Not your typical ABCs

Writing in Uniskript
Writing in Uniskript

Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea – Written by Robbie Petterson with Tim Scott

Uniskript is a writing system that uses picture symbols that represent the parts of the mouth used to make the sounds of language. This makes it good for teaching phonics, and a useful stepping stone towards learning to read in normal letters. It can be applied to any language, including English. Because it is easy to learn, it is of interest to language development and literacy practitioners in countries with many small language groups, and where school children are struggling to acquire literacy through traditional methods.

A research team from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) developed the Uniskript method and this year they invited a team from Papua New Guinea to try Uniskript for themselves. Teachers Roy Harai, Nelson Moio, Anna Larupa and Esther Ukia, (teachers from the Urama and Koriki language communities) attended a workshop at the University of the Nations in Hawai’i, along with SIL literacy experts Robbie and Debbie Petterson.

The PNG team learned how to use Uniskript symbols to represent language sounds, and then developed symbols for Koriki and Urama. After testing the symbols by writing words and sentences, they looked at cultural icons, designs and artifacts, and used these to adapt the basic symbols to ones that had a real “Urama” or “Koriki” home-­‐grown feel to them. The Koriki teachers called their Uniskript alphabet “Koriki Ere”, which means “(growth-giving) water for the Koriki,” while the Urama pair called theirs “Urama Hura,” meaning “the seeds (of learning) for the Urama.” They also worked on basic Uniskripts for Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu.

The team later developed teaching materials and games and stories for reading practice, using computer fonts created especially for them. An important final step was planning teaching materials for bridging to the Roman alphabet and to help children learning to read English.

The four teachers returned to PNG eager to try out these materials with small classes of children, now that they understand the potential benefits of using Uniskript for teaching literacy skills. If these trials are successful, other language communities may be interested in developing Uniskript systems for teaching phonics-based literacy in their languages, and also for teaching English.


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