The Mande languages are spoken in several countries in West Africa by the Mandé people and include Mandinka, Soninke, Bambara, Dioula, Bozo, Mende, Susu, and Vai. There are millions of speakers, chiefly in Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. The Mande languages have traditionally been considered a divergent branch of the Niger–Congo family, though this classification has always been controversial.
The group was first recognized in 1854 by S. W. Koelle in his Polyglotta Africana. He mentioned 13 languages under the heading North-Western High-Sudan Family, or Mandéga Family of Languages. In 1901 Maurice Delafosse made a distinction of two groups in his Essai de manuel pratique de la langue mandé ou mandingue. He speaks of a northern group mandé-tan and a southern group mandé-fu. This distinction was basically done only because the languages in the north use the expression tan for ten whereas the southern group use fu. In 1924 L. Tauxier noted that this distinction is not well founded and there is at least a third subgroup he called mandé-bu. It was not until 1950 when A. Prost supported this view and gave further details. In 1958 Welmers published an article The Mande Languages where he divided the languages into three subgroups – North-West, South and East. His conclusion was based on lexicostatistic research. Greenberg followed this distinction in his The Languages of Africa (1963). Long (1971) and G. Galtier (1980) follow the distinction into three groups but with notable differences.
Various opinions exist as to the age of the Mande languages. Greenberg has suggested that the Niger-Congo group, which in his view includes the Mande languages, began to break up around 7000 years BP. Its speakers practised a Neolithic culture, as indicated by the Proto-Niger-Congo words for "cow", "goat" and "cultivate".
Mande does not share the morphology characteristic of most of the Niger–Congo family, such as the noun-class system. Blench regards it as an early branch that—like Ijoid and perhaps Dogon—diverged before this developed. Dwyer (1998) compared it with other branches of Niger–Congo and finds that they form a coherent family, with Mande being the most divergent of the branches he considered. However, Dimmendaal (2008) argues that the evidence for inclusion is slim, with no new evidence for decades, and that for now Mande is best considered an independent family.
Most internal Mande classifications are based on lexicostatistics, and the results are unreliable. See for example, Vydrin (2009), based on a 100-word list. The following classification from Kastenholz (1996) is based on lexical innovations and comparative linguistics; details of East Mande are from Dwyer (1989, 1996) [summarized in Williamson & Blench 2000].
Paperno describes Beng and extinct Gbin as two primary branches of Southern Mande.
Mande languages do not have the noun-class system or verbal extensions of the Atlantic–Congo languages and for which the Bantu languages are so famous, though Bɔbɔ has causative and intransitive forms of the verb. Southwestern Mande languages and Soninke have initial consonant mutation. Plurality is most often marked with a clitic; in some languages, with tone, as for example in Sembla. Pronouns often have alienable–inalienable and inclusive–exclusive distinctions. Word order in transitive clauses is subject–auxiliary–object–verb–adverb. Mainly postpositions are used. Within noun phrases, possessives come before the noun, adjectives and plural markers after, while demonstratives are found with both orders. (Williamson & Blench 2000).
Some cognates from D. J. Dwyer (〈j〉 is [dʲ] or [d͡ʒ] etc.):
Note that in these cognates: 'saliva' = 'mouth'+'water', 'milk' = 'breast'+'water', 'buck (he-goat)' = 'goat'+'male', 'ram' = 'sheep'+'male'.
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Mande". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- D.F. McCall, "The Cultural Map and Time Profile of the Mande Speaking Peoples," in C.T. Hodge (ed.). Papers on the Manding, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1971
- Gerrit Dimmendaal, "Language Ecology and Linguistic Diversity on the African Continent", Language and Linguistics Compass 2/5:841.
- D. J. Dwyer: "Toward a Proto-Mandé Morphology"
- Delafosse, Maurice (1901) Essai de manuel pratique de la langue mandé ou mandingue. Paris : Leroux. 304 p.
- Delafosse, Maurice (1904) Vocabulaires comparatifs de plus de soixante langues ou dialectes parlés à la Ivory Coast et dans les régions limitrophes, avec des notes linguistiques et ethnologiques. Paris : Leroux. 285 p.
- Halaoui, Nazam, Kalilou Tera, Monique Trabi (1983) Atlas des langues mandé – sud de Ivory Coast. Abidjan : ACCT-ILA.
- Kastenholz, Raimund (1996) Sprachgeschichte im West-Mande: Methoden und Rekonstruktionen. Mande Languages and Linguistics · Langues et Linguistique Mandé, 2. Köln : Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. 281 p.
- Steinthal, Heymann (1867) Die Mande-Negersprachen, psychologisch und phonetisch betrachtet. Berlin: Schade. 344 p.
- Sullivan, Terrence D. 2004 . A preliminary report of existing information on the Manding languages of West Africa: Summary and suggestions for future research. SIL Electronic Survey Report. Dallas, SIL International.
- Vydrine, Valentin, T.G. Bergman and Matthew Benjamin (2000) Mandé language family of West Africa: Location and genetic classification. SIL Electronic Survey Report. Dallas, SIL International.
- Vydrin, Valentin. On the problem of the Proto-Mande homeland // Вопросы языкового родства – Journal of Language Relationship 1, 2009, pp. 107–142.
- Welmers, William E.(1971) Niger–Congo, Mande. In Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa (Current Trends in Linguistics,7), Thomas A. Sebeok, Jade Berry, Joseph H. Greenberg et al. (eds.), 113–140. The Hague: Mouton.
- Williamson, Kay, and Roger Blench (2000) "Niger–Congo". In Heine & Nurse, eds., African Languages.