The Carrier syllabics were created in 1885 for the Dakelh people, a First Nations people of the Central Interior of British Columbia, Canada, for whom Carrier is the usual English name.
The syllabary, also known as Déné Syllabics (ᑐᑊᘁᗕᑋᗸ, Dʌlk’ʷahke, (Dulkw’ahke) meaning toad feet), was adapted by Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice from the syllabic writing systems developed for the languages of the Northwest Territories of Canada by Father Emile Petitot.
The syllabary was fairly widely used for several decades for such purposes as writing diaries and letters and leaving messages on trees, and Morice published a newspaper in syllabics which was in print from 1891 to 1894.
Bill Poser of the Yinka Dene Language Institute writes:
“There are very few people left who are actually literate in the Carrier syllabics, a combination of the decline in use of the syllabics and the decline in the use of the language. Learning of the syllabics began to decline with the foundation of Lejac residential school in 1922 and the replacement of the syllabic editions of the Roman Catholic prayer book with a Roman version in 1938.”
The change of scripts was so abrupt that parents were writing in syllabics while their children were writing in the alphabet, and neither could understand the other’s writing.
“The current roman system was introduced in the late 1960s and is the system that virtually all literate fluent speakers now use.
“There has been a bit of a resurgence of interest in the syllabics, but it mostly takes the form of use for tattoos, on signs and artwork and so forth. I think that there is only one elder left who is both a fluent speaker and who learned syllabics while young. There is another fluent speaker who taught himself syllabics from the prayer book and occasionally writes in them, e.g. notes to people who can read them.
“There is one middle-aged person who actively promotes the use of the syllabics. His father was a fluent speaker and a promoter of the syllabics. His youngest son, who did not learn Carrier as a child and has only a limited knowledge from taking classes, is carrying on his father’s advocacy for the syllabics and teaches classes from time to time.”
Poser has produced a textbook of the syllabics, about a hundred copies of which have been distributed locally.
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