Alphabet design workshops in Papua New Guinea: A community-based approach to orthography development

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review


In this paper, I aim to discuss a method of orthography development that
has been widely used in Papua New Guinea since the mid 1990s known as the
Alphabet Design Workshop (ADW). Through the ADW method, over 100
language/dialect groups have developed orthographies in the last five years.
Based on community interaction, the ADW relies on speakers’ perceptions of
their language rather than phonological analysis, and consequently reflects
the ‘sound system’ in its cultural context as viewed by the speakers of the
language. I describe the process of an ADW and the role of outside language
specialists as facilitators, not creators of the orthography, with examples from
throughout Papua New Guinea. The influence of non-linguistic factors in
orthography decision making, such as neighbouring and prestige languages,
and dialect standardisation, will be discussed using examples from ADWs.
Finally, I mention the breadth of application of this process throughout PNG,
and more recently in Thailand where the method has been tried for the first
time outside of PNG. This paper is not intended to be a technical paper
discussing all the linguistic issues that have arisen, but rather reflections on
the ADW method of orthography development and its ability to empower
language communities to own the process of orthography development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Conference on Language Development, Language Revitalization and Multilingual Education. Bangkok, Thailand
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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