Bambara language

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Bambara, also known as Bamanankan in the language itself, is a language spoken in Mali by as many six million people. The differences between Bambara and Dioula are minimal. Dioula is a language spoken or understood, by fewer numbers of people, in Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Gambia.

Bambara belongs to a group of closely-related languages called Manding, within the larger Mandé group. It is an SVO language and has two tones. It uses seven vowels a, e, é, i, o, ó and u (a like in car, e like in echo, é similar to the second e in echelon but more open, i like in India, o like in for, ó like the final sound in gnaw, and u like in the name Honolulu). Writing was introduced during the French occupation and alphabetisation is a major issue 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 "Griot" who are a mixture of storytellers, partysingers 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 kingdom of Mali. Bambara is a national language of Mali, and also the most widely understood language in Mali.

Bambara has many local dialects. Some dialect variants: Somono, Segou, San, Beledugu, Ganadugu, Wasulu and Sikasso.



Dioula is related to Bambara in a manner similar to the relation between American English and British English. It's probably the most used language for trade in West Africa.


Since the seventies Bambara has mostly been written in the Latin alphabet, using some additional phonetic characters. The vowels are a, e, ɛ (formerly è), i, o, ɔ (formerly ò), u; accents can be used to indicate tonality. The former digraph ny is now written ɲ, ŋ or ñ (Senegal).

N'Ko is a script devised by Solomana Kante in 1949 as a writing system for the Mande languages of West Africa; N’Ko means 'I say' in all Mande languages. Kante created N’Ko in response to what he felt were beliefs that Africans were a "cultureless people" since there was prior to this time, no indigenous African writing system for his language. N'ko came first into use in Kankan, Guinea as a Maninka alphabet and disseminated from there into other Mande-speaking parts of West Africa. The script is still in use for Bambara, although the Latin alphabet is much more common.

There are some newspapers in Bambara.


Bambara belongs to a group of closely-related languages called Manding (related to Mandinka, Mande language group). It is an SVO language and has two tones.

In mathematical linguistics Bambara is regarded with interest, since for only very few languages it was possible to show that they were not context-free. For Zurich German and Dutch the proof is based on sentence construction, whereas the proof for Bambara is based on word construction.

Bambara has no gender. Gender for a noun can be specified by adding a suffix, -ce for male and -muso for female. The plural is formed by attaching "-w" or "-u" to words. Sentences usually contain auxilary verbs.

Bambara uses postpositions, like "bolo" to indicate directions. Many postpositions are based on nouns, "bolo" also means hand.

Originally Bambara had several native conjunctions, but many of them have been replaced in everyday use by French borrowings, such as parce que ('because').


N'be bamanankan fo doni doni
I speak a little bit of Bambara (litt: I aux positive Bambara speak little little)
I te taa dumuni ke wa?
Aren't you going to eat? (litt: you aux negative go eat action question particle)


Malian artists such as Salif Keita often sings in Bambara. Alpha Blondy often sings in Dioula.


  • Bird, Charles & Kanté, Mamadou (1977) Bambara-English, English-Bambara student lexicon. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Linguistics Club.
  • Kastenholz, Raimund (1998) Grundkurs Bambara (Manding) mit Texten (second revised edition) (Afrikawissenschaftliche Lehrbücher Vol. 1). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
  • Konaré, Demba (1998) Je parle bien bamanan. Bamako: Jamana.
  • Touré, Mohamed & Leucht, Melanie (1996) Bambara Lesebuch: Originaltexte mit deutscher und französischer Übersetzung = Chrestomathie Bambara: textes originaux Bambara avec traductions allemandes et françaises (with illustrations by Melanie Leucht) (Afrikawissenschaftliche Lehrbücher Vol. 11) . Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.

External links

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de:Bambara fr:Bambara zh:班巴拉语


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