Tafi [NEW]

For several centuries, the Hausa language of Nigeria has generally been written in the Ajami and Boko scripts–Ajami being developed from the Arabic alphabet and Boko from the Latin. The Tafi alphabet, created around 1970, aims to retain the best features of both scripts.

The word “Tafi” is taken from the last two syllables of the Hausa word lit-tafi, meaning “book.” With a different intonation, it also means “palm of the hand” or “clapping of the hand.” The choice of words is significant: Tafi is described as a digital alphabet not in the customary modern sense but in an older one—it is based on the human hand. To cite the Tafi website:

“Tafi is a digital (of the fingers) writing (digitography) where the 36 letters of the alphabet are built from only 6 signs called digits… formed by joining 6 digits in twos, bottom to top. The digits, representing fingers of the hand, stand as the vowels: a, e, i, o, u and x.” (The sixth is represented by the point on the edge of the hand where the little finger meets the palm.)


Many indigenously-designed African scripts are intended for not just one local language but all African languages; Tafi has even more universal ambitions. “Tafi [letters] have been produced for English, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Extra vowels, consonants and signs [for tones and vowel lengths] are provided, in a Universal Tafi Alphabet, to cater for the other languages of the World.”

It is also intended to be universal in terms of who can learn or use it. “Tafi is easy to learn by children and adults, with the objective of home teaching. It is adaptable for the blind to ‘read’ by touching, for the deaf and dumb to ‘feel’ through tapping and for sign-language, signal codes or musical beats.”


Update June 2023:

Musa D. Abdullahi reports: “We are collecting materials for teaching Tafi. We made a collection of 316 Aesop Fables in English and translated them into Hausa. We have transcribed the Fables in the Tafi Alphabet from the fonts built.”

As for teaching the script, he continued, “We started with a selection of 20 students in a Local Education Authority Primary School, in Katsina, on a private arrangement with the Headmaster.

“The local community could not see the reason for a new script, when there are already Ajami (Hausa written in Arabic script) and Boko (Hausa written in the Latin script).
“The pupils were not keen because they could not see immediate benefits and there is absence of reading materials and home support.
“The Muslim Clerics expressed opposition in the belief that nobody (but Allah) could create a Writing. They did this during the Colonial Days, but the British had the means to bulldoze their system.
“No, we had to withdraw in order to re-strategize.
“We have established a School (FAHIMTA ADVANCEMENT ACADEMY) to teach Vocational Subjects and Tafi, in Hausa and English.
“We have developed a Phonetic English Teaching Tafi Alphabet. This is very interesting. With a new script it is easy to achieve a Spelling Reform.
“As from April next year [2024] we shall have the means to support 34 students per year, full time, for two years (with feeding and accommodation) to plant the seeds for growing Tafi.”
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