|Region||central southern Mali and neighboring areas|
|4 million (2012)
Spoken to varying degrees by 80% of the population of Mali
Bambara, also known as Bamana, and Bamanankan by speakers of the language, is a language spoken in Mali, and to a lesser extent Burkina Faso and Senegal, by as many as six million people (including second language users). The Bambara language is the language of people of the Bambara ethnic group, numbering about 4,000,000 people, but serves also as a lingua franca in Mali (it is estimated that about 80 percent of the population speak it as a first or second language). It is a subject–object–verb language and has two tones.
Bambara is a language/dialect of the Manding language cluster, a cluster of languages whose ethnic-speakers generally trace their cultural history to the ancient city of Manding, where modern-day Kita, Mali now exists. Bambara is classified as part of the larger, very broad Mandé group. Dialects of Manding are generally considered (among native speakers) to be mutually intelligible – dependent on exposure or familiarity with dialects between speakers – and spoken by approximately 20 million people in the countries Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and the Gambia.
Alphabet and literature
It uses seven vowels a, e, ɛ, i, o, ɔ and u (the letters approximate their IPA equivalents). Writing was introduced during the French occupation and 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" (Jɛliw 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 kingdom of Mali.
Bambara is spoken throughout Mali as a lingua franca. The language is most widely spoken in the areas east, south, and northeast 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 Segou, Sikasso, after diverging from other Manding groups.
The main sub-dialect is standard Bamara, which has significant influence from Western Maninkakan. Bambara has many local dialects. Some dialect variants: Somono, Segou, San, Beledugu, Ganadugu, Wasulu and Sikasso.
Since the 1970s Bambara has mostly been written in the Latin script, 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 or ñ (in Senegal). The ambiguous digraph "ng" represented both the [ŋɡ] sound of English "finger" and the [ŋ] sound of "singer". The 1966 Bamako spelling conventions render the latter sound as "ŋ".
The N'Ko (ߒߞߏ) 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 came first into use in Kankan, Guinea as a Maninka alphabet 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 the Latin script is much more common.
Bambara belongs to a group of closely related languages called Manding (related to Mandinka, Mande language group). It is an SOV language and has two (mid/standard and high) tones; e.g. sa 'death' 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 not found.
Bambara does not inflect for gender. Gender for a noun can be specified by adding a suffix, -ce or -ke for male and -muso for female. The plural is formed by attaching -w to words.
Bambara uses postpositions in much the same manner as languages like English and French use prepositions. These postpositions are found after the verb and are used to express direction, location, and in some cases, possession.
In urban areas, many Bambara 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 [Bambara] but there was no one there [French]. The sentence in Bambara alone would be N taara Kita nka mɔgɔsi tuntɛ yen. The French proposition "est-ce que" is also used in Bambara; however, it is pronounced more slowly and as three syllables, [ɛsəkə].
Bambara uses many French loan words. For example, some people might say: I ka kulosi 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 neremuguman ye, also meaning "your skirt is yellow." The original Bambara word for yellow comes from "neremugu," being flour (mugu) made from néré (locust bean), a seed from a long seed pod. Neremugu 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 Bambara word for snow is niegei, based on the French word for snow neige. As there has never been snow in Mali, there has not been a traditional meaning for the word and thus no unique word in Bambara to describe it.
- N bɛ bamanankan mɛn dɔɔni-dɔɔni
- I understand/hear a little bit of Bambara (lit: I aux positive Bambara hear small-small)
- I tɛna dumuni ke wa?
- Aren't you going to eat? (lit: you aux negative future eating do question particle)
- Du Mara be ameriki hali bi wa?
- Is Dou Mara still living in the USA? (lit: Dou Mara still America in live question particle)
Macire nana MALI la wa ? (did Macire come to Mali?)
- N bɛ I Baw Kaw
- I will beat you (lit:I will beat you)
Malian artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Rokia Traoré, Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, Habib Koité, and the blind couple Amadou & Mariam often sing in Bambara. Aïda of the band Métisse often sings in Dioula, as does Mory Kante, 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 soundtrack Journey through the Secret Life of Plants. Tiken Jah Fakoly (reggae) often sings in Dioula and French.
- Bambara at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Bambara". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- Bird, Charles, Hutchison, John & Kanté, Mamadou (1976) An Ka Bamanankan Kalan: Beginning Bambara. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Linguistics Club.
- 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.
- Morales, José (2010) J'apprends le bambara. 61 conversations, (book + CD-ROM). Paris: Editions Karthala. ISBN 2-8111-0433-X
- 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.
|Bambara edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|For a list of words relating to Bambara language, see the Bambara language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Bambara|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Bambara phrasebook.|
- Bambara entries (>2300) in the French Wiktionary
- Bambara-French-English dictionary online and downloadable lexicons for language learners
- Bambara tree names (scientific name -> common name)
- Online Bambara Course from the Indiana University
- PDF (168 KB) on peacecorps.gov