Vai language

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Native toLiberia, Sierra Leone
EthnicityVai people
Native speakers
(120,000 cited 1991–2006)[1]
  • Western Mande
Vai syllabary
Language codes
ISO 639-2vai
ISO 639-3vai
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Two Vai speakers, recorded in Liberia.

The Vai language, also called Vy or Gallinas, is a Mande language spoken by the Vai people, roughly 104,000 in Liberia, and by smaller populations, some 15,500, in Sierra Leone.[2]

Writing system[edit]

Vai is noteworthy for being one of the few African languages to have a writing system that is not based on the Latin or Arabic script. This Vai script is a syllabary invented by Momolu Duwalu Bukele around 1833, although dates as early as 1815 have been alleged. The existence of Vai was reported in 1834 by American missionaries in the Missionary Herald of the ABCFM[3] and independently by Rev. Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle, a Sierra Leone agent of the Church Missionary Society of London.[4]

The Vai script was used to print the New Testament in the Vai language, dedicated in 2003.


Vai is a tonal language and has 11 vowels and 31 consonants, which are tabulated below.[5]


  Oral vowels Nasal vowels
Front Back Front Back
Close i u ĩ ĩː
Close-mid e o ɛ̃ ɛ̃ː ɔ̃ ɔ̃ː
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ɔ ɔː
Open a ã ãː


Labial Alveolar Post-alveolar
Velar Labial
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop voiceless p t c k k͡p
voiced b d ɟ g
prenasalised ᵐb ⁿd ᶮɟ ᵑg ᵑ͡ᵐɡ͡b
implosive ɓ (ɗ) ɠ͡ɓ
Fricative voiceless f s (ʃ) h
voiced v z
Approximant l ~ ɗ j w
Trill (r)

[r] and [ʃ] occur only in recent loanwords.[clarification needed from which language?]

Sample Text[edit]

The following is a sample text in Vai of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[6]

Vai: "ꕉꕜꕮ ꔔꘋ ꖸ ꔰ ꗋꘋ ꕮꕨ ꔔꘋ ꖸ ꕎ ꕉꖸꕊ ꕴꖃ ꕃꔤꘂ ꗱ, ꕉꖷ ꗪꗡ ꔻꔤ ꗏꗒꗡ ꕎ ꗪ ꕉꖸꕊ ꖏꕎ. ꕉꕡ ꖏ ꗳꕮꕊ ꗏ ꕪ ꗓ ꕉꖷ ꕉꖸ ꕘꕞ ꗪ. ꖏꖷ ꕉꖸꔧ ꖏ ꖸ ꕚꕌꘂ ꗷꔤ ꕞ ꘃꖷ ꘉꔧ ꗠꖻ ꕞ ꖴꘋ ꔳꕩ ꕉꖸ ꗳ."

IPA: /adama ɗeŋ nũ g͡bi tɔŋ maⁿd͡ʒa ɗeŋ nũ wa anũa wolo kiːjɛ fɛ, amũ ɓɛː siː lɔⁿɗɔɛ wa ɓɛ anũa kowa. aⁿɗa ko tɛmaː lɔ ka sɔ amũ anũ fala ɓɛ. komũ anũhĩ ko nũ tahajɛ lɛi la kɛmũ nɛ̃hĩ ɲɔ̃ː la kuŋ tija anũ tɛ./

English original: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Ethnologue report for Vai
  3. ^ "Report of Messrs. Wilson and Wynkoop". Missionary Herald. June 1834. p. 215.
  4. ^ "A Written language in Western Africa". The New-Jerusalem Magazine. A. Howard. 23 (10): 431. 1850.
  5. ^ Welmers, William (1976). A Grammar of Vai. University of California Press.
  6. ^ "UDHR - Vai". Retrieved 2023-01-31.

External links[edit]