|Region||central southern Mali|
|4.1 million (2012)|
10 million L2 speakers
Spoken to varying degrees by 80% of the population of Mali
Bambara, also known as Bamana (N'ko: ) or Bamanankan (N'ko: ) is a lingua franca and national language of Mali spoken by perhaps 15 million people, natively by 5 million Bambara people and about 10 million second-language users. It is estimated that about 80 percent of the population of Mali speak Bambara as a first or second language. It has a subject-object-verb clause structure and two lexical tones. The native name bamanankan means "the language (kan) of heathens (bámànán), people who refuse Islam", as opposed to speakers of Dyula, who are Muslim.
Bambara is a variety of a group of closely related languages called Manding, whose native speakers trace their cultural history to the medieval Mali Empire. Varieties of Manding are generally considered (among native speakers) to be mutually intelligible – dependent on exposure or familiarity with dialects between speakers – and spoken by 30 to 40 million people in the countries Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and the Gambia. Manding is part of the larger Mandé family of languages.
It uses seven vowels a, e, ?, i, o, ? and u, each of which can be nasalized, pharyngealized and murmured, giving a total number of 21 vowels (the letters approximate their IPA equivalents). Writing with the Latin alphabet began during the French occupation, and the first orthography was introduced in 1967. Literacy is limited, especially in rural areas. Although written literature is only slowly evolving (due to the predominance of French as the "language of the educated"), there exists a wealth of oral literature, which is often tales of kings and heroes. This oral literature is mainly tradited by the griots (Jeliw in Bambara) who are a mixture of storytellers, praise singers, and human history books who have studied the trade of singing and reciting for many years. Many of their songs are very old and are said to date back to the old empire of Mali.
Bambara is spoken throughout Mali as a lingua franca. The language is most widely spoken in the areas east, south, and north of Bamako, where native speakers and/or those that identify as members of the Bambara ethnic group are most densely populated. These regions are also usually considered to be the historical geographical origin of Bambara people, particularly Ségou, after diverging from other Manding groups.
The main dialect is Standard Bamara, which has significant influence from Maninkakan.[clarification needed] Bambara has many local dialects: Kaarta, Tambacounda (west); Beledugu, Bananba, Mesekele (north); Jitumu, Jamaladugu, Segu (center); Cakadugu, Keleyadugu, Jalakadougu, Kurulamini, Banim?nc?, C?mala, C?ndugu, Banink?, Sh?ndugu, Ganadugu (south); Kala, Kuruma, Saro, dialects to the northeast of Mopti (especially B?r?); Zegedugu, B?ndugu, Bak?kan, J?nka (southeast).,
Since 1967, Bambara has mostly been written in the Latin script, using some additional phonetic characters. The vowels are a, e, ? (formerly è), i, o, ? (formerly ò), u; accents can be used to indicate tonality. The former digraph ny is now written ? when it designates a palatal nasal glide; the ny spelling is kept for the combination of a nasal vowel with a subsequent oral palatal glide. Following the 1966 Bamako spelling conventions, a nasal velar glide "?" is written as "?", although in early publications it was often transcribed as ng or nk.
The N'Ko (N'Ko: ) alphabet is a script devised by Solomana Kante in 1949 as a writing system for the Manding languages of West Africa; N'Ko means 'I say' in all Manding languages. Kante created N'Ko in response to what he felt were beliefs that Africans were a "cultureless people" since prior to this time there had been no indigenous African writing system for his language. N'ko first gained a strong user base around the Maninka-speaking area of Kante's hometown of Kankan, Guinea and disseminated from there into other Manding-speaking parts of West Africa. N'ko and the Arabic script are still in use for Bambara, although only the Latin-based orthography is officially recognized in Mali.
Additionally, a script known as Masaba or Ma-sa-ba was developed for the language beginning in 1930 by Woyo Couloubayi (c.1910-1982) of Assatiémala. Named for the first characters in Couloubayi's preferred collation order, Masaba is a syllabary which uses diacritics to indicate vowel qualities such as tone, length, and nasalization. Though not conclusively related to other writing systems, Masaba appears to draw on traditional Bambara iconography and shares some similarities with the Vai syllabary of Liberia and with Arabic-derived secret alphabets used in Hodh (now Hodh El Gharbi and Hodh Ech Chargui Regions of Mauritania). As of 1978, Masaba was in limited use in several communities in Nioro Cercle for accounting, personal correspondence, and the recording of Muslim prayers; the script's current status and prevalence is unknown.
Each consonant represents a single sound with some exceptions:
Like Turkish, it is an agglutinative language, meaning that morphemes are glued together to form a word.
The basic sentence structure is Subject Object Verb. Take the phrase, "n t'a don" (I don't know [it]). "n" is the subject (I), "a" is the object (it), and "[ta] don" is the verb ([to] know). The "t'" is from the present tense marker "té." "té" is the negative present tense marker and "bé" is the affirmative present tense marker. Therefore, "n b'a don" would mean "I know it".
Bambara is an SOV language and has two (mid/standard and high) tones; e.g. sa 'die' vs. sá 'snake.' The typical argument structure of the language consists of a subject, followed by an aspectival auxiliary, followed by the direct object, and finally a transitive verb. Naturally, if the verb is intransitive, the direct object is absent.
Bambara does not inflect for gender. Gender for a noun can be specified by adding an adjective, -c? or -k? for male and -muso for female. The plural is formed by attaching a vocalic suffix -u, most often with a low tone (in the orthography, -w) to nouns or adjectives.
Bambara uses postpositions in much the same manner as languages like English and French use prepositions. These postpositions are found after the noun and are used to express direction, location, and in some cases, possession.
In urban areas, many Bamanankan conjunctions have been replaced in everyday use by French borrowings that often mark code-switches. The Bamako dialect makes use of sentences like: N taara Kita mais il n'y avait personne là-bas. : I went to Kita [Bamanankan ] but there was no one there [French]. The sentence in Bamanankan alone would be ? taara Kita nka m?k? si tun t? yen. The French proposition "est-ce que" is also used in Bamanankan ; however, it is pronounced more slowly and as three syllables, [?sik?].
Bamanankan uses many French loan words. For example, some people might say: I ka kurusi ye jauni ye: "Your skirt is yellow" (using a derivation of the French word for yellow, jaune.)
However, one could also say: I ka kulosi ye n?r?mukuman ye, also meaning "your skirt is yellow." The original Bamanankan word for yellow comes from "n?r?muku," being flour (muku) made from néré (locust bean), a seed from a long seed pod. N?r?muku is often used in sauces in Southern Mali.
Most French loan words are suffixed with the sound 'i'; this is particularly common when using French words which have a meaning not traditionally found in Mali. For example, the Bamanankan word for snow is niegei, based on the French word for snow neige. As there has never been snow in Mali, there was no unique word in Bamanankan to describe it.
Malian artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Sidiki Diabaté, Fatoumata Diawara, Rokia Traoré, Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, Habib Koité, and the married duo Amadou & Mariam often sing in Bambara. Aïda of the band Métisse often sings in Dioula, as does Mory Kanté, born in Guinea to a Malian mother; his most famous song to date is "Yeke Yeke" (Alpha Blondy). Lyrics in Bambara occur on Stevie Wonder's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants". Tiken Jah Fakoly often sings reggae in Dyula and French.
Additionally, in 2010, Spanish rock group Dover released its 7th studio album I Ka Kené with the majority of lyrics in the language. American rapper Nas also released a track titled "Sabari" in 2010, which featured Damian Marley. Sabari is a Bambara word that means patience.