Kinyarwanda/Orthography

Normally, the official orthography of Kinyarwanda has 5 vowels with both long vowels and short vowels as well as high tones or no tones on syllables in pronunciation, but the official orthography does not mark vowel length and melody. Only the context can tell the reader which word was meant.

Most of the time written texts are thus ambiguous even to native speakers. Thus the written words umusambi can stand either for [umusaambi] 'mat' or [umusaámbi] 'crane', gutaka for either [gutaka] 'to scream' or [gutaaka] 'to decorate'. ino can stand for either [ino] 'toe' or [inó] 'here' etc.

Eventhough the sound p has been lost and is found only in onomatopeic words and loan-words, the aspirated voiceless velar fricative h is spelled as p after the bilabial nasal m as shown in the examples impuha [imhuuha] 'rumors', impamvu [imhaâmvu] 'cause/reason'. The allophones, the voiced bilabial stop b which appears only after the homorganic nasal m and the voiced bilabial fricative ß realized intervocalically are also written the same way, using the voiced bilabial stop symbol b. Although, the language has only one liquid, both r and l are used in the orthography. The liquid r is used in all texts and l is used only in loan-words which have l in their spelling such as Libiya 'Libya', Alijeriya 'Algeria', idolari 'dollar'.

Last modified on 18 April 2008, at 13:54