɔ jɑitéɣeːreːje βúːjɑ (‘They say that yesterday he listened well’)
But instead, what came out was:
=b=a>r=a@3=g=amb=a i@3=s<o j=aite@3=ge=:re=:je =bu@3=:j=a
It’s a bit frustrating if it takes me a while to notice, because I just have to delete it and type it all again! Whoops!