|Native to||Liberia, Sierra Leone|
It has an indigenous script, Vah, developed before 1907 by Thomas Narvin Lewis (c.1880-?) while he was studying at Syracuse University in the United States. The first primer was printed by Lyman Brothers circa 1907. Dr. Lewis returned to Liberia where he began teaching his script to Bassa children. The language was taught in some of the Poro society schools.
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." 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.
- Bassa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Nuclear Bassa". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- "Son of African Chief to Take Degree", The Post-Standard, Syracuse NY, 6/5/1907
- Starr, Frederick. Liberia: Description, history, problems. Chicago, 1913. P.246