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Two Brothers, Microsoft and McCann Team Up to Save a Language from Extinction


Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry along with Microsoft and McCann launch the newest evolution of the ADLaM Display alphabet

Two Brothers, Microsoft and McCann Team Up to Save a Language from Extinction

Brothers Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry announced today the launch of ADLaM Display, an evolution of the Pulaar alphabet on which they have worked with Microsoft since 2018. Developed in partnership with McCann NY, the new digital version of ADLaM is now available for use across the Microsoft 365 suite, desktop, and mobile platforms, preserving a beautiful and important culture while promoting literacy across West Africa.

The language of the Fulani people of West Africa, known as Pulaar, is spoken by over 40 million people, but for most of history, the language had no alphabet. Determined to preserve their native language since they were children, in 1989 the Barry brothers created an early version of ADLaM in handwritten form. Yet the need remained to digitise the alphabet so it could be used to communicate through technology, such as texts, emails and websites, empowering the Fulani people to conduct business, connect through social media and find information in their own language.

The Fulani brothers remarked, “ADLaM, the acronym, A, D, L, M, Alkule Dandayɗe Leñol Mulugol, literally means it is the alphabet that will prevent the culture, the people, from disappearing. What we meant by that is not the people, themselves, will disappear, but the fact that ADLaM will allow us to preserve our culture.” 

Though the brothers had developed early versions of the digital typeface, for the Fulani community to fully adopt and embrace it, the alphabet needed to be optimised and made more widely available in digital spaces. As a result, McCann New York partnered with the brothers and collaborated with a group of expert typeface designers to create a revised version of the alphabet that was easier to read and write. Importantly, the new typeface was updated to include new letter forms that take into account how the alphabet has naturally evolved within the Fulani community. To fight illiteracy, a key goal of the project, McCann and the brothers created educational materials for Guinean schools, including a children’s book designed to teach the ADLaM alphabet and elements of the Fulani culture, in-classroom learning materials, and a learn-to-write book. All materials were also digitised to be used on classroom computers.   

"By the end of the century, 90 percent of the world's languages could be extinct," said Shayne Millington, co-chief creative officer, McCann NY. " In a world where one language is lost every three months, the ADLaM project embodies the importance of preserving and securing the future of the world’s multitude of cultures and languages, and as a result, the precious memories, myths, rituals, and deep knowledge that has been passed down over centuries. With the Barry brothers’ knowledge, passion and commitment, Microsoft's technology and our creative power in developing a visual identity that the Fulanis have embraced as their own, we bridged the old and new worlds ensuring the future of a beautiful culture." 

Microsoft has now integrated the redesigned alphabet across their global platforms. The revised version of the alphabet is now available to download on as the ADLaM Display font and will be deployed natively across the Microsoft 365 suite of programs, desktop and mobile in summer.

“This is just one of the many ways we at Microsoft are committed to helping preserve cultural heritage around the world.” says Kathleen Hall, chief brand officer, Microsoft.

As a result of the collective effort, ADLaM has been successfully embraced by the Fulani and has gained popularity in the community across West Africa and the Fulani diaspora worldwide. The first two ADLaM-focused schools will open during this year in Guinea and for the first time, will allow Fulani children to study a full curriculum in their mother tongue. Additionally, The Mali Government is in the process of recognising ADLaM as an official alphabet in their constitution, and Guinea’s Minister of Education has taken steps to ensure ADLaM is recognised as Pulaar’s official alphabet. 


Agency / Creative
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Categories: Corporate, Social and PSAs, Education

McCann North America, Thu, 27 Apr 2023 14:47:31 GMT