The Ho Language :: Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages

The Warang Chiti Alphabet

Video: Learning the Alphabet

K. C. Naik Biruli teaches the Warang Chiti alphabet to a group of Ho children.

K. C. Naik Biruli teaches a group of Ho children the letters of the Warang Chiti alphabet.

Video (13.5 MB .mov)
Transcript (116 KB .pdf)

The transcript includes a phonetic transcription, English gloss, and English translation.
The Warang Chiti alphabet
The Warang Chiti alphabet and numerals. The first letter (shown in red) is "om," a sacred letter that is not used in the Ho orthography.

The Ho language is the only language written in the Warang Chiti script, which has 31 letters used in the orthography, as well as a special sacred letter, "om," at the beginning. Lako Bodra, a pandit in the Ho community, invented the syllabary in the 1950s with the intention of creating a visually distinctive script for the language.

A Ho alphabet primer showing uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as a numeral.
A page from a Ho alphabet primer showing the uppercase and lowercase form of a letter, as well as a numeral in the bottom left. Click to expand.

In some regions, Ho is written in the Devanagari, Oriya, or Latin scripts, although Ho intellectuals are pushing for the wider use of Warang Chiti. The literacy rate in Ho is low. According to the Ethnologue, only 1% - 5% of native Ho speakers are literate in their language, with a larger percentage being literate in a second language, such as Hindi, English, or Oriya. The lack of a Warang Chiti font for computers makes expansion of its use difficult. In 1999, Michael Everson proposed the addition of the script to the Unicode Standard, a widely used standard encoding for computer fonts that aims to include all of the world's scripts.

An example of Ho handwritten in Warang Chiti by Chandra Mohan Haibru.
An example of Ho handwritten in Warang Chiti by Chandra Mohan Haibru.

While the 1999 proposal was a step in the right direction, the Living Tongues Institute has been working with members of the Ho community to solicit feedback on this emerging writing system and collect examples of its use.

Harrison and Anderson's letter to the Unicode Consortium regarding these issues is available here.