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Apart from the translation of the Bible by the missionaries, those carried out in schools by teachers and their pupils posed an essential problem from the outset.
This is the medium with which to write the Malagasy language or the spelling. Until that time, the few texts published in Malagasy had been “in a purely phonetic and empirical manner, without any effort being made to establish fixed rules of concordance between the alphabet used and the sounds (Jean Valette, archivist-paleographer).
Indeed, the Arabic alphabet is used to transcribe Malagasy texts, but it is quickly abandoned in favor of the Latin alphabet. “This rapid abandonment shows that the Arabic alphabet was scarcely widespread. “
However, in European languages, each letter does not always cover the same sound. “For example, the same English vowel can have several sounds depending on the word it is in. The letter x in French is pronounced in five or six different ways. Note also that in the French word bird, none of the letters that compose it, corresponds to a truly pronounced sound. “
All of them come to a theoretical compromise, as Coppalle reports.
The pupils use European characters in their handwriting, and to avoid the defects of these characters it is agreed between Hastie, Jones, and Jeffreys, on the one hand, and Robin, on the other hand, to pronounce the consonants as English and vowels like the French. The letters useless to the ambaniandro language should be deleted from the alphabet, but these wise dispositions are not carried out. “The pupil always reads in his alphabet c, q, w, and x, which he does not employ, and the English masters always pronounce the vowels in the English manner. “
Thanks to its simplicity and despite the rivalries, the system adopted proves to be “particularly happy” and the Malagasy schoolboy is far more favored on this plan than his little English or French comrade.
Since this problem of the correspondence of sounds and letters is solved, the problem of vocabulary remains. A certain number of concepts, especially Christian ones, are then totally unknown to Malagasy thought, hence the absence of words that have never until then penetrated into Imerina. It is supplemented by borrowing from the English and French vocabularies the words “now completely spent in use” and of which the Madagascan form is often such that it is difficult to recognize them at first sight.
Chapus cites in particular “lasaka” (the bag), “soavaly” (horse), “pasipaoro” (passport), “koarantina” (Corinthian), “farantsay” (French), “mompera” (my father), and so on.
Jean Valette also speaks of grammar works, which were rare at the beginning. The Rev. Jeffreys wrote around 1825 a Malagasy grammar that had been left in a manuscript and lost.
Finally, the work must be disseminated so that it can reach as many people as possible. As the printing press has not yet penetrated the Great Island, missionaries must show tenacity and self-denial to overcome this difficulty. This task marks the year 1826.
The Bible Society of London offers 150 reams of paper. The Mission Society of London is in charge of providing a press to its missionaries and designates one of its agents, Hovenden, who previously worked in St. Petersburg (Leningrad). Accompanied by his precious material, he arrived at Antananarivo on November 20, 1826, but succumbed to fevers on the following December 15th.
Cameron’s skill and dedication, which finds a printing manual in the luggage of the dead man in a box placed at his disposal in Ambatonakanga. He succeeded in mounting the press and becoming familiar with his handling. As early as December 4, 1827, he succeeded in drawing a few copies of the Ten Commandments.