The World Wide Bɔ́lɔlɔ (ߓߟߐߟߐ)

Both learns and native-speakers of Manding are constantly wondering and debating what words one should use for the things of modern, computer-mediated life.

How does one say internet in Manding? Ask most native-speakers or Peace Corps volunteer and you'll likely get a written response like <interneti>. The added -i in this case is a reflection of internet being a phonologically assimilated loanword. In general, Manding doesn't take accept consonants in word initial or final position. As such you get loanword forms such as the following:

Fr. robe --> ɔ́rɔbu 'dress'

So in the case of internet, more linguistically-informed orthographies look something like this:

internet --> ɛ́ntɛrinɛti 'internet'

This loanword form appears 49 times in the Tonal Bambara Corpus.

In listening to RFI's Mandenkan broadcast however I've recently been struck by the use of a different term, which appears 0 times in the Bambara corpus. Here's one example of it in the course of one of their broadcast's from last year (make sure that you turned on closed captioning because I've created a synced transcript for you to watch):

Did you catch that? At around 11-12 seconds we hear the following:

Áw bɛ́ sé fána kà táa án ká bɔ́lɔlɔ' kàn kà táa án ká kùnnafóniw sɔ̀rɔ yèn

What is bɔ́lɔlɔ (ߓߟߐߟߐ)?

As the rest of the clip makes clear, here bɔ́lɔlɔ clearly denotes 'website'. This is an interesting word usage for two reasons.

  1. The term itself is absent from the major Latin-based Bambara dictionaries (all produced by old White linguists or missionaries) as well as the online written Bambara corpus. How did it enter RFI's broadcast lexicon? 
  2. The obvious explanation is the influence of the N'ko movement from which I was already well acquainted with the term. My familiarity is well confirmed by the word's appearance 107 times in the online Maninka corpus which includes N'ko texts. That said, in these circles I most frequently encountered the term as denoting '(the) internet'. This also seems to be the case in the majority of the hits in the corpus. For instance from the 09 issue of the newspaper ߦߙߍߦߊ yɛ́rɛya:
 ߊ߬ߟߎ߫ ߞߵ ߏ߬ ߟߎ߫ ߖߌ߬ߦߊ ߟߎ߫ ߕߊ߬ ߞߵ ߊ߬ ߓߌ߬ߟߊ߬ ߓߟߐߟߐ ߞߊ߲߬ 
àlú k'ò lú jìyá' lú tà k'à bìlà bɔ́lɔ́lɔ́' kàn
'They took those images and put them on the internet'

On this note, it's unclear whether RFI's usage is a welcome extension or whether it would be deemed a malapropism by N'ko students. Regardless, it's interesting then to consider the influence of N'ko on the pan-Manding register that the RFI's radio broadcast seems to be poised to play a large part in disseminating.

More posts investigating RFI Mandekan's linguistic usage to come in the near future -- n'ála sɔ̀nna!