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The Manding languages, and what distinguishes one from the rest and relationships among all of them are matters that continue to be researched. In addition, the nomenclature - being a mixture of indigenous terms and words applied by English and French speakers since before the colonisation of Africa - makes the picture complex and even confusing.
The Mandinka people speak varieties from the first two groups; the differences between the western and eastern branches manifest themselves primarily phonetically. While dialects of the western group usually have 10 vowels (5 oral and 5 long/nasal), the eastern group, typified by Bambara, has 14 vowels (7 oral and 7 nasal):
Arabic was introduced into the region with the arrival of Islam, and the writing was adapted to write in the Manding languages. Arabic script or Ajami is still commonly used for Mandinka.
The Latin script was introduced into the region following European conquest and colonization. It is used fairly widely, with "official" versions in many countries, for teaching, literacy and publication.
The N'Ko script, developed in 1949 by Solomana Kante, is designed to write Manding using a common literary standard comprehensible to speakers of all these varieties. It is gaining in popularity.
A lesser-known alphabet for Bambara was developed in the early 20th century but is not used.