When they were 10 and 14, brothers Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry set out to invent an alphabet for their native language, Fulfulde, which had been spoken by millions of people for centuries but never had its own writing system. While their friends were out playing in the neighborhood, Ibrahima, the older brother, and Abdoulaye would shut themselves in their room in the family’s house in Nzérékoré, Guinea, close their eyes and draw shapes on paper.
When one of them called stop they’d open their eyes, choose the shapes they liked and decide what sound of the language they matched best. Before long, they’d created a writing system that eventually became known as ADLaM.
The brothers couldn’t have known the challenges that lay ahead. They couldn’t have imagined the decades-long journey to bring their writing system into widespread use, one that would eventually lead them to Microsoft, which has now made their alphabet available in Windows and Office. They wouldn’t have dreamed that the script they invented would change lives and open the door to literacy for millions of people around the world.
Read the entire story by Deborah Bach on Microsoft Story Labs and listen to the brothers talk about their experience through audio clips produced by Sara Lerner.