Bassa language

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

The Bassa language is a Kru language spoken by about 600,000 Bassa people in Liberia and 5,000 in Sierra Leone.



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial-
Plosive voiceless p t k k͡p
voiced b d ɡ ɡ͡b
Affricate voiceless t͡ʃ
voiced d͡ʒ
Implosive ɓ ɗ ʄ
Nasal m n ɲ
Fricative voiceless f s h
voiced v z ɣʷ
Approximant w
  • /ʄ/ can be heard as a glide [j] intervocalically within compound words.
  • /ɡ͡b/ when followed by a nasal can be heard as [ŋ͡m].
  • /h/ only rarely occurs.[2]


Oral Nasal
Front Central Back Front Central Back
Close i u ĩ ũ
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ ɛ̃ ɔ̃
Open a ã

Bassa alphabets[edit]

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] It has been reported that the script was influenced by the Cherokee syllabary created by Sequoyah.[4]

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."[5] 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.

Latin Bassa orthography[edit]


  • A - a - [a]
  • B - be - [b]
  • Ɓ - ɓe - [ɓ/ⁿb]
  • C - ce - [c]
  • D - de - [d]
  • Đ - ɖe - [ɖ/ɺ]
  • Dy - dye - [dʲ/ɲ]
  • Ɛ - ɛ - [ɛ]
  • E - e - [e]
  • F - ef - [f]
  • G - ge - [g]
  • Gb - gbe - [ɡ͡b/ŋ͡m]
  • Gm - gme - [g͡m]
  • H - ha - [h]
  • Hw - hwa - [hʷ]
  • I - i - [i]
  • J - je - [ɟ]
  • K - ka - [k]
  • Kp - kpe - [k͡p]
  • M - em - [m]
  • N - en - [n]
  • Ny - eny - [ŋ]
  • Ɔ - ɔ - [ɔ]
  • O - o - [o]
  • P - pe - [p]
  • S - es - [s]
  • T - te - [t]
  • U - u - [u]
  • V - ve - [v]
  • W - we - [w]
  • Xw - xwa - [xʷ]
  • Z - ze - [z]

Other letters[edit]

  • ã - [ã]
  • ẽ - [ẽ]
  • ĩ - [ĩ]
  • ɔ̃ - [ɔ̃]
  • ũ - [ũ]

Some Bassa speakers write nasalised vowels as an, en, in, ɔn, and un.


  • á - [a˥]
  • à - [a˨]
  • a - [a˧]
  • ă - [a˨˧]
  • â - [a˥˩][6]


  1. ^ Bassa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Bertkau, Jana S. (1975). A phonology of Bassa. Monrovia: Peace Corps.
  3. ^ "Bassa language and alphabet". Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  4. ^ Unseth, Peter (20 December 2016). "The international impact of Sequoyah's Cherokee syllabary". Written Language & Literacy. 19 (1): 75–93. doi:10.1075/wll.19.1.03uns.
  5. ^ Starr, Frederick. Liberia: Description, history, problems. Chicago, 1913. P.246
  6. ^ "Bassa language and alphabet". Omniglot.

External links[edit]