Blin Orthography: A History and an Assessment

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Conference Title

36th Annual Conference on African Linguistics

Publication Date



This paper examines two orthographic scripts used for Blin (or Bilin), a Central Cushitic language of Eritrea spoken by around 90,000 people. The first script to represent the language was the Ethiopic abugida, a system akin to a syllabary where "each character stands for a consonant accompanied by a particular vowel, usually /a/, and other vowels (or no vowel) are indicated by consistent additions to the consonant symbols" (Daniels 2001). First used by the Italian missionary Sapeto (1857), it was employed, with slight modifications for sounds unique to Blin, by Reinisch (1882), by Italian scholars, and by native speakers, culminating in the monolingual dictionary of Kiflemariam and Paulos (1992), and its recent integration into Unicode 4.1. However, educational policy of the Eritrean government began mother-tongue primary education in Blin in 1997 using a new Roman-based orthography, which was chosen as a compromise between Christian and Muslim-associated scripts, and as an aid to learn English, the language of secondary and higher education in Eritrea. The strengths and weaknesses of each system are examined. The paper concludes with a discussion of whether Blin will undergo synchronic or diachronic digraphia (Dale 1980) as the two systems coexist.


This paper is openly available on the web.

The definitive paper can be found on the website of the Cascadilla Proceedings Project at: http://www.lingref.com/.

Publisher Statement

© 2006 Paul D. Fallon.