Bassa language

The Bassa language is a Kru language spoken by about 350,000 people in Liberia and 5,000 in Sierra Leone by Bassa people.

Ɓǎsɔ́ɔ̀ (𖫢𖫧𖫳𖫒𖫨𖫰𖫨𖫱)
Native toLiberia, Sierra Leone
Native speakers
410,000 (2006)[1]
Bassa alphabet (Vah)
Language codes
ISO 639-3bsq

Bassa alphabetEdit

The Bassa Vah alphabet.

It has an indigenous script, Vah, it was first popularized by Dr. Thomas Flo Lewis, who has instigated publishing of limited materials in the language from the mid-1900s through the 1930s, with its height in the 1910s and 1920s.[3]

The script has been described as one which, "like the system long in use among the Vai, consists of a series of phonetic characters standing for syllables."[4] In fact, however, the Vah script is alphabetic. It includes 30 consonants, seven vowels, and five tones that are indicated by dots and lines inside of each vowel.

In the 1970s the United Bible Societies (UBS) published a translation of the New Testament. June Hobley, of Liberia Inland Mission, was primarily responsible for the translation. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was used for this translation rather than the Vah script, mostly for practical reasons related to printing. Because the Bassa people had a tradition of writing, they quickly adapted to the new script, and thousands learned to read.

In 2005, UBS published the entire Bible in Bassa. The translation was sponsored by the Christian Education Foundation of Liberia, Christian Reformed World Missions, and UBS. Don Slager headed a team of translators that included Seokin Payne, Robert Glaybo, and William Boen.

The IPA has largely replaced the Vah script in publications. However, the Vah script is still highly respected and is still in use by some older men, primarily for record keeping.


  1. ^ Bassa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Bassa". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ "Bassa language and alphabet". Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  4. ^ Starr, Frederick. Liberia: Description, history, problems. Chicago, 1913. P.246

External linksEdit