N'Ko language

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RegionGuinea, Mali, West Africa
  • Mande
    • Western Mande
      • Central Mande
        • Manding–Jogo
          • Manding–Vai
N'Ko script
Language codes
ISO 639-2nqo
ISO 639-3nqo

N'Ko[a] (ߒߞߏ) is a standardized unified koiné form of several Manding languages written in the N'Ko alphabet. It is used in Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast,The Gambia

Burkina Faso and some other West African countries, primarily, but not exclusively in written form, whereas in actual speech the different Manding varieties are used: Maninka, Bambara, Dyula and others.

It is a literary register with a prescriptive grammar known as kángbɛ ("clear language") codified by Solomana Kante, with the màninkamóri variety, spoken in Kante's native Kankan region, serving as the mediating compromise dialect.[1][2][3][4]

Valentin Vydrin in 1999[5] and Coleman Donaldson in 2019[3] indicated that the popularity of writing Manding languages in the standardized N'Ko form is growing. This standardized written form is increasingly used for literacy education among the speakers of different varieties.[6] It is also commonly used in electronic communication.[7]

The standard strives to represent all Manding languages in a way that attempts to show a common "proto-Manding" phonology and the words' etymology, including when the actual pronunciation in modern spoken varieties is significantly different. For example, there is at least one such convention, for representing velars between vowels: [g], [k], [ɣ], [x] or zero may be pronounced, but the spelling will be the same. For example, the word for "name" in Bambara is [tɔgɔ] and in Maninka it is [tɔɔ], but the standard written N'Ko form is ߕߐ߮ (/tô/). In written communication each person will write it a single unified way using the N'Ko script, and yet read and pronounce it as in their own linguistic variety.


  1. ^ Sometimes also spelled "N'ko" or "Nko" in English.


  1. ^ Donaldson, Coleman (2017) Clear Language: Script, Register and the N’ko Movement of Manding-Speaking West Africa. Doctoral Dissertation, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.
  2. ^ Donaldson, Coleman (2017) “Orthography, Standardization and Register: The Case of Manding.” In Standardizing Minority Languages: Competing Ideologies of Authority and Authenticity in the Global Periphery, edited by Pia Lane, James Costa, and Haley De Korne, 175–199. Routledge Critical Studies in Multilingualism. New York, NY: Routledge.
  3. ^ a b Donaldson, Coleman (2019-03-01). "Linguistic and Civic Refinement in the N'ko Movement of Manding-Speaking West Africa". Signs and Society. 7 (2): 156–185, 181. doi:10.1086/702554. ISSN 2326-4489. S2CID 181625415.
  4. ^ N'Ko Language Tutorial: Introduction
  5. ^ Vydrin, Valentin (1999). Manding-English Dictionary : (Maninka, Bamana). Lac-Beauport. p. 8. ISBN 9780993996931. OCLC 905517929.
  6. ^ Oyler, Dianne White (1994) Mande identity through literacy, the N'ko writing system as an agent of cultural nationalism. Toronto : African Studies Association.
  7. ^ Rosenberg, Tina (2011-12-09). "Everyone Speaks Text Message". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-24.

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