Mandinka language

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Not to be confused with Dinka language or Maninka language.
لغة مندنكا
Native to Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau
Region Casamance
Ethnicity Mandinka people
Native speakers
1.3 million (2006)[1]
Latin (official), Arabic, N'Ko
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mnk
Glottolog mand1436[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Mandinka language (Mandi'nka kango), or Manding, is a Mandé language spoken by the Mandinka people of the Casamance region of Senegal, the Gambia, and northern Guinea-Bissau. It is the principal language of the Gambia.

Mandinka belongs to the Manding branch of Mandé, and is thus similar to Bambara and Maninka/Malinké. In a majority of areas, it is tonal language with two tones: low and high, although the particular variety spoken in the Gambia and Senegal borders on a pitch accent due to its proximity with non-tonal neighboring languages like Wolof.


Mandinka is here represented by the variety spoken in Casamance.[3] There is little dialectical diversity.


Mandinka has two tones, high and low. Unmodified nouns are either high tone on all syllables or low tone on all syllables. The definite suffix -o take a low tone on high-tone nouns and a falling tone on low-tone nouns. It also assimilates any preceding short vowel, resulting in a long /oo/ with either low or falling tone. It shortens a preceding long high vowel (ii > io, uu > uo; ee optionally > either eo or ee) or assimilates itself (aa remains aa) leaving only its tone:

/búŋ/ 'a room' > /búŋò/ 'the room'
/tèŋ/ 'a palm tree' > /tèŋô/ 'the palm tree'
/kídí/ 'a gun' > /kídòò/ 'the gun'
/kòrdàà/ 'a house' > /kòrdáà/ 'the house'

In Senegal and Gambia, Mandinka is approaching a system of pitch accent under the influence of local non-tonal languages such as Wolof. The tonal system is more robust in Guinea-Bisau.


Vowel qualities are /i e a o u/. All may be long or short. There are no nasal vowels; instead, there is a coda consonant /ŋ/.

Mandinka consonants
m n ñ ŋ
b d j [dy]
(p) t c [ty] k
f s h
w l (r) y

/j/ and /c/ are pronounced approximately /dy/ and /ty/. /p/ is found in French loans. /r/ is only found initially in loans and onomatopoeia. Otherwise it is the intervocalic allophone of /d/.

Syllabic nasals occur in e.g. nnààm 'yes!' (response), ŋte "I, me". Word-initial mb, nd, ndy, ng occur but are not particularly common; it is not clear whether they should be considered syllabic nasals or additional consonants.

Consonants may be geminated in the middles of words (at least /pp, cc, jj, kk, ll, mm, nn, ññ/). The only other consonant found at the ends of syllables in native words is /ŋ/. It assimilates to a following consonant: /ns, nc, mb/ etc. Syllable-final /r/ and /s/ are found in French loans (e.g. /kùrtù/ "pants").


Latin and Arabic script-based alphabets are widely used for Mandinka; the former is official, but the latter is more widely used and older. In addition, the pan-Mandé writing system, the N'Ko alphabet, invented in 1949, is often used in north east Guinea, and bordering communities in Ivory Coast and Mali.

In the Latin script, c represents /t͡ʃ/, ŋ /ŋ/, and ñ /ɲ/; the letters v, x, z, and q are not used. Vowels are as in Spanish or Italian, and are doubled to indicate length or distinguish words that are otherwise homophones.

The Arabic script uses no extra letters (apart from, rarely, an extra vowel mark for e), but some of the letters are pronounced differently from in Arabic.

The Latin and Arabic consonants correspond as follows:

Arabic ا ع ب ت ط ض ج ه ح خ د ر س ش ص ث ظ ڢ ل م ن و ي ك لا
Latin ('), aa, ee (', with madda ŋ) b, p t t t c, j h h d r s s (sh) s s s f l m n, ñ, ŋ w y k, g la

Letters in italics are not normally used in native Mandinka words. ه (h) may also be used to indicate a final glottal stop, which is not noted in the Latin script. The letter ŋ of the Latin script is often indicated with vowel signs in the Arabic script; see below.

The vowels correspond as follows (diacritics are placed over or under the consonant in Arabic):

Arabic ـَ ـِ ـُ ـْ ـִ ـً ـٍ ـٌ ـَا ـِي ـُو
Latin a, e i, e, ee o, u (no following vowel) e aŋ, eŋ iŋ, eeŋ, eŋ oŋ, uŋ aa ii oo, uu
Mandinka names of Arabic marks: sira tilidiŋo; sira tilidiŋo duuma; ŋoo biriŋo; sira murumuruliŋo; tambi baa duuma; sira tilindiŋo fula; sira tilindiŋo duuma fula; ŋoo biriŋo fula.

In addition, a small Arabic 2 (۲) may be used to indicate reduplication, and the hamza may be used as in Arabic to indicate glottal stops more precisely.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mandinka at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Mandinka". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Maŋ Lafi Dramé (c. 2003) Parlons Mandinka


  • R. T. Addis, A Study on the Writing of Mandinka in Arabic script, 1963.
  • Dramé, Man Lafi, Parlons Mandinka, L'Harmattan 2003 (in French)

External links[edit]